Federal prosecutors in New York, where the wealthy financier owns a mansion, released a 14-page indictment on Monday alleging that Mr. Epstein engaged in sex trafficking and sex-trafficking conspiracy by creating “a vast network of underage victims for him to sexually exploit.” Mr. Epstein allegedly lured these victims to his homes to perform massages but would then pay them to engage in a range of sex acts. The indictment also alleges that Mr. Epstein would pay some of these victims to recruit others, creating a sort of sex pyramid scheme, and that the victims were as young as 14 years old. The allegations are strikingly similar to those Mr. Epstein faced when Mr. Acosta examined his behavior 11 years ago yet allowed him to plead not to any federal charge, but to state charges of soliciting prostitution, for which he served 13 months in a county jail.
Mr. Acosta insisted on Wednesday that, at the time, “based on the evidence, there was value to getting a guilty plea,” as opposed to “rolling the dice” on a trial. That raises the question of why federal prosecutors appear willing to roll the dice now. Mr. Acosta on Tuesday tweeted that “new evidence and additional testimony is available” that would allow “an important opportunity to more fully bring him to justice.”
There is some new evidence available, in part because of the work of New York prosecutors and in part because of a superb investigation by Miami Herald reporter Julie K. Brown. Yet that investigation revealed that Florida officials a decade ago believed the evidence against Mr. Epstein was already “overwhelming, including phone call records, copies of written phone messages from the girls found in Epstein’s trash and Epstein’s flight logs.” If there was more evidence to be found, a more committed prosecution might have unearthed it 11 years ago.
Mr. Acosta nevertheless argued on Wednesday that times have changed since 2008. “We now have 12 years of knowledge and hindsight, and we live in a very different world,” he said. “Today’s world does not allow some of the victim shaming” that might have occurred at a trial 11 years ago, he maintained, as though he were referring to 1958 rather than 2008.
It is possible that everything that Mr. Acosta said is true — that career prosecutors in his office 11 years ago calculated that it was not worth pursuing federal charges against a rich defendant with a dream team of lawyers prepared to attack the credibility and character of the victims prosecutors sought to protect. Yet, no matter how well intentioned, Mr. Acosta and the lawyers working under him still made the wrong call.