Alexander Acosta

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Alexander Acosta
Alexander Acosta official portrait.jpg
27th United States Secretary of Labor
Assumed office
April 28, 2017
PresidentDonald Trump
DeputyPatrick Pizzella
Preceded byTom Perez
Dean of the Florida International University College of Law
In office
July 1, 2009 – April 28, 2017
Preceded byLeonard Strickman
Succeeded byAntony Page
United States Attorney for the Southern District of Florida
In office
June 11, 2005 – June 5, 2009
PresidentGeorge W. Bush
Barack Obama
Preceded byMarcos Jiménez
Succeeded byWifredo A. Ferrer
United States Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division
In office
August 22, 2003 – June 11, 2005
PresidentGeorge W. Bush
Preceded byBradley Schlozman (acting)
Succeeded byWan J. Kim
Member of the National Labor Relations Board
In office
December 17, 2002 – August 21, 2003
PresidentGeorge W. Bush
Preceded byWilliam Cowen
Succeeded byRonald Meisburg
Personal details
Born
Rene Alexander Acosta

(1969-01-16) January 16, 1969 (age 50)
Miami, Florida, U.S.
Political partyRepublican
Spouse(s)Jan Williams
EducationHarvard University (BA, JD)
Website

Rene Alexander Acosta (born January 16, 1969)[1] is an American attorney, academic and politician who serves as the 27th United States Secretary of Labor.[2][3] President Donald Trump nominated Acosta to be Labor Secretary on February 16, 2017, and he was confirmed by the U.S. Senate on April 27, 2017. Acosta is the first, and the only Hispanic person, to serve in President Trump's Cabinet.[4][5][6][7]

A Republican, he was appointed by President George W. Bush to the National Labor Relations Board and later served as Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights and U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida. He is the former dean of Florida International University College of Law.

In 2007-2008, as U.S. Attorney, Acosta approved a plea deal that required Jeffrey Epstein to plead guilty to state charges of prostitution, register as a sex offender and pay restitution to victims as part of a federal non-prosecution agreement.[8] The plea deal has been the subject of criticism by the Miami Herald and others.

Background[edit]

Acosta is the only son of Cuban refugees.[9][10] He is a native of Miami, Florida, where he attended the Gulliver Schools. Acosta received an A.B. degree in economics from Harvard College in 1990 and received a J.D. degree cum laude from Harvard Law School 1994.[11] He is the first member of his family to graduate from college.[10]

Following law school, Acosta served as a law clerk to Samuel Alito, then a judge on the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, from 1994 to 1995.[12] Acosta then worked at the Washington, D.C., office of the law firm Kirkland & Ellis, where he specialized in employment and labor issues.[13] While in Washington, Acosta taught classes on employment law, disability-based discrimination law, and civil rights law at the George Mason University School of Law.[14]

On December 31, 2013, Acosta became new chairman of U.S. Century Bank,[15] the largest domestically owned Hispanic community bank in Florida and one of the 15 largest Hispanic community banks in the nation. During his tenure as chairman, U.S. Century Bank had its first year-end profit since the start of the Great Recession.[9] Acosta was a member of the Board of Trustees of Gulliver Schools, where he served a past term as board chairman.[16]

Bush Administration[edit]

Acosta as Assistant Attorney General

Acosta served in four presidentially appointed, U.S. Senate-confirmed positions in the Bush Administration. From December 2001 to December 2002, he served as Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General in the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice.[17] From December 2002 to August 2003, he was a member of the National Labor Relations Board for which he participated in or authored more than 125 opinions.[18]

Then, he became Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division on August 22, 2003,[19] where he was known for increasing federal prosecutions against human trafficking.[20] Acosta authorized federal intervention in an Oklahoma religious liberties case to help assure the right to wear hijab in public school, [21] and worked with Mississippi authorities to reopen the investigation of the 1955 death of Emmett Till, a 14-year-old black youth whose abduction and killing helped spark the civil rights movement.[22][23] He was the first Hispanic to serve as Assistant Attorney General. [24]

