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DOJ review finds Alex Acosta used ‘poor judgment’ in Jeffrey Epstein deal


The review from the department’s Office of Professional Responsibility also found that Acosta had used “poor judgment” when he failed to notify the girls and young women who alleged they were sexually abused by Epstein about the decision to not prosecute the multi-millionaire on federal charges.

Acosta resigned as Labor secretary in July 2019, less than a week after federal prosecutors in Manhattan unsealed an indictment charging Epstein with running a sex trafficking operation in which he sexually abused dozens of underaged girls in New York and Florida from 2002 to 2005. The new charges drew scrutiny of the Justice Department’s handling of an investigation a decade earlier when Acosta was US attorney for the Southern District of Florida. Epstein died by suicide in a federal jail in August 2019.
A Miami Herald investigation published in November 2018, which helped kickstart the New York inquiry, described the plea deal, negotiated by Acosta, as the “deal of a lifetime.”

In the 2007 deal, Epstein avoided federal charges and served only 13 months in state prison for state prostitution charges concerning his sexual involvement with underaged girls. The arrangement also protected “any potential co-conspirators of Epstein” and specifically named four women, whom victims alleged were involved in the sex-trafficking scheme.

According to the Herald, Acosta met privately and negotiated directly with one of Epstein’s lawyers, Jay Lefkowitz, a partner at Kirkland & Ellis — the law firm where Acosta was previously a partner. Ken Starr, another Kirkland attorney who investigated former President Bill Clinton, was also recruited for Epstein. One of those meetings was over breakfast at a Miami hotel.

After months of negotiating, Acosta’s office declined to prosecute Epstein on federal charges. A draft 60-count indictment was set aside and Epstein avoided all federal charges. According to the Herald, prosecutors had identified three dozen victims. The victims of his criminal acts were not notified of the deal until after it was inked.

The non-prosecution agreement has had a lasting effect beyond the Florida case. Epstein’s attorneys referenced it when they were defending against the New York charges. Lawyers for Ghislaine Maxwell, Epstein’s former girlfriend who was indicted in July on multiple charges, including transporting underaged girls to engage in sex acts, said during her bail hearing that they intend to invoke the agreement as part of her defense. Maxwell has pleaded not guilty. The US attorney’s office in Manhattan has said it is not bound by that agreement.

The Department of Justice review concluded that Acosta’s decision fell within the “scope of his authority” and investigators “did not find evidence that his decision was based on corruption or other impermissible considerations, such as Epstein’s wealth, status, or associations.”

The review also concluded that Acosta’s “breakfast meeting” with Epstein’s attorney did not lead to the non-prosecution agreement, which had been negotiated earlier, or benefit Epstein. Citing contemporaneous records, the report concluded that prosecutors’ “concerns about legal issues, witness credibility, and the impact of a trial on the victims led them to prefer a pre-charge resolution and that Acosta’s concerns about the proper role of the federal government in prosecuting solicitation crimes resulted in his preference for a state-based resolution.”

Investigators, however, found that Acosta’s decision to sign a non-prosecution agreement was premature and made before “significant investigative steps were completed” and that the several terms in the agreement were “unusual and problematic.”

The review said by failing to inform victims of the Justice Department’s charging decision, Acosta “left victims uninformed about an important proceeding that resolved the federal investigation, an investigation about which the USAO had communicated with victims for months. It also ultimately created the misimpression that the Department intentionally sought to silence the victims.”

A federal court judge previously found that the Justice Department violated a crime victims’ rights law by failing to inform them of the non-prosecution deal. That decision was overturned earlier this year by a federal appeals court where one of the judges on the panel called the matter “a tale of national disgrace.”

This story has been updated.


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