Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta, the man entrusted with protecting the rights of U.S. workers, appears to have done a bang-up job protecting one well-connected 54-year-old millionaire accused of abusing dozens of young girls.
Back in 2007, when he was a U.S. attorney in Miami, Acosta helped broker a deal for Jeffrey Epstein, a money manager whose list of powerful friends included Bill Clinton and Donald Trump. Epstein was facing a federal indictment for trafficking and abusing minor girls for at least six years, according to a bombshell report in the Miami Herald. The FBI had identified at least three dozen girls sexually abused by Epstein, but the investigation turned up more than 100 “Jane Does,” the Herald reports.
With Acosta’s help, Epstein got off with essentially a slap on the wrist for his extraordinary crimes ― a short 13-month stint in prison, which he was allowed to leave for days at a time on work release.
The victims were not even told about the plea deal, which also ensured that no one who had helped facilitate Epstein’s crimes would be prosecuted. Epstein’s victims never even had a chance to tell their stories, until the Miami Herald reached out and several came forward.
Lawyers say the deal Trump’s future labor secretary clinched was extraordinarily lenient, considering the breadth of evidence involved ― stories from the victims were remarkably similar and showed a clear pattern, witnesses were available, and victims were willing to come forward.
“This was not a ‘he said, she said’ situation. This was 50-something ‘shes’ and one ‘he’ — and the ‘shes’ all basically told the same story,’’ retired Palm Beach Police Chief Michael Reiter, who supervised the police probe, told the Miami Herald.
Acosta did not respond to the Herald’s press queries. In an email to HuffPost, a Labor Department spokeswoman said, “This matter has been publicly addressed previously, including during confirmation hearings.”
Acosta is currently on the “short list” for attorney general, according to some reports.
Consider Epstein’s story to be the latest and possibly most egregious chapter in the long-suffering saga of rich, powerful men getting away with abusing women: From Harvey Weinstein to Les Moonves and beyond.
But in this case these weren’t adult women, but children so young that some were still in braces. Epstein and his powerful defense attorneys ― including Alan Dershowitz and Ken Starr ― argued that they were prostitutes.
“You’d have every reason to believe you’d put this guy away for life and put away those who helped him,” Michael Dolce, a lawyer in Palm Beach, Florida, who represents sex abuse victims, told HuffPost. Dolce said he was close to speechless when he learned of Epstein’s sweetheart deal.
“This is breathtakingly shocking,” he said.
In a sad twist, Acosta was only nominated to the position of labor secretary after Trump’s first pick ― Andrew Puzder, the former CEO of a burger chain ― withdrew himself from consideration after reports that he’d been accused of abusing his ex-wife when they were married. At the time it looked like a win for women’s rights supporters.
Meanwhile, Acosta sailed through the nomination process fairly uneventfully ― even though Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) opposed his appointment because of how he handled the Epstein case. (Though it was previously known that Acosta played a role in negotiating the deal, the details of that agreement had been kept secret until the Herald’s report.)
Now his name has been floated as a replacement for Jeff Sessions as attorney general.
The entire Miami Herald investigation deserves a full read, but it’s worth recounting some of the details here:
Police said Epstein operated a “sexual pyramid scheme,” in which he would recruit vulnerable young girls, many of whom were poor or had a history of family trauma, to come to his pink waterfront mansion and give him “massages” while he was undressed. In some cases, he’d then rape or assault the girls, according to investigators.
“We just wanted money for school clothes, for shoes. I remember wearing shoes too tight for three years in a row,” one victim told the Herald. “We had no family and no guidance, and we were told that we were going to just have to sit in a room topless and he was going to just look at us. It sounded so simple, and was going to be easy money for just sitting there.”
This story has been updated to include comment from the Labor Department.