U.S. Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta testifies during a hearing before...

U.S. Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta testifies during a hearing before the Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies Subcommittee of Senate Appropriations Committee on May 2, 2019 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. Credit: Getty Images/Alex Wong

Federal prosecutors in Manhattan are taking another crack at holding serial pedophile Jeffrey Epstein accountable for his reprehensible behavior more than a decade ago. While the new indictment of the well-connected financier in the Southern District of New York is very aggressive, it sends a strong message that the rich and powerful cannot evade justice and that the sexual exploitation of underage girls will be taken seriously.

“The defendant, a registered sex offender, is not reformed, he is not chastened, he is not repentant,” prosecutors wrote in a memo arguing that Epstein should be denied bail on sex-trafficking charges. “Rather, he is a continuing danger to the community and an individual who faces devastating evidence supporting deeply serious charges.”

While the current indictment is based on three victims and conduct that took place more than a decade ago, new victims could come forward as U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman set up a hotline for them.

It’s a celebrity case with many subplots (Bill Clinton was a passenger on Epstein’s jets), but one of the most fraught is how Alexander Acosta, the former U.S. attorney in South Florida, approved a 2008 joke of a plea deal that permitted Epstein to receive immunity from federal prosecution. Acosta is now secretary of labor.

Despite a 53-page federal indictment prepared by Acosta’s office at that time detailing how Epstein paid underage girls $200 to $300 to come to his Palm Beach mansion and perform sex acts and to recruit others, Epstein got a non-prosecution agreement. Instead, Epstein pleaded guilty to minor prostitution counts under Florida law that let him serve a 13-month sentence in the Palm Beach County jail and participate in a work-release program that allowed a chauffeur to pick him up six days a week so he could work at his office for up to 12 hours a day.

Earlier this year, after a devastating investigation by the Miami Herald, a federal judge found that Acosta violated the Crime Victims’ Rights Act by not notifying Epstein’s victims about the plea deal, which would have given them the opportunity to challenge it in court. The possible protection of Epstein by federal and state prosecutors in Florida is likely the reason why the Southern District is using public integrity division lawyers on the new case. After the Herald report revealed Acosta traveled 70 miles from his Miami office to meet secretly at a hotel with a lawyer for Epstein about the plea deal, DOJ opened a new review of the case.

Sen. Chuck Schumer is demanding that the Justice Department let Congress see the internal review of Acosta’s handling of the case. The public deserves to know whether the rich can buy protection and, if so, who sold it. Meanwhile, President Donald Trump said he would look “very carefully” at Acosta’s role. Acosta should save Trump the effort and resign immediately.

Most important, Trump, who called Epstein a “terrific guy” in 2002, should not use Attorney General William Barr to meddle in the new prosecution. Barr at first said he would recuse himself because his prior law firm once represented Epstein, but now seems to be waffling on the extent of his non-involvement. In a bail memo, prosecutors said Epstein tried to obstruct federal investigators in 2008. Epstein shouldn’t be allowed to use his money and connections to try again.

  — The editorial board