(CN) — President Trump’s Labor Secretary Alex Acosta blamed Florida. He blamed how trauma distorts the memories of the victims of sexual assault. He blamed a pre-#MeToo society that viewed women accusing powerful men of sexual assault with a jaundiced eye.
Unrepentant and unapologetic, Trump’s cabinet member ceded no ground to critics of the secret plea deal he struck over a decade ago with Jeffrey Epstein, one that a federal judge ruled earlier this year had broken a law meant to defend the girls on whose behalf Acosta was supposed to seek justice.
“We believe that we proceeded appropriately,” the former U.S. attorney declared, praising federal prosecutors in New York for having brought new charges against Epstein over the weekend.
“He’s a bad man, and he needs to be put away,” Acosta said of Epstein, a 66-year-old financier who is being held at the Metropolitan Correctional Center in New York pending a bail determination.
Acosta had been the Southern District of Florida’s top prosecutor back when Epstein entered into a “global” agreement that shielded his co-conspirators with immunity from prosecution. The disgraced financier went on to serve a 13-month sentence in a county jail for federal offenses, being granted work leave from that facility six out of seven days every week.
Epstein secured that arrangement by pleading guilty in Florida to two state-level charges of soliciting prostitution under statutes that allow for work release.
Asked if the victims were prostitutes, Acosta disavowed the implications of that 2008 plea.
“No, they were victims,” he emphasized. “End of story.”
Acosta claimed not to have bargained for or expected such frequent jaunts from prison by Epstein, adding that federal prosecutors first stepped in after their counterparts Sunshine State had planned to let Epstein avoid prison entirely.
“This case, people have said, was unusual, and it was,” Acosta said. “It was complicated by the fact that it started as a state investigation.”
But the Palm Beach County state attorney at the time, Barry Krischer, blasted Acosta in a statement Wednesday, calling Acosta’s recollection of the matter “completely wrong” and noting federal prosecutors “do not take a back seat to state prosecutors.”
Krischer said his office took the Palm Beach Police Department’s investigation to a grand jury, which resulted in an indictment. Afterward, the U.S. Attorney’s Office produced a 53-page indictment “that was “abandoned after secret negotiations between Mr. Epstein’s lawyers and Mr. Acosta,” Krischer said.
“If Mr. Acosta was truly concerned with the state’s case and felt he had to rescue the matter, he would have moved forward with the 53-page indictment that his own office drafted. Instead, Mr. Acosta brokered a secret plea deal that resulted in a nonprosecution agreement in violation of the Crime Victim’s Rights Act,” Krischer said.
“Mr. Acosta should not be allowed to rewrite history.”
Epstein is facing far tougher treatment in the Southern District of New York, which charged him Monday with sex trafficking and a related conspiracy count.
Attention on Epstein has reached a boiling point in the wake of a February ruling out of Florida where a federal judge estimated that his plea kept more than 30 of his victims in the dark unlawfully.
Since Epstein’s Manhattan arraignment on Monday on new federal charges, prosecutors have encouraged victims to call 1-800-CALL-FBI to leave tips on their line of major cases, listing the sex-trafficking case as their top priority. More accusers quickly shared stories about their experiences with Epstein as girls.
The latest is Jennifer Danielle Araoz, who launched the first steps of Manhattan Supreme Court litigation shortly after speaking to NBC News this morning.
“My gosh, I was 14 years old,” Araoz told “The Today Show’s” Savannah Guthrie in a tearful interview. “What the hell do you know when you’re that young?”
Araoz’s story echoes those of several other victims: She said that an unidentified recruiter approached her at a performing arts high school in Queens when she was young and vulnerable, promising career help and money.
A year later, Araoz said, Epstein raped her.
“On top of this brutal rape, Epstein did not use a condom, which substantially contributed to extreme emotional distress and the development of a panic disorder, which was exacerbated by the fact that Ms. Araoz had recently lost her father to AIDS,” a draft copy of Araoz’s complaint states.
Araoz’s attorneys Daniel and William Kaiser, from the firm Kaiser Saurborn & Mair, included the draft as an exhibit in a petition seeking the recruiter’s identity.
They will have leave to sue on Aug. 14 this year, the day New York’s Child Victims Act comes into effect, extending the statute of limitations indefinitely for a one-year window.