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The Latest: Labor secretary defends Epstein plea deal

FILE - In this July 30, 2008 file photo, Jeffrey Epstein, center, appears in court in West Palm Beach, Fla. The wealthy financier pleaded not guilty in federal court in New York on Monday, July 8, 2019, to sex trafficking charges following his arrest over the weekend. Epstein will have to remain behind bars until his bail hearing on July 15.
FILE - In this July 30, 2008 file photo, Jeffrey Epstein, center, appears in court in West Palm Beach, Fla. The wealthy financier pleaded not guilty in federal court in New York on Monday, July 8, 2019, to sex trafficking charges following his arrest over the weekend. Epstein will have to remain behind bars until his bail hearing on July 15. Uma Sanghvi

The Latest on developments in the sex trafficking case against Jeffrey Epstein (all times local):

7:05 p.m.

The former Palm Beach County state attorney is disputing Labor Secretary Alex Acosta's account of why he signed off on a secret sex trafficking plea deal involving now-jailed financier Jeffrey Epstein.

Acosta insisted Wednesday that the deal in which Epstein pleaded guilty to lesser state charges was the toughest he could have gotten at the time. And he said prosecutors were working to avoid a more lenient arrangement that would have allowed Epstein to "walk free."

But Barry Krischer, who was in office at the time, says Acosta's recollection "is completely wrong."

Krischer, a Democrat, said that the U.S. attorney's office's always had the ability to file its own federal charges and that a lengthy indictment was prepared but "abandoned after secret negotiations between Mr. Epstein's lawyers and Mr. Acosta."

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3:05 p.m.

Labor Secretary Alex Acosta says that when he was a federal prosecutor in Florida, his office acted appropriately when it came to the secret plea deal offered to hedge fund manager Jeffrey Epstein a decade ago in a molestation case.

Acosta was asked Wednesday at a news conference if he owed an apology to women who said Epstein molested them when they were underage.

Acosta says the prosecution didn't want to share with the victims that there were efforts to gain restitution for them from Epstein.

He says there was concern that if negotiations fell through, Epstein's counsel could use the prospect of restitution to question their credibility.

Acosta says, "In our heart we were trying to do the right thing for these victims."

Epstein has pleaded not guilty to new charges in New York.

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2:55 p.m.

Labor Secretary Alex Acosta says his role in a molestation case involving financier Jeffrey Epstein hasn't changed his relationship with President Donald Trump and White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney.

He told reporters in a news conference Wednesday that his relationship with the president is "outstanding." He says he spoke with Mulvaney earlier Wednesday and has an excellent relationship with the chief of staff as well.

Acosta, a former federal prosecutor in south Florida, has been under scrutiny for his part in a secret 2008 plea deal that let Epstein avoid federal prosecution on charges that he molested teenage girls.

A senior administration official tells The Associated Press that Trump encouraged Acosta to hold a press conference laying out his thinking and role on the plea deal. The official spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss private talks.

Epstein has pleaded not guilty to new charges in New York City.

— Associated Press writer Zeke Miller

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2:45 p.m.

Labor Secretary Alex Acosta is defending his handling of the Jeffrey Epstein case, saying he tried to avoid a deal allowing the wealthy financier to "walk free."

Acosta is a former federal prosecutor in South Florida. He is being criticized for his part in a secret 2008 plea deal that let Epstein avoid federal prosecution on charges that he molested teenage girls.

Acosta said Wednesday that the case started as a state matter, not with his office. He says that the Palm Beach state attorney's office was "ready to let Epstein walk free. No jail time. Nothing."

Acosta says federal prosecutors found that to be unacceptable. He says prosecutors presented an ultimatum of pleading guilty to more serious charges that required jail time and restitution.

Epstein has pleaded not guilty to recent New York charges.

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1:10 p.m.

A woman who accuses Jeffrey Epstein of raping her when she was 15 has filed court papers in preparation for suing him.

Lawyers for 32-year-old Jennifer Araoz (uh-ROHS') filed the papers Wednesday in New York, seeking information from Epstein.

Messages were left with Epstein's attorneys seeking comment. Epstein pleaded not guilty Monday to federal sex trafficking charges that don't include Araoz's allegations, which weren't reported to authorities and were shared for the first time Wednesday on NBC's "Today" show.

The court papers say that starting when Araoz was 14, she would give him massages that would often lead to sex acts.

She says after months of massages, he forcibly raped her in 2002.

The Associated Press generally does not identify people who say they have been sexually assaulted unless they come forward publicly, as Araoz has done.

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10:10 a.m.

One of Jeffrey Epstein's accusers says he raped her at his New York home when she was 15.

Jennifer Araoz (Uh-ROHS') said Wednesday on NBC's "Today" show she hasn't spoken to authorities about her allegations against the wealthy financier because she feared retribution.

Like other victims, Araoz says she was told to undress and give Epstein massages that often led to groping and sex acts. She says he "forcefully raped" her when she was 15 despite her pleas asking him to stop.

Messages were left with Epstein's defense attorneys seeking comment about Araoz's claims.

Epstein has pleaded not guilty to sex trafficking charges. His lawyers said in court that the allegations in the indictment couldn't amount to statutory rape because there was no penetration.

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