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New Epstein victim goes public as labor secretary defends plea deal

China Daily | Updated: 2019-07-12 09:18

US Labor Secretary Alex Acosta speaks during news conference in Washington on Wednesday. ALEX BRANDON/ASSOCIATED PRESS

WASHINGTON - US President Donald Trump's labor secretary on Wednesday defended his handling of a secret plea deal he made with Jeffrey Epstein, as another woman came forward to allege that she was raped by the billionaire.

US Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta, 50, a former federal prosecutor in Florida, has been facing mounting calls to resign over the decade-old plea deal that saw Epstein serve just 13 months in a county jail.

Epstein, 66, was charged on Monday by prosecutors in New York with one count of sex trafficking of minors and one count of conspiracy to commit sex trafficking of minors.

Those charges carry a maximum of 45 years in prison.

According to prosecutors, Epstein sexually exploited dozens of underage teen girls at his homes in Manhattan and Palm Beach, Florida, between 2002 and 2005. Some were as young as 14.

The well-connected Epstein, whose friends have included Trump, former US president Bill Clinton and Prince Andrew, faced similar allegations of sexually abusing girls in Florida a decade ago.

During a news conference, Acosta replied to a barrage of questions from reporters about his office's handling of the Epstein case when he was a federal prosecutor in Florida.

The deal reached with Epstein required him to plead guilty to a single state charge of soliciting prostitution from a minor and register as a sex offender.

Acosta said prosecutors agreed to the deal rather than take Epstein to trial on more serious charges because that would have been a "roll of the dice". "The goal here was straightforward. Put Epstein behind bars, ensure he registered as a sexual offender, provide victims with the means to seek restitution, and protect the public by putting them on notice that a sexual predator was in their midst," he said.

He welcomed the revived charges against Epstein but demurred when asked whether he should apologize to the victims in the Florida case.

"We were trying to do the right thing for the victims," Acosta said. "I understand that individuals may say that this was not enough.

"I'm glad to see that it's happening now," he said. "He's a bad man and needs to be put away."

Earlier on Wednesday, another alleged victim of Epstein went public with her claim that he raped her when she was 15 years old.

Jennifer Araoz, 32, told NBC News that she was recruited by a woman outside her New York high school in 2001 to meet Epstein at his Manhattan townhouse.

"I was kind of a lost kid and she sensed it," Araoz said.

Araoz said she initially only talked with Epstein during her visits but one day he took her to a room with a massage table on the floor.

She said he manipulated her into stripping down to her panties and giving him a massage while he masturbated. Epstein paid her $300.

Araoz said that in the fall of 2002, Epstein raped her.

"He raped me, forcefully raped me," Araoz said, adding that she did not return to his home after that day.


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