U.S. Secretary of Labor Alexander Acosta is the target of an ad campaign begun Wednesday by a Washington-based consumer watchdog group demanding that he answer questions about a secret plea deal he gave a wealthy New York financial advisor accused of sex trafficking underage girls.
Allied Progress, which normally advocates for student loan clients and against Wall Street special interests, is urging activists on social media to share a video about Acosta produced by the group and to sign a petition demanding that the U.S. Senate pass a bill that would give the Department of Justice’s inspector general the authority to investigate the controversial case. Multimillionaire Jeffrey Epstein escaped a possible life sentence as a result of an unusual non-prosecution agreement Acosta approved in 2008, while he was the U.S. attorney in Miami.
The group noted that it is especially troubled by Acosta’s response to questions posed by senators at his 2017 Senate confirmation hearing to become President Donald Trump’s labor secretary.
“At the end of the day, based on the evidence, professionals within a prosecutor’s office decided that a plea that guarantees someone goes to jail, that guarantees he register generally [as a sexual predator] and guarantees other outcomes, is a good thing,’’ Acosta said during the hearing.
In a news release, the group urged senators to take up a bill to allow the Justice Department inspector general to conduct an independent probe.
“Secretary Acosta doesn’t just believe it was appropriate to let a wealthy, connected man involved in rampant child abuse walk away with a slap on the wrist, he actually considers it a ‘point of pride’ — even worse, a ‘good thing,’ ’’ the group said.
The effort follows a Miami Herald three-part series, Perversion of Justice,’ that detailed how federal prosecutors, led by Acosta, worked with the investment counselor’s attorneys to come up with a special deal for Epstein, a multimillionaire who ran a sex pyramid scheme from his Palm Beach estate that targeted underage girls.
Epstein, 66, was granted federal immunity, along with others who were allegedly part of the conspiracy but not named.
Epstein’s victims were not told about the arrangement and, after a brief stint in the Palm Beach County Jail on prostitution charges, Epstein was released in 2009.
The ad campaign comes one day after the Justice Department notified Nebraska Sen. Ben Sasse that it had opened an investigation into possible misconduct by prosecutors who handled the case. That review, however, is being conducted by the DOJ’s Office of Professional Responsibility, the equivalent of a police internal affairs bureau. It has been criticized for shielding prosecutors who commit wrongdoing. The results of the office’s investigations are rarely made public.
Inspector General Michael Horowitz and a string of former inspector generals have been urging Congress to give the IG the authority to oversee and investigate DOJ attorneys. They argue that OPR has failed to provide transparency and adequate oversight.
A bipartisan effort to change the law died last year, but a bill called the “Inspector General Access Act” was reintroduced in the House last month and passed unanimously. The Senate would have to take up the issue for it to become law. The group singled out Sen. Lindsay Graham, chairman of the Judiciary Committee, urging him to take action on the bill.
Acosta has not returned phone calls or emails to his office from the Herald for comment.
Epstein’s attorney, Martin Weinberg, also did not return emails and phone calls to his office. However, he told the New York Times that “multiple levels of the Department of Justice’’ reviewed and approved the deal.
“The agreement entered into between Jeffrey Epstein and the United States Attorney’s Office was fairly negotiated by experienced teams of attorneys representing each party. It was anything but a sweetheart deal,’’ he said in an email to the Times.