While leading the Civil Rights division, Acosta allowed his predecessor, Bradley Schlozman, to continue to make decisions on hiring.[25] A report by the Inspector General and the Office of Professional Responsibility later found that Schlozman illegally gave preferential treatment to conservatives and made false statements to the Senate Judiciary Committee. Those findings were relayed to the office of the United States Attorney for the District of Columbia,[17] but Schlozman was not prosecuted.[25] While it put the primary responsibility on Schlozman, the report also concluded that Acosta "did not sufficiently supervise Schlozman" and that "in light of indications [he and Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Sheldon Bradshaw] had about Schlozman's conduct and judgment, they failed to ensure that Schlozman's hiring and personnel decisions were based on proper considerations."[17][25]

U.S. Attorney for Southern District of Florida[edit]

Acosta during his tenure as U.S. Attorney

In 2005, Acosta was appointed as the U.S. Attorney for Southern District of Florida, where his office successfully prosecuted the lobbyist Jack Abramoff, the terrorism suspect José Padilla, the founders of the Cali Cartel, and Charles McArther Emmanuel, the son of Liberia's former leader.[17][26]

The District also targeted white collar crime, prosecuting several bank-related cases, including one against Swiss bank UBS. The case resulted in UBS paying $780 million in fines, and for the first time in history, the bank provided the United States with the names of individuals who were using secret Swiss bank accounts to avoid U.S. federal income taxes.[27]

Other notable cases during his tenure include the corruption prosecution of Palm Beach County Commission Chairman Tony Masilotti, Palm Beach County Commissioner Warren Newell, Palm Beach County Commissioner Mary McCarty,[28] and Broward Sheriff Ken Jenne; the conviction of Cali Cartel founders Miguel and Gilberto Rodríguez Orejuela, for the importation of 200,000 kilos of cocaine, which resulted in a $2.1 billion forfeiture; and the white-collar crime prosecutions of executives connected to Hamilton Bank.[29]

Acosta also emphasized health care fraud prosecutions. Under Acosta's leadership the District prosecuted more than 700 individuals, responsible for a total of more than $2 billion in Medicare fraud.[30]

Prosecution of Jeffrey Epstein[edit]

In 2007-2008, while serving as the U.S. Attorney for Southern Florida, Acosta approved a plea deal that required Jeffrey Epstein to plead guilty to two state prostitution charges, register as a sex offender, and pay restitution to three dozen victims identified by the FBI as part of a federal non-prosecution agreement.[31]

In late 2018, as rumors that Acosta was being considered as a possible successor to Attorney General Jeff Sessions, the Miami Herald published a report critical of prosecution and the terms of incarceration of Jeffrey Epstein – a wealthy hedge fund manager with influential connections (including Bill Clinton, Donald Trump, Prince Andrew and among others) was said to have recruited minor girls for lewd massages and other paid sexual activities at his Florida mansion.[32][8]. As U.S. Attorney, Acosta approved the federal non-prosecution agreement under which Epstein, along with four co-conspirators and any unnamed “potential co-conspirators,” would not face federal criminal charges.[31] In a 2011 public letter about the case, Acosta expressed dissatisfaction with the terms of Epstein's incarceration, stating: “Epstein appears to have received highly unusual treatment while in jail.”

The plea deal and Epstein's subsequent lenient treatment while incarcerated have been the subject of criticism, with one reporter calling the plea deal “the deal of a lifetime.”[32] Acosta had publicly stated that the plea deal was determined by prosecutors to be the best way to assure a conviction. When the controversy resurfaced, Acosta said he welcomed the opportunity to participate in any inquiry, and the U.S. Department of Justice notified Congress in early 2019 that it had opened an investigation into the federal handling of the Epstein case.

