MIAMI: A campaign demanding the resignation of US labor secretary Alexander Acosta was gaining traction Thursday, days after a newspaper investigation revealed he secretly approved a reduced sentence for billionaire sex offender Jeffrey Epstein.
Business tycoon Esptein, 65, was convicted a decade ago of abusing dozens of young girls in Palm Beach, Florida — but avoided life behind bars to serve just 13 months in a county jail.
Last week, a Miami Herald investigation reported then-federal prosecutor Acosta approved a secret deal in 2008 for the short sentence.
The so-called “federal non-prosecution” agreement saw Epstein plead guilty to two prostitution charges.
According to a lawsuit against him, he had recruited poor teenagers to carry out “massages” which led to abuse, paying them US$200 (RM832)0 - US$300.
The Herald demanded in an editorial on Thursday that Acosta step down — branding him “ethically compromised.”
“We are recommending that Acosta resign his current position for allowing a rich, powerful, politically connected man to avoid justice and get off easy,“ the editorial argued.
In the wake of the Herald’s investigation, released last week, an online petition demanding Acosta’s resignation has amassed 70,000 signatures.
Meanwhile, the newspaper reported over two dozen lawmakers are demanding Acosta be investigated for misconduct.
Speaking to CNN, Florida congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz said the deal was “disgusting.”
The victims, now around 30 years old, believe the prosecutors supposed to be helping them were instead part of a scheme to silence them.
“I don’t think anyone has been told the truth about what Jeffrey Epstein did,“ one victim, Michelle Licata, told the Herald.
The case was propelled back in the spotlight after Epstein on Tuesday settled a defamation lawsuit brought against him by victims’ lawyer Bradley Edwards. In settling, he avoided the possibility of accusers telling their stories in court.
However, Edwards’ laywer, Jack Scarola, insisted his client will work to get the 2008 deal revoked and bring Epstein before a jury.
Epstein’s former lawyer, Alan Dershowitz, meanwhile said that was unlikely.
“He’s already served his sentence and it would be double jeopardy for him to be tried again,“ he told AFP. — AFP