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New Epstein victim goes public as Trump labour secretary defends plea deal
[WASHINGTON] US President Donald Trump's labour secretary on Wednesday defended his handling of a secret plea deal he made with Jeffrey Epstein as another woman came forward to allege she was raped by the billionaire hedge fund manager.
Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta, 50, a former federal prosecutor, 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 Mr Trump, former president Bill Clinton and Prince Andrew, faced similar allegations of sexually abusing girls in Florida a decade ago.
During a 50-minute press conference, Mr 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.
Mr 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," he said.
"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."
Mr Acosta welcomed the revived charges against Epstein but demurred when asked whether he should apologise to the victims in the Florida case.
"We were trying to do the right thing for the victims," Mr 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."
'HE RAPED ME'
Earlier 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 City high school in 2001 to meet Epstein at his Manhattan townhouse.
"I was kind of a lost kid and she sensed it," Ms Araoz said.
Ms 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 US$300.
Ms 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.
She said she was afraid at the time of going to the authorities.
"I was really frightened of Epstein," she said. "He knew a lot of powerful people and I didn't know what he could do to me, and I wasn't sure that anyone could protect me."
The two top Democrats in Congress, Nancy Pelosi, speaker of the House of Representatives, and Chuck Schumer, the Senate minority leader, both called this week for Mr Acosta's resignation.
Mr Trump told reporters on Tuesday that Mr Acosta has been an "excellent secretary of labor."
"The rest of it, we will have to look at," Mr Trump said. "But you're talking about a long time ago."
Mr Trump described Epstein as a "terrific guy" in a 2002 New York magazine article, but he said on Tuesday that he was "not a fan of his."
"I had a falling out with him a long time ago," Mr Trump said without elaborating. "I don't think I've spoken to him for 15 years.
"I was not a fan of his, that I can tell you," he said.