Justice Department probe ends with no action against prosecutors who oversaw Epstein deal

"Letting a well-connected billionaire get away with child rape and international sex trafficking isn’t ‘poor judgment’ – it is a disgusting failure,” said Sen. Ben Sasse.
Image: Jeffrey Epstein appears in court in West Palm Beach, Florida, in 2008.
Jeffrey Epstein appears in court in West Palm Beach, Florida, in 2008.Uma Sanghvi / Palm Beach Post via Reuters file

A Justice Department investigation found that federal prosecutors who oversaw a controversial non-prosecution deal with Jeffrey Epstein in 2008 exercised “poor judgment” but did not break the law, according to an executive summary released Thursday.

The investigation by the department’s Office of Professional Responsibility focused on the conduct of former federal government lawyers, including ex-Labor Secretary Alex Acosta.

"Letting a well-connected billionaire get away with child rape and international sex trafficking isn’t ‘poor judgment’ – it is a disgusting failure,” said Ben Sasse, R-Neb. “Americans ought to be enraged.”

A spokesperson for the FBI, which investigated the case, declined comment.

Prosecutors looked into allegations that Epstein abused dozens of teenage girls in his West Palm Beach mansion in the early 2000s. He eventually pleaded guilty to state charges involving a single victim in a deal that ended the federal sex crimes investigation and spared Epstein the prospect of serving several years in prison.

Labor Secretary Alex Acosta speaks at the Department of Labor on July 10, 2019, in Washington.Alex Brandon / AP

Acosta was the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Florida at the time. He resigned as President Trump’s labor secretary last year amid renewed scrutiny of the case.

Epstein ultimately served 13 months in jail and was allowed to leave almost every day through a work release program. The politically-connected financier died by suicide inside a federal prison last year while awaiting trial on new sex trafficking charges.

In a 13-page executive summary of the investigation’s findings, the Office of Professional Responsibility said it was Acosta who “made the pivotal decision to resolve the federal investigation of Epstein through a state-based plea and either developed or approved the terms of the initial offer to the defense that set the beginning point for the subsequent negotiations that led to the” non-prosecution agreement.

“The NPA was a flawed mechanism for satisfying the federal interest that caused the government to open its investigation of Epstein,” the report says.

In the course of the review, the office said members of the U.S. Attorney’s Office had concerns about “legal issues, witness credibility, and the impact of a trial on the victims” that led them to ultimately go for the non-prosecution agreement and avoid trial.

As a result, “OPR does not find that Acosta engaged in professional misconduct by resolving the federal investigation of Epstein in the way he did or that the other subjects committed professional misconduct through their implementation of Acosta’s decisions.”

The report also says that Acosta’s decision to bring charges against Epstein through the state led to a lack of transparency and left victims “feeling confused and ill-treated by the government.”

“In sum, OPR concludes that the victims were not treated with the forthrightness and sensitivity expected by the department.”

In a statement, Acosta said the report "fully debunks allegations that the USAO improperly cut Epstein a 'sweet-heart deal' or purposefully avoided investigating potential wrongdoing by various prominent individuals."

"The Epstein affair as understood today is vastly more lurid and sweeping than was known by the USAO in 2008," he added. "Of course, had Secretary Acosta known then what he knows now, he certainly would have directed a different path."

Early Thursday, Justice Department officials briefed several Epstein victims on the investigation’s findings in a meeting in Miami, three people familiar with the matter told NBC News.

“The only thing that the briefing revealed to me was that people who have money and connections like Epstein’s continue to be above the law," said one alleged Epstein victim.

Lawyer Adam Horowitz, who represents four Epstein abuse victims, attended the meeting with four other victims' lawyers.

“It appeared to me that most of the abuse survivors were suspicious and frustrated with the bottom line conclusions," Horowitz said.

Acosta and his office "failed to give notice to victims, misled victims, misinterpreted the law, and did not treat the abuse survivors with decency and respect," Horowitz added. "The mountain of mistakes was not just poor judgment. It was reckless."

Sigrid McCawley, who also represents Epstein victims, said: "This is an anemic accounting of what really happened, and it scans like a relic of a painful past we have left behind. Then and now, the victims deserve action, change and accountability."

Attorney Gloria Allred, who represents 20 alleged victims, said many of them were "sexually abused by Epstein after Acosta’s failure to prosecute Epstein."

"I believe that many of my clients could have been saved from the sex trafficking and sexual abuse that they suffered had Acosta and the U.S. Justice Department prosecuted Epstein at that time."

Two other federal investigations connected to Epstein remain ongoing.

New York federal prosecutors are still probing Epstein’s sex trafficking network. His longtime confidant, Ghislaine Maxwell, has been charged with recruiting and grooming girls as young as 14 for Epstein to abuse.

The Justice Department’s inspector general is investigating the circumstances of Epstein’s death inside the Metropolitan Correctional Center in New York.

Jonathan Dienst contributed.