Following publication of the November 28, 2018, Miami Herald article about Epstein's prosecution,[32] members of Congress submitted a formal request to the U.S. Department of Justice for review of Acosta's role in the Epstein deal[33], and several editorials called for Acosta's resignation or termination from his then-current position as U.S. Labor Secretary.[34][35]

David Markus, a Florida defense attorney familiar with Acosta's work as U.S. Attorney for Southern District of Florida offered a different view, stating: “[T]here are many — including the New York Times, Miami Herald, and others — who are calling for Congress to investigate Acosta and force him out, equating Acosta’s approval of the deal to Epstein’s actions. Although it is fair to have an honest disagreement about the Epstein plea agreement, the attacks on Acosta are not justified. ... At the time this case was being investigated, there were serious questions about whether Epstein’s crimes had the required federal nexus. These were traditional state court crimes with local victims, which the federal government decided should be prosecuted by the state system. ... In addition, there were legitimate concerns about how a trial would have turned out. These trials are difficult. ... Here, prosecutors have said that many of the victims either refused to testify or were going to say things that helped Epstein.”[36]

Former federal prosecutor, Jeffrey Sloman, echoed this view, writing: “Our priorities were to make sure Epstein could not hurt anyone else and to compensate Epstein’s victims without retraumatizing them. Our team worked diligently to build a federal case against Epstein. Throughout the investigation, we took care to be respectful of the pain Epstein’s victims had endured. As we continued, however, it became clear that most of Epstein’s victims were terrified to cooperate against him. Some hired lawyers to avoid appearing before a grand jury. One of the key witnesses moved to Australia and refused to return calls from us. We also researched and discussed significant legal impediments to prosecuting [in federal court] what was, at heart, a local sex abuse case. Given the obstacles we faced in fashioning a robust federal prosecution, we decided to negotiate a resolution. ... You can disagree with the result we reached, but our whole team — from Alex [Acosta] on down the chain of command — always acted with integrity and in good faith.” [37]

In December 2018, a Labor Department spokesperson replied to questions about renewed interest in the Epstein case as follows: "For more than a decade, this prosecution has been reviewed in great detail by newspaper articles, television reports, books, and Congressional testimony, and has been defended by the Department of Justice in litigation across three administrations and several attorneys general. If the Department of Justice’s Office of the Inspector General chooses to review this matter, Secretary Acosta welcomes the opportunity to participate."[38]

In February 2019, the Justice Department's Office of Professional Responsibility notified Senator Ben Sasse that it had opened an investigation into Epstein's prosecution.[39][40]

On February 21, 2019, a ruling in federal court on a related matter returned Acosta's role in the Epstein case to the headlines.[41][42][43][44] A key criticism of the Epstein case was that the federal deal with Epstein had been kept secret until after it was finalized, a practice that had been common prior to passage of the Crime Victims' Rights Act of 2004 (CVRA), which requires notifying victims of the progress of federal criminal cases. The CVRA was new and relatively untested at the time of the Epstein non-prosecution agreement. In 2008, two of Epstein's victims filed a lawsuit in federal court aiming to vacate the federal non-prosecution agreement on the grounds that it violated the CVRA.[32] For more than a decade, the U.S. Attorney's office denied that it acted in violation of victims' rights laws and argued that the CVRA did not apply in the Epstein case.[45] The government's contention that the CVRA did not apply was based on questions of timing (whether or not CVRA applied prior to filing of federal charges) and jurisdiction (whether the case should be considered a federal case or a state case under the CVRA). The court rejected those arguments in the February 21, 2019, ruling, finding that the CVRA did apply and that victims should have been notified of the Epstein non-prosecution agreement in advance of its signing, to afford them the opportunity to influence its terms. Because the CVRA does not provide for specific penalties in cases where the government fails to meet its notification requirements, the judge gave the parties fifteen days to present the court with possible remedies. At the conclusion of his ruling, the federal judge in the case noted that he was “not ruling that the decision not to prosecute was improper,” but was “simply ruling that, under the facts of this case, there was a violation of the victims rights [for reasonable, accurate, and timely notice] under the CVRA.”[46]

Subsequent to the federal non-prosecution agreement, additional information came to light indicating that Epstein's activities may have been significantly more extensive – perhaps affecting hundreds of minors, believed to have been recruited from the U.S. and overseas to attend sex parties at Epstein's homes in Florida, New York, New Mexico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands, and aboard his private jet – it is alleged that girls as young as 13 were expected to perform sexual favors for Epstein and his guests. Although there have been books and a number of news reports related to these additional alleged activities, criminal charges against Epstein have not been filed in jurisdictions other than Florida.[47][48] The case was scheduled to be examined in court for the first time in December 2018 as part of a civil lawsuit between Epstein and a lawyer representing several victims, but that suit was settled before witnesses gave testimony.[49][50] In a March 2019 letter to the New York Times, several of Epstein's lawyers (including Ken Starr) denied these additional allegations, stating: “The number of young women involved in the investigation has been vastly exaggerated, there was no 'international sex-trafficking operation' and there was never evidence that Mr. Epstein 'hosted sex parties' at his home.”[51]

