Ridiculously lenient Acosta/Epstein plea deal demands a federal investigation

What is Michael Horowitz, the inspector general of the Department of Justice, waiting for?

At least 80 young girls identified as victims of Palm Beach multimillionaire Jeffrey Epstein’s alleged sexual abuse.

A top federal prosecutor — at the time, Alex Acosta — lets Epstein’s attorneys call the shots.

Epstein goes to jail for just over a year — on two prostitution charges, instead of, possibly, for the rest of his life.

And the young girls are kept in the dark, never told that Epstein got a slap on the wrist and denied a chance to challenge it in court.

The sweetheart deal puts an end to a federal investigation likely to end in an indictment for Epstein for international sex-trafficking.

Questions need answers. At least 30 U.S. lawmakers, on both sides of the aisle, have rightly requested an investigation to get the bottom of this cesspool.

Horowitz has the authority to conduct an independent probe into the case. He reports to the attorney general and to Congress. He should bring the full weight of that authority to bear — immediately — and announce that the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) is jump-starting an investigation into how this misbegotten deal happened and why: Acosta met with Epstein attorney Jay Lefkowitz alone. None of the federal prosecutors conducting or supervising the investigation were present, as is the norm. Why? The girls never were told of the lenient plea deal, as required by the federal Crime Victims’ Rights Act. Why?

Ultimately, the OIG’s final report would help Congress exercise its oversight function and could move Congress to pass laws, if those are needed, to ensure that it doesn’t happen again. It would also allow the public to know why Acosta was so lenient with Epstein. Acosta would be given the opportunity to speak to the OIG.

The Miami Herald’s comprehensive series “Perversion of Justice” not only revealed the depth of depravity on the part of Epstein and his relationships with girls as young as 13, but also the extent to which this well-connected multimillionaire got federal prosecutors to do his bidding.

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A decade later, Epstein is a global jet-setter who calls a private tropical island home. Acosta is embattled, but so far sitting pretty, as U.S. labor secretary. (The Editorial Board has been among several voices calling for his resignation.) Many of the accused Epstein’s partners in sexual molestation — who might have procured young girls for him or participated in sex acts — have moved on, remade their lives and are doing very well, thank you.

But what of the girls, who now are young women in their 20s and 30s? For them, “closure” is just a word. Justice, real justice, is elusive at best, and a joke at the worst. Last week, lawyers for some of Epstein’s victims asked a federal judge to throw out the Epstein/Acosta plea agreement or, at the least, schedule a hearing on the motion. U.S. Judge Kenneth Marra has had this case before him for a year. It would be inconceivably cruel for him to make the women wait any longer.

It may be that vacating the plea deal will be a long shot. Epstein has completed the sentence as required and, since the women were not a party to the agreement, it’s questionable as to whether they have standing. But we ask Marra to give this all due consideration to the extent that the law allows.

For the rest of us, Inspector General Horowitz has a chance to help ensure that U.S. prosecutors never go so far afield. To ignore this imperative would be a further perversion of justice.

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