WASHINGTON (Reuters) – An internal Justice Department investigation has concluded that then-U.S. Attorney Alex Acosta exercised “poor judgment” by allowing financier Jeffrey Epstein to enter a non-prosecution agreement over alleged sex crimes, but cleared him and other prosecutors of professional misconduct in their handling of the case.
In a statement released on Thursday, the Justice Department said that when Acosta let Epstein enter the non-prosecution agreement in 2008 that spared him from federal sex-trafficking charges, he “failed to make certain that the state of Florida intended to and would notify victims identified through the federal investigation about the state plea hearing.”
The department said that while no federal prosecutors engaged in wrongdoing, Epstein’s victims “were not treated with the forthrightness and sensitivity” they deserved. It added that Acosta’s decision to resolve the federal investigation through the non-prosecution agreement “constitutes poor judgment.”
The 2008 agreement with Epstein has come under intense scrutiny in recent years following an investigation by the Miami Herald. Under the terms of the deal, Epstein pleaded guilty to lesser state charges and served a brief stint in jail where he was granted daily work release.
At the time, Acosta was serving as U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Florida.
Last year, federal prosecutors in New York resuscitated the case and charged Epstein with sex trafficking of minors.
Acosta, who was then labor secretary under President Donald Trump, initially tried to defend his role in the previous Epstein investigation. But he resigned amid growing pressure a few days later.
Epstein was found dead in his jail cell in New York of an apparent suicide about a month later.
In a statement released by his attorney on Thursday, Acosta said the finding by the Office of Professional Responsibility “fully debunks allegations” that his office had “improperly cut
Epstein a ‘sweet-heart deal’ or purposefully avoided investigating potential wrongdoing by various prominent individuals.”
He added that the Epstein case was now “vastly more lurid and sweeping” than previously known in 2008.
The findings by the Office of Professional Responsibility, which investigates misconduct by Justice Department personnel, were announced earlier on Thursday by Republican Senator Ben Sasse of Nebraska, who blasted the agency for not taking a more forceful stance.
“Letting a well-connected billionaire get away with child rape and international sex trafficking isn’t ‘poor judgment’ – it is a disgusting failure,” Sasse, who had requested the internal Justice Department probe, said in a statement.
Earlier this year, Epstein’s longtime friend Ghislaine Maxwell was arrested in connection with the case, and has pleaded not guilty to charges that she lured underage girls so that Epstein could sexually abuse them.
(Reporting by Sarah N. Lynch; Additional reporting by Nate Raymond; Editing by Jonathan Oatis and Peter Cooney)