An off-the-books meeting between federal prosecutor Alex Acosta and one of Jeffrey Epstein’s lawyers, Jay Lefkowitz, in 2007 could prove pivotal to the resolution of new charges against Epstein for operating a child sex ring.
When the two met for breakfast at a Marriott Hotel in West Palm Beach, Fla., lawyers on both sides were in the process of working out the finer points of a non-prosecution agreement Epstein had signed in September. Lefkowitz, a Washington, D.C., corporate lawyer who served as U.S. Special Envoy for Human Rights in North Korea, would play a key role for Epstein.
The deal already guaranteed Epstein would avoid federal sex trafficking charges based on evidence gathered from 36 potential victims in exchange for copping to relatively minor state prostitution charges. But it was in this Oct. 12 meeting, dozens of miles away from Acosta’s Miami office, that Lefkowitz apparently secured an assurance from Acosta with consequences still reverberating: Epstein’s victims would not be told about the deal until it was too late for them to intervene.
The following summer, Epstein was sentenced in a Florida court on two prostitution counts, solicitation and solicitation of a minor, and sent to prison. Acosta had kept his word. None of the victims found out about the deal or the sentencing hearing until after it took place, and by the time they learned the details, Epstein was already out of jail. (RELATED: Epstein Preyed On At Least One Woman As He Served Time In Florida Jail, Lawyer Says)
Two of the victims filed a lawsuit that is still pending in the courts, which may lead to information that could impact the new criminal case against Epstein coming out of the Southern District of New York. The victims want the court to throw out the deal, on the grounds that their right to know about the deal and show up at the sentencing hearing were violated. A federal judge has ruled the Department of Justice did violate the Crime Victim’s Rights Act, but whether that will result in the deal getting overturned remains to be seen. If the deal is allowed to stand, though, Epstein’s lawyers could try to use it to get the New York charges thrown out.
Acosta defended his decision not to notify the victims and the circumstances of that October meeting in a press conference shortly before he resigned last week as President Trump’s secretary of labor. He stressed that the agreement had already been negotiated and signed when he met with Lefkowitz, and that “nothing changed,” except an addendum favorable to the victims. The reasons his lawyers decided not to notify the victims, he said, was because they were concerned Epstein’s lawyers would use restitution payments provided for in the deal to spin the victims as money grabbers if the deal fell through and they went to court.
But a series of in-depth investigative reports from the Miami Herald based on thousands of pages of court documents, emails and FBI records, tell a different story about the meeting with Lefkowitz and Acosta’s decision not to notify the victims. Republican Sen. Ben Sasse joined Democrats in calling for an investigation in February, following the Miami Herald series, which prompted an acknowledgment from the Justice Department that they were probing Acosta for professional misconduct.
Acosta’s account of the meeting goes like this: He was staying at a hotel because he was giving a speech in the area, and Lefkowitz asked him to meet, so they got breakfast there, rather than travel to his office in Miami at 7 a.m. They spoke briefly, but nothing in the agreement changed, which had been already been signed, except the addendum. (RELATED: Work Permits Link Victoria’s Secret Billionaire To Epstein’s New York House)
“Yes, I met with opposing counsel,” Acosta said. “It was a breakfast meeting, because I was staying at the hotel. It was after, after, not before and not part of the negotiations, but it was after the agreement had been negotiated and that can be confirmed simply by looking at the date on the agreement and the date on the meeting.”
Following the press conference, Julie Brown, the Miami Herald reporter who broke the story, contested his version of events in an interview with CNN’s Jake Tapper. She pointed out that while the agreement was signed in September, the decision to notify the victims was never part of the formal agreement, and said negotiations over the agreement continued for months.
“He tried to paint that in a way that isn’t really accurate,” Brown said. “There were other aspects of that deal, there was an addendum that was still being negotiated. That was what they discussed at that meeting.”
As Brown noted, the addendum was added following the meeting, suggesting it could have been a concession allowed by Lefkowitz in exchange for something else not written into the agreement. A trail of communications from Lefkowitz reported out by Brown show he continued to put pressure on Acosta not to notify the victims and repeatedly cited an “assurance” from him that they would be kept in the dark. And he was doing this as the deal was apparently still up in the air.
