Labor Secretary Alex Acosta defended himself Wednesday from increasing calls that he step down following new charges against Jeffrey Epstein, a New York–based financier who has been accused of operating a sex trafficking operation of young girls and received a widely criticized plea deal under an investigation led by Acosta when he was a federal prosecutor in Florida.
“Facts are important, and facts are being overlooked,” Acosta said at a press conference at the Labor Department.
“We believe that we proceeded appropriately,” Acosta told reporters when asked if he had any regrets about the prosecution. “No regrets is a very hard question.”
Acosta argued that his agreement, which resulted in Epstein going to jail for just over a year, was more time than what Epstein would have served under Florida’s investigation and that prosecutors wanted to require him to register as a sex offender.
“Without the work of our prosecutors, Epstein would’ve gotten away,” Acosta said. Going to trial instead of finding a deal, he said, would have been “a roll of the dice.”
“I’m here, I’m defending this case. That’s my job,” Acosta said, telling reporters that his relationship with the president wasn’t being affected by renewed criticism of Epstein’s 2008 plea deal.
Calls for Acosta to resign picked up Monday after federal prosecutors charged Epstein for the sex trafficking operation and following a raid on his Manhattan townhouse over the weekend, where agents seized “a vast trove of lewd photographs” of young women, some of whom appeared to be underage, according to court documents.
“Epstein’s actions absolutely deserve a stiffer sentence,” Acosta said Wednesday, calling the new charges in New York “the right thing to do.” He later called Epstein a “bad man” and said “he needs to be put away.”
“He should be prosecuted in any state in which he committed a crime,” Acosta said. “It is the absolutely right thing to do,” Acosta added.
Epstein was charged with operating a sex trafficking operation through which he allegedly sexually abused underage girls, some as young as 14, in Florida and New York. Prosecutors said that victims were recruited by Epstein’s employees and other underage victims between 2002 and 2005.
Epstein faced similar charges in Florida over a decade ago but faced little jail time in a plea deal with Acosta. The 2008 deal allowed Epstein to avoid federal charges. Epstein pleaded guilty to state charges of soliciting a minor for prostitution and served 13 months in jail. He was allowed to leave the jail six days a week for 12 hours each day to work at a nearby office after being taken there by a private driver.
Acosta said Wednesday that the work release was “complete BS” and not what federal prosecutors had anticipated. “When we entered into this, we, I at least, fully thought that he would be spending the time in jail,” he said.
As part of the arrangement, the plea deal was kept from Epstein’s alleged victims, the Miami Herald reported last year.
A federal judge in February found that federal prosecutors in the case broke the law in how they designed the deal and did not give alleged victims their due. “While the government spent untold hours negotiating the terms and implications of the [agreement] with Epstein’s attorneys, scant information was shared with victims. Instead, the victims were told to be ‘patient’ while the investigation proceeded,” US District Court Judge Kenneth Marra ruled.
Acosta, asked multiple times if he would apologize to victims, said that “victims should come forward because the justice system needs to hear from them.” He added that each case is “devastating and saddening, but I also think it’s important to realize that prosecutors were trying to do the right thing.”
The Miami Herald reported that Acosta had met with Epstein’s attorney privately on a morning in October 2007 at a West Palm Beach hotel to discuss the agreement. Acosta defended the meeting Wednesday. “We live in a city where people have breakfast meetings all the time,” he said, while stating the plea deal was settled before the meeting.
Acosta, addressing a question about his standing with President Trump, said his “relationship with the president is outstanding.”