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Jeffrey Epstein prosecutor was previously rebuked for handling of a child sex case

Julie K. Brown, Miami Herald on

Published in News & Features

MIAMI -- Nine months before cutting a covert plea deal with sex trafficking suspect Jeffrey Epstein, Miami U.S. Attorney Alexander Acosta was notified that the lead prosecutor in Epstein's case had concealed information in another underage sex crimes case, the Miami Herald has learned.

The prosecutor, A. Marie Villafana, was harshly rebuked by a federal judge in January 2007 for what he called her "intentional and/or serious lapse in judgment" when she failed to explicitly inform him that the defendant, a Texas man who traveled to Florida to have sex with a 14-year-old girl, had a prior history of predatory behavior with minors, court records show.

Acosta, her boss at the time, not only knew about Villafana's breach, but records show that he subsequently defended it. Acosta assigned another prosecutor in his office to write a treatise for the judge in an unsuccessful attempt to persuade him to soften the stinging language in his order.

Senior U.S. District Court Judge William J. Zloch copied Acosta on his order, noting, "The court is at a total loss as to why the Office of the United States Attorney for the Southern District of Florida, as well as the Assistant United States Attorney assigned to the above-styled cause, found it appropriate to intentionally withhold ... information from the court."

Later that year, Acosta and Villafana put together a plea bargain for Epstein, a multimillionaire money manager accused of sexually abusing dozens of teenage girls at his mansion in Palm Beach. The deal, a federal judge ruled last month, was intentionally kept from his victims in violation of the Crime Victims' Rights Act.

While the two cases are unrelated, it shows that both Acosta and Villafana had been warned about the importance of victim disclosure in sex crimes cases before the Epstein agreement. They nevertheless forged ahead with a pact with Epstein that violated the law.

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U.S. District Court Judge Kenneth A. Marra wrote: "When the Government gives information to victims, it cannot be misleading. While the Government spent untold hours negotiating the terms and implications of the (agreement) with Epstein's attorneys, scant information was shared with victims."

This comes as Acosta, who is now the U.S. secretary of labor, is facing mounting scrutiny for his oversight of the Epstein case. On Monday, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders declined to say whether President Donald Trump has full confidence in Acosta, noting that Acosta's involvement in the Epstein case is "currently under review."

The Justice Department launched a probe in January into whether Acosta, Villafana and other prosecutors committed professional misconduct.

Francey Hakes, who worked in the Justice Department's Crimes Against Children unit, said Zloch's comments were so brutal that it should have deterred Acosta and Villafana from keeping the Epstein deal secret.

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