Alex Acosta, the former South Florida prosecutor who more than a decade ago crafted what many consider a lenient plea deal for accused child sex-offender Jeffrey Epstein, is out as U.S. labor secretary.
Acosta’s resignation Friday came two days after he publicly defended his actions as the U.S. attorney for Florida’s southern district in 2008, when his office gave Epstein the plea deal now under intense scrutiny.
Federal prosecutors in New York charged Epstein on Monday with sex trafficking, accusing the hedge-fund billionaire of luring underage girls to mansions in Palm Beach and Manhattan and paying them to engage in nude massages and sex acts.
Epstein’s arrest and the federal charges are a contrast to the agreement approved by Acosta in 2008 that allowed Epstein to avoid a lengthy prison sentence.
The secret agreement was exposed in a series of stories by Miami Herald reporter Julie K. Brown, who’s been widely praised following Epstein’s arrest this week in New York.
Shortly after Acosta announced he would no longer serve in the administration of President Donald Trump, who said the decision to step down was Acosta’s, Florida Democrats began applauding the move.
“The days of men protecting predatory men without consequences are over,” Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, a Broward County Democrat who has repeatedly demanded Acosta’s ouster, said in a statement.
State Sen. Lauren Book, D-Plantation, a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, called Acosta’s resignation “a victory for crime victims everywhere.”
U.S. Rep. Lois Frankel, a Palm Beach County Democrat, said in a press release statement she still wants answers on the “sweetheart deal” Acosta negotiated for Epstein.
“For the survivors to get justice, we need answers as to what happened at both the state attorney and federal prosecutor’s office in Florida,” Frankel said.
COURT RULING IGNITES POT INDUSTRY
The state law requiring medical marijuana operators to grow, process and distribute cannabis and related products created an “oligopoly” and runs afoul of a constitutional amendment that broadly legalized medical marijuana in the Sunshine State, an appellate court ruled this week.
The three-judge panel’s ruling upheld in part a decision issued last year by Leon County Circuit Judge Charles Dodson, who sided with Tampa-based Florigrown in a lawsuit alleging a state statute, passed during a 2017 special legislative session, did not properly carry out the amendment.
Dodson issued a temporary injunction requiring state health officials to begin registering Florigrown and other medical-marijuana firms to do business, but the judge’s order was put on hold while the state appealed.
The ruling also struck down a portion of the state law that set a cap on the number of medical marijuana operators in the state, which Tuesday’s appellate decision supported Tuesday. The court said it is in the public interest to require health officials to register medical marijuana operators “without applying the unconstitutional statutory provisions.”
The 1st District Court of Appeal’s decision sent shockwaves through the state’s highly restricted but rapidly growing medical marijuana industry, in which licenses are routinely selling for upwards of $50 million.
The state law requires entities to “conform to a more restricted definition” than is provided in the amendment, the majority said.
“We thus find the statutory language directly conflicts with the constitutional amendment, and appellee (Florigrown) has demonstrated a substantial likelihood of success” in procuring a judgment declaring the statute unconstitutional, the majority wrote.
GIVE US YOUR TIRED, YOUR POOR…
The city of South Miami is preparing to fight a controversial new law aimed at banning so-called sanctuary cities and punishing local officials who support such policies.
City commissioners unanimously agreed this week to hire an attorney to challenge the new law in court, and Sen. Linda Stewart, D-Orlando, is urging Orlando and Orange County to do the same. Her Central Florida region has among the largest concentration of immigrants in the state.
The law, signed by Gov. Ron DeSantis last month, was one of the most fiercely fought issues of the 2019 legislative session. It was a major legislative priority for DeSantis, who made the ban on sanctuary cities a key platform issue in his campaign for governor.
Under the new law, local law enforcement agencies are mandated to fully comply with federal immigration detainers and share information of detained undocumented immigrants with immigration authorities.
PRISON SYSTEM BRACES FOR MORE STORMS
With the 2019 hurricane season in full swing, Florida’s prison system continues to recover from Hurricane Michael.
Nine months after Michael barreled through the Panhandle, the Department of Corrections continues to face hurdles. Agency officials, however, assure that they're ready for the hurricane season that is already underway.
Corrections officials continue to seek reimbursements from the federal government on some of the $50 million in property damage to 14 state prisons cauesd by the storm. They’ve had to shuffle thousands of inmates across Florida, after numerous facilities were shuttered. And, with some Panhandle communities destroyed, the state continues to struggle to fill vacancies in Northwest Florida prisons, exacerbating an already problematic workforce shortage.
But the prison system is prepared for future disasters, officials with the agency said.
For example, all state prisons have backup generators in case of power outages. And corrections officials have conducted exercises and developed contingency plans to make sure they are ready for a natural disaster.
“Following Hurricanes Irma and Michael, the Florida Department of Corrections has been viewed as a national leader in hurricane response due to the department’s ability to complete large scale evacuations of thousands of inmates while maintaining the safety and security of all,” said Michelle Glady, a spokeswoman with the state agency.
STORY OF THE WEEK: U.S. Secretary of Labor Alex Acosta, a former South Florida federal prosecutor who crafted a plea deal for Jeffrey Epstein more than a decade ago, resigned six days after Epstein was arrested on federal sex-trafficking charges.
QUOTE OF THE WEEK: “Looking at that hole in the ceiling, I was thinking, where can I be safe? I really thought I was going to die.” --- Rodrick Fagiole, a former inmate at Gulf Correctional Institution, who said he watched the eye of Hurricane Michael pass over the prison after the storm ripped off a part of the roof.