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With Epstein in jail again, Acosta is out as Trump's labor secretary

David Smiley and Jay Weaver, Miami Herald on

Published in News & Features

Alex Acosta, the U.S. Secretary of Labor in the Trump administration, is resigning six days after accused child sex-trafficker Jeffrey Epstein was arrested and charged in New York. The resignation of the former top prosecutor in South Florida comes a dozen years after his decision to forge a lenient plea deal in a sex crime case against Epstein in Florida.

President Donald Trump came out with Acosta at the White House at 9:34 a.m. and said Acosta called him Friday morning to say he's resigning. Though Acosta spent nearly an hour Wednesday defending his handling of Epstein's South Florida case in 2007 and 2008, Trump said the decision to resign was Acosta's.

"I want to thank Alex Acosta. He was a great great secretary," Trump said before shaking Acosta's hand.

Acosta, the Miami-raised son of Cuban immigrants graduated from Harvard law, rose to lead the Department of Justice's civil rights division under President George W. Bush and served as the top federal prosecutor in South Florida. He became dean of Florida International University's law school before his ascension in 2017 to U.S. Secretary of Labor.

But of all the things he accomplished, Acosta now may be remembered most for what he failed to do.

Acosta was the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida during the mid-2000s when police learned of accusations that Epstein lured underage girls to his Palm Beach mansion and paid them to engage in nude massages and sex acts. Police, concerned that Epstein was going to be let off light by state prosecutors, went to the FBI. But Acosta's office ultimately allowed Epstein to plead to lesser state charges and granted him and co-conspirators immunity in exchange for victims' restitution and his registration as a sex offender.

 

"The crimes committed by Epstein are horrific," Acosta recently tweeted, as he defended the 2007 non-prosecution agreement that ended a federal investigation in South Florida and allowed the billionaire to serve just 13 months in a Palm Beach County jail on charges of soliciting prostitution involving a minor.

"With the evidence available more than a decade ago, federal prosecutors insisted that Epstein go to jail, register as a sex offender and put the world on notice that he was a sexual predator. Now that new evidence and additional testimony is available, the NY prosecution offers an important opportunity to more fully bring him to justice."

Before the Miami Herald published its Perversion of Justice series in November, highlighting Acosta's role in negotiating an initially secret plea deal that has now been deemed illegal by a federal judge in Miami, Acosta had drawn little criticism while a member of Trump's cabinet.

The Epstein controversy, though, appears to have changed that. According to Politico, Acosta critics in the White House, including Trump's chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, used the situation to try to force Acosta out over frustrations that the labor secretary has been too slow to eliminate Obama-era red tape. Mulvaney has denied the report.

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