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US labor secretary Acosta resigns over Epstein plea deal

Alastair Pike, AFP | Alexander Acosta announces his resignation as US labor secretary flanked by President Donald Trump on the White House lawn.

Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta said Friday he's stepping down amid the tumult over his handling of a 2008 secret plea deal with wealthy financier Jeffrey Epstein, who is accused of sexually abusing underage girls.

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Acosta, a former Florida prosecutor, made the announcement from the White House lawn on Friday with President Donald Trump at his side. Democrats had called for him to quit over his handling of the Epstein case.

Epstein is now being held on sex trafficking and conspiracy charges. He has pleaded not guilty, and wants bail.

The 2008 plea deal required Epstein to admit to a single state charge of soliciting prostitution from a minor and register as a sex offender. He served just 13 months in a county jail.

Acosta’s resignation came amid US media reports that Epstein paid off possible co-conspirators to "influence" them.

New York prosecutors said they had obtained financial records showing Epstein wired $350,000 to possible co-conspirators in his misdeeds, just days after reports broke of the secret plea deal he negotiated a decade ago, news reports said.

"This course of action, and in particular its timing, suggests the defendant was attempting to further influence co-conspirators who might provide information against him in light of the recently re-emerging evaluations," prosecutors said in a filing arguing that Epstein should remain behind bars until trial.

Prosecutors said the financier made two payments, one for $100,000 and another for $250,000, to a pair of suspected co-conspirators, who were not named.

Epstein, 66, was charged Monday in New York with one count of sex trafficking of minors and one count of conspiracy to commit sex trafficking of minors. He faces up to 45 years in prison if convicted.

Prosecutors sought to demonstrate he had a history of trying to obstruct inquiries into his actions, in order to keep him in jail pending trial.

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

(FRANCE 24 with AFP, AP)

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