Justice Department: ‘Poor judgment’ in Epstein plea deal

Jeffrey Epstein
Jeffrey Epstein in March 2017.
(New York State Sex Offender Registry )

A Justice Department report has found that former Labor Secretary Alex Acosta, as a top federal prosecutor in Florida, exercised poor judgment in dealing with an investigation into wealthy financier Jeffrey Epstein. But it also says that Acosta did not engage in professional misconduct.

The report, obtained by the Associated Press, is a 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 nonprosecution 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 news reports as friends or associates of Epstein.

In a separate statement, Marie Villafana, who was the lead prosecutor in the investigation, said she was pleased that the Office of Professional Responsibility 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.

“That injustice, I believe, was the result of deep, implicit institutional biases that prevented me and the FBI agents who worked diligently on this case from holding Mr. Epstein accountable for his crimes,” she said.