Dean of the Florida International University College of Law[edit]

On July 1, 2009, Acosta became the second dean of Florida International University College of Law.[52] He spearheaded the effort to establish the J.M. degree in banking compliance, Bank Secrecy Act and anti-money-laundering at FIU Law.[24]

Secretary of Labor[edit]

Nomination and confirmation[edit]

Acosta being sworn in as the Secretary of Labor by Vice President Mike Pence, on April 28, 2017

President Donald Trump announced in a press conference on February 16, 2017, that he would nominate Acosta to fill the position of United States Secretary of Labor after the nomination of Andrew Puzder was withdrawn.[53][54][55][56][57] Acosta was recommended by White House Counsel Don McGahn.[58] Acosta is the first, and – as of May 2019 – the only Hispanic person to serve in Trump's cabinet.[59][60][61][62] Jovita Carranza was nominated to Trump's cabinet on April 4, 2019, but not yet confirmed, to serve as the Administrator of the Small Business Administration.[63]

The Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions held confirmation hearings on March 22, 2017, and Acosta′s nomination was reported out of the committee on March 30, 2017. [64]

On April 27, 2017, Acosta was confirmed as Secretary of Labor by the U.S. Senate in a 60–38 vote. He received the support of 8 Democratic Senators and all Republican Senators except Senator Pat Toomey, who did not participate in the vote.[65] On April 28, 2017, Acosta was sworn in by Vice President Mike Pence.[66]

Tenure[edit]

Apprenticeship[edit]

During Acosta′s confirmation hearing, he discussed the need and his support of apprenticeship as a workforce development tool to close the skills gap.[67] On June 15, 2017, President Trump signed Executive Order 13801, “Presidential Executive Order Expanding Apprenticeships in America,” establishing the Task Force on Apprenticeship Expansion with Acosta serving as the chair.[68][69] The Task Force held five public meetings and issued their final report to President Trump on May 10, 2018.[70][69]

Following the Task Force final report, the U.S. Department of Labor announced they following initiatives to expand and promote apprenticeship opportunities:

Acosta announced that the Trump Administration has a goal of one million new apprentices.[74]

Recognition[edit]

Acosta has twice been named one of the nation's 50 most influential Hispanics by Hispanic Business Magazine. He serves or served on the Florida Innocence Commission,[75] on the Florida Supreme Court's Commission on Professionalism,[76], Florida Supreme Court’s Access to Justice Commission,[24] and on the Commission for Hispanic Rights and Responsibilities.[77] In 2008, Acosta was nameds one of the 100 most influential people in business ethics by the Ethisphere Institute.[78]

References[edit]

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External links[edit]

Legal offices
Preceded by
Bradley Schlozman
Acting
United States Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division
2003–2005
Succeeded by
Wan J. Kim
Preceded by
Marcos Jiménez
United States Attorney for the Southern District of Florida
2005–2009
Succeeded by
Willy Ferrer
Academic offices
Preceded by
Leonard Strickman
Dean of Florida International University College of Law
2009–2017
Succeeded by
Tawia Ansah
Acting
Political offices
Preceded by
William B. Cowen
Member of the National Labor Relations Board
2002–2003
Succeeded by
Ronald E. Meisburg
Preceded by
Tom Perez
United States Secretary of Labor
2017–present
Incumbent
U.S. order of precedence (ceremonial)
Preceded by
Wilbur Ross
as Secretary of Commerce
Order of Precedence of the United States
as Secretary of Labor
Succeeded by
Alex Azar
as Secretary of Health and Human Services
U.S. presidential line of succession
Preceded by
Wilbur Ross
as Secretary of Commerce
11th in line
as Secretary of Labor
Succeeded by
Alex Azar
as Secretary of Health and Human Services