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Connecticut Former Federal Prosecutor: Acosta's Epstein Deal 'Completely Unheard Of'

WNPR/Frankie Graziano
Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta seen here at a roundtable discussion of manufacturing issues in Montville in April 2019.

A former federal prosecutor said the 2008 deal handed out to accused child molester Jeffrey Epstein in Florida is "completely unheard of."

For over a decade, Krishna Patel prosecuted human traffickers in Connecticut. She said current labor secretary, Alexander Acosta, needs to explain why he gave Epstein such a good deal.

"I mean there are so many questions surrounding why Alex Acosta did what he did in this case that seem completely indefensible at this point,” Patel said. “And so my question to Alex Acosta is: ‘You actually did not ensure justice for those victims. And so why should the American people right now trust you in a position where human trafficking is within the work that you are actually responsible for?'"

Epstein, a well-connected and wealthy businessman, was facing a 53-count indictment for sexually abusing at least 17 young girls. Acosta was a prosecutor at the time, and he didn't pursue the charges, and instead cut a secret deal with Epstein that minimized his prison time.

“Clearly something went terribly wrong with this prosecution,” Patel said. “The Florida case seemed to me a very compelling case involving multiple victims… There is no rational reason that [Acosta] can explain as to why he did not bring these charges. Saying it was too hard is simply not excusable.”

In a press conference on Wednesday, Acosta distanced himself from the decision, saying it was driven by career prosecutors, not him. He also said his office struck the deal because they feared Epstein would walk if the case went to trial.

“There is a value to a sure guilty plea, because letting him walk — letting what the state attorney was ready to do go forward — would have been absolutely awful," Acosta said.

Acosta visited Montville, Conn., for a roundtable discussion of manufacturing issues in April. He was a guest of Connecticut senators Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy. His visit came just days after Senate Democrats had demanded the release of a Department of Justice investigation into whether Acosta was guilty of professional misconduct in his handling of the Epstein case. 

At the time, Blumenthal declined to comment on the accusations against Acosta. Both senators indicated to Connecticut Public Radio that they had not addressed the issue with Acosta during his visit.

New York prosecutors are now pursuing similar charges against Epstein, who faces up to 45 years in prison if convicted for numerous charges, including sex trafficking of minors.  Democratic leaders, including Blumenthal and Connecticut’s Rep. Rosa DeLauro, have now called for Acosta’s resignation.

“The Department of Labor plays a critical role in protecting victims of sex trafficking at home and abroad and helping with the enforcement of our nation’s trafficking laws,” DeLauro said in a statement, “yet Acosta helped Jeffrey Epstein from being prosecuted for child trafficking and sexually abusing underage girls. That is reprehensible.”

Additional reporting by Frankie Graziano.

David finds and tells stories about education and learning for WNPR radio and its website. He also teaches journalism and media literacy to high school students, and he starts the year with the lesson: “Conflicts of interest: Real or perceived? Both matter.” He thinks he has a sense of humor, and he also finds writing in the third person awkward, but he does it anyway.

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