Dems call for investigation into DOL Secretary's handling of 2008 sex trafficking case
- A group of Democratic members of Congress has called on U.S. Inspector General Michael E. Horowitz to investigate a plea deal struck by Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta in a case against an accused pedophile during Acosta's tenure as a U.S. attorney, according to a letter obtained last week by USA Today.
- The letter follows the release of an investigative report by The Miami Herald that included details of the alleged deal. Acosta was personally involved in the negotiations for the plea deal, under which sex offender Jeffrey Epstein would agree to plead guilty to two state felony prostitution charges but avoid federal sex-trafficking charges that could have resulted in a life sentence, the Herald's report said. The Miami newspaper also reported that Epstein became a key witness — providing "valuable consideration," according to a document obtained by the Herald — in a different, simultaneous federal case against investment firm Bear Sterns, in which Epstein had been an investor.
- The federal non-prosecution agreement with Epstein was notably sealed so victims could not see it, the Herald said. In their letter to Horowitz, Democrats asked the inspector general to investigate whether Acosta violated any U.S. Department of Justice policies, procedures or practices in negotiating the plea deal. "As Members of Congress intent on ensuring the equal application of justice and gravely concerned with the plague of sex trafficking and sexual abuse, we urge you to conduct an investigation," the letter said.
Acosta's role in rolling back federal labor and employment regulations — at the direction of the Trump administration — has had a large impact on HR departments. The controversy comes at crucial moment for the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) in that respect, as it seeks to publish and defend in court new rules regarding overtime pay, tip pooling and other employment law questions.
It's not the first time Acosta has had to face public questioning of his role in the Epstein case. During his confirmation process for Labor Secretary in 2017, Acosta addressed the issue directly, calling the plea deal "a good thing." He further defended the results of the case, during questioning by Sen. Tim Kaine, D-V.A., by saying the fact that details were not made public may have detracted from what was otherwise a positive outcome.
"There was a time when having something confidential was less of an issue," Acosta said. "A very positive outcome can become a negative outcome not because of a change in the underlying substance, but because by something not looking public, it is looked at with suspicion."
It's not known to what extent a federal investigation would impact DOL's ability to propose and implement new rulemaking, nor is the letter certain to initiate such an investigation. But continued deregulation is on the horizon, Acosta told a group of business leaders in August. HR leaders and their counsel may need to pay attention to the situation should it escalate moving forward as DOL rolls out what is anticipated to be a robust agenda in 2019.
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