Justice Dept.: 'Poor judgment' used in Epstein plea deal

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FILE - This March 28, 2017, file photo, provided by the New York State Sex Offender Registry shows Jeffrey Epstein. A Justice Department report has found former Labor Secretary Alex Acosta exercised poor judgment in handling an investigation into wealthy financier Jeffrey Epstein when he was a top federal prosecutor in Florida. The report was obtained by The Associated Press and is a culmination of an investigation by the Justice Departments Office of Professional Responsibility over Acostas handling of a secret plea deal with Epstein, who had been accused of sexually abusing dozens of underage girls. (New York State Sex Offender Registry via AP, File)

WASHINGTON – A Justice Department report has found that former Labor Secretary Alex Acosta exercised “poor judgment” in handling an investigation into wealthy financier Jeffrey Epstein when he was a top federal prosecutor in Florida. But it also says he did not engage in professional misconduct.

The 350-page report, obtained by The Associated Press, marks the culmination of an investigation by the Justice Department’s Office of Professional Responsibility into Acosta’s handling of a secret plea deal with Epstein, who had been accused of sexually abusing dozens of underage girls.

Though the report faulted Acosta for his judgment, it concluded that his actions in arranging the deal did not constitute misconduct, and that none of the prosecutors involved committed misconduct in their interactions with the victims. The conclusions are likely to disappoint the victims, who have long hoped the internal investigation would hold Justice Department officials accountable for actions they say allowed Epstein to escape justice.

In a statement, Acosta expressed vindication at the report's conclusion that he had not committed misconduct, saying it “fully debunks” allegations that he had cut a sweetheart deal for Epstein. He said the report confirmed that his decision to open an investigation into Epstein had resulted in a jail sentence and a sex offender registration for the financier.

“OPR’s report and public records document that without federal involvement, Epstein would have walked free,” Acosta said in the statement.

Under the 2008 non-prosecution agreement — also known as an NPA — Epstein pleaded guilty to state charges in Florida of soliciting and procuring a minor for prostitution. That allowed him to avert a possible life sentence, instead serving 13 months in a work-release program. He was required to make payments to victims and register as a sex offender.

Epstein was later charged by federal prosecutors in Manhattan for nearly identical allegations in 2019, but he took his own life while in federal custody as he awaited trial. Acosta said the “Epstein affair" was vastly "more lurid and sweeping” than when he was first involved, an allusion to some of the high-profile names referenced in media reports as friends or associates of Epstein, and the fact that more evidence has now been assembled as additional victims have come forward.

In a separate statement, Marie Villafana, who was a lead prosecutor in the Florida investigation, said she was pleased OPR had completed the report but was "disappointed that it has not released the full report so the victims and the public can have a fuller accounting of the depth of interference that led to the patently unjust outcome in the Epstein case.