U.S. Labor Secretary Alex Acosta defended his role in a 2008 case that resulted in a plea deal for millionaire financier Jeffrey Epstein, who faces federal sex-trafficking charges for allegedly abusing dozens of underage girls.
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Acosta has faced calls to resign in recent days after new federal charges were brought against Epstein. Acosta was a U.S. attorney in Florida in 2008 and helped negotiate the plea deal, which allowed Epstein to avoid federal sex-trafficking charges in exchange for an 18-month sentence in Florida on lesser charges. Epstein was released after 13 months.
The secretary said that in 2008, his staff opted to pursue a plea deal that resulted in jail time out of concern that state attorneys in Palm Beach, Florida were ready to let Epstein "walk free." The labor secretary expressed support for the U.S. prosecutors in New York pursuing charges against Epstein.
“This was the judgment of prosecutors with dozens of years of experience. ... We believed that we proceeded appropriately, that based on the evidence, there was value to getting a guilty plea and having him register [as a sex offender]," Acosta said in reference to the plea deal.
On Wednesday another accuser came forward alleging Epstein raped her when she was 15 years old inside his New York City home.
Epstein, a 66-year-old hedge fund manager, pleaded not guilty in a U.S. federal court in Manhattan this week to charges of sex trafficking and conspiracy. He faces up to 45 years in prison.
“Epstein’s actions absolutely deserve a stiffer sentence. He should be prosecuted in any state in which he committed a crime," Acosta said.
President Trump backed Acosta in comments earlier this week, but said he would be looking "very closely" at Acosta's handling of the situation.
Acosta expressed confidence in his relationship with the president.
“My relationship with the president is outstanding. He has, I think very publicly, made clear that I have his support," he said.
Acosta's remarks came hours after one of Epstein's accusers, Jennifer Araoz, accused the financier of raping her at his New York home when she was 15 years old. During an apperance on NBC's "Today" show, Araoz alleged that she was made to undress in front of Epstein and give him messages that led to sexual acts.
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