Fri, Jul 12, 2019 - Page 6 News List

US labor chief defends plea deal over sex abuse

AFP, WASHINGTON

US Secretary of Labor Alexander Acosta comments on his involvement in a non-prosecution agreement with financier Jeffrey Epstein, who has now been charged with sex trafficking underage girls, during a news conference in Washington on Wednesday.

Photo: Reuters

US Secretary of Labor Alexander Acosta on Wednesday defended his handling of a secret plea deal he made with Jeffrey Epstein as another woman came forward to allege she was raped by the billionaire hedge fund manager.

Acosta, 50, has been facing mounting calls to resign over the decade-old plea deal that saw Epstein serve just 13 months in a county jail.

Epstein, 66, was charged on Monday by prosecutors in New York with one count of sex trafficking of minors and one count of conspiracy to commit sex trafficking of minors. Those charges carry a maximum of 45 years in prison.

According to prosecutors, Epstein sexually exploited dozens of underage girls at his homes in Manhattan and Palm Beach, Florida, between 2002 and 2005. Some were as young as 14.

Epstein, whose friends have included US President Donald Trump, former US president Bill Clinton and Prince Andrew, faced similar allegations of sexually abusing girls in Florida a decade ago.

During a 50-minute news conference, Acosta replied to a barrage of questions from reporters about his office’s handling of the Epstein case when he was a federal prosecutor in Florida.

The deal reached with Epstein required him to plead guilty to a single state charge of soliciting prostitution from a minor and register as a sex offender.

Acosta said that prosecutors agreed to the deal rather than take Epstein to trial on more serious charges, because that would have been a “roll of the dice.”

“The goal here was straightforward,” he said. “Put Epstein behind bars, ensure he registered as a sexual offender, provide victims with the means to seek restitution and protect the public by putting them on notice that a sexual predator was in their midst.”

Earlier on Wednesday, another alleged victim of Epstein went public with her claim that he raped her when she was 15.

“He raped me, forcefully raped me,” Jennifer Araoz, 32, told NBC News, adding that she was afraid at the time of going to the authorities.

“I was really frightened of Epstein,” she said. “He knew a lot of powerful people and I didn’t know what he could do to me, and I wasn’t sure that anyone could protect me.”

US House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi and US Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer called this week for Acosta’s resignation.

Trump on Tuesday told reporters that Acosta has been an “excellent secretary of labor.”

“The rest of it, we will have to look at,” Trump said. “But you’re talking about a long time ago.”

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