If Alexander Acosta had done in South Florida what Geoffrey Berman just did in New York, Jeffrey Epstein, a sexual predator, might already be behind bars for the rest of his life instead of serving only 13 months.
If Acosta, when he was U.S. attorney in Miami, had shown an ounce of sympathy for the vulnerable girls Epstein sexually exploited, they would have had a powerful voice on their side. They didn’t. Now, Berman, U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, is their next best hope for justice.
If Acosta had not shown himself to be ethically challenged 10 years ago, we wouldn’t be calling for his resignation as U.S. secretary of Labor now. But we are — again.
Epstein was arrested Saturday at a New Jersey airport upon his return from Paris. Federal prosecutors in Manhattan charged him with sex trafficking and sex-trafficking conspiracy. He faces a maximum of 45 years in prison if convicted.
Back in 2008, Acosta had the chance to prosecute Epstein for luring dozens of troubled girls to his Palm Beach estate on the pretense of giving him massages — before he escalated things to sex acts. As in a Ponzi scheme, he used those girls to recruit others.
The stomach-turning allegations should have been enough to haul Epstein before judge and jury. Instead, Acosta agreed to a benevolent non-prosecution deal, aggressively pushed by Epstein’s powerhouse attorneys. Epstein pleaded guilty to a state charge of soliciting prostitution, paid a fine, registered as a sexual predator and served 13 months of an 18-month sentence. No federal charges were filed.
Since then, Epstein, along with powerful men who hobnobbed with him, sometimes on his private plane, have done quite well: Donald Trump the businessman now is Donald Trump the president; Bill Clinton still earns big bucks for speeches. Epstein, himself, played in his mansions in Palm Beach, New York and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Acosta now is U.S. labor secretary.
However, Epstein’s victims, many of whom are struggling to get past the abuse they suffered, are still waiting for their own day in court. In 2008, Acosta shut them out of the process, failing to even inform them of his lenient plea deal with Epstein. In February, U.S. Judge Kenneth Marra ruled that Acosta’s office broke the law by not telling Epstein’s victims of the sweetheart deal. In contrast, Berman, has issued a public call for women to contact his office to help him build his sex-trafficking case against Epstein.
Saturday, federal agents found a “vast trove” of lewd photographs of girls and young women, some bearing descriptions, in a locked safe in Epstein’s $77 million mansion in Manhattan.
In reality, Acosta’s current job has nothing to do with his former position as U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Florida. Except for this: He is an ethically compromised public servant who has failed to address his suspect actions in this case, but he continues to act on citizens’ behalf in the public domain.
As evidence grows against Epstein, through both the Miami Herald’s pit-bull reporting and because a U.S. attorney is committed to seeing justice done, it is evidence, too, that not only did Acosta fail to get it right in 2008, but also that he didn’t care to.
He has to go.