Lefkowitz wrote a letter to Acosta after the meeting thanking him for the “commitment” he made to him, and noting that they had agreed to keep the agreement a secret from the victims. “You … assured me that your office would not … contact any of the identified individuals, potential witnesses or potential civil claimants and the respective counsel in this matter,” he wrote in the letter cited by Brown in the Miami Herald. (RELATED: Epstein’s New Mega-Ranch Could Play Into Investigation)
In November, Lefkowitz stated his objection to notifying the victims. “We … object to your sending a letter to the alleged victims,” he wrote, adding: “Any such letter would immediately be leaked to the press, your actions will only have the effect of injuring Mr. Epstein and promoting spurious civil litigation directed at him. We also request that if your office believes that it must send a letter to go to the alleged victims … it should happen only after Mr. Epstein has entered his plea.”
As of December, Epstein still hadn’t agreed to a date for the sentencing hearing, although the agreement had been signed for months at that point, and he had agreed to show up in court in November. One of Acosta’s prosecutors told Lefkowitz at that point that he was going to begin notifying victims of the deal, which Lefkowitz shut down by bringing up the assurance he had gotten from Acosta, according to a document cited by The Miami Herald.
Additionally, Lefkowitz and the other Epstein lawyers appealed to Acosta’s higher ups in the Justice Department following that meeting, to see if they could stop the case on jurisdictional grounds. It wasn’t until February — four months after the meeting — that the broader Justice Department clarified Acosta was within bounds in prosecuting a case against Epstein in Florida.
The Miami Herald recently updated one of their reports to include another letter from Lefkowitz to Acosta days before they met for breakfast, in which Lefkowitz reportedly presents a number of “open issues” he hopes to resolve at the meeting. One of them is whether the victims will be notified.
“Alex, as you know, when Mr. Epstein signed the Agreement, he did so in order to reach finality with your office and with the express representation that the federal investigation against him would cease,” Lefkowitz wrote, according to the Miami Herald. “To that end, I would like your assurance that after you and I agree to the issues raised in this letter, that will be the end of the United States’ involvement barring a willful breech of the agreement. Specifically, the Government or any of its agents will not make any further communications to the identified individuals [victims].”
He added: “I look forward to resolving these open issues with you.”
Far from being set in stone, the agreement was apparently on the ropes to some degree for more than seven months after Lefkowitz and Acosta met. The FBI even resumed the investigation at one point and began interviewing more witnesses. Epstein didn’t show up in court until June of 2008. In the meantime, some of the victims claim they received letters from federal prosecutors assuring them the FBI investigation was proceeding, but saying nothing of the agreement being worked out behind the scenes.
The majority of the victims found out about the agreement from the news, Brown reported, and some of them didn’t realize it meant their case was over. One victim’s lawyer happened to be in court the day Epstein pled guilty, because he planned to serve him with a lawsuit, but was powerless to act at that point on behalf of his client. An emergency bid to reverse the sentence was rejected, and it took the victim’s lawyers a year to get the agreement unsealed by a judge.
The ongoing secrecy seems to undermine Acosta’s statement that the reason prosecutors didn’t tell the victims was out of concern that the case might go to trial. Brown said on CNN that some of the victims hired attorneys “specifically to get the prosecutors to answer their phone calls” regarding the outcome of the case. So the question remains following Acosta’s statements: Why did they keep it a secret from the victims, even after Epstein was put in jail?
Bradley Edwards, a lawyer for some of the victims, accused Acosta of basically allowing Epstein’s lawyers to write the agreement. “The damage that happened in this case is unconscionable,” he told the Miami Herald. “How in the world, do you, the U.S. attorney, engage in a negotiation with a criminal defendant, basically allowing that criminal defendant to write up the agreement?”
The secrecy agreement Lefkowitz apparently secured from Acosta in that October meeting could prove key to the resolution of the federal sex trafficking charges against Epstein in New York. If the judge who ruled the Justice Department violated the victim’s rights by concealing the deal from them throws out the deal, the door will be wider for a new federal prosecution.
As it stands, however, the deal could prohibit federal charges in New York on constitutional grounds, as Andrew McCarthy recently outlined in the National Review. His lawyers could argue the charges violate the double jeopardy clause, which protects individuals from being tried twice by the same jurisdiction for the same crimes.
“The commentariat is glibly assuming the courts will give the feds a second bite at the apple by allowing the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York (SDNY) to prosecute the charges that Acosta forfeited,” McCarthy wrote. “I don’t think so.”