Alexander Acosta Is Trump’s New Pick for Labor Secretary

Former assistant attorney general and NLRB member has record of targeting fraud, corruption, white-collar crime

By Dana Wilkie Feb 16, 2017
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Alexander Acosta (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)

A day after CKE Restaurants CEO Andrew Puzder withdrew his nomination for U.S. Labor Secretary, President Donald Trump announced his second pick for the job—Alexander Acosta, a Miami native who served in three presidentially appointed, Senate-confirmed positions and who has a history of prosecuting high-profile figures and targeting white-collar crime.

Acosta, a former assistant attorney general for the U.S. Justice Department and former National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) member, will "make a tremendous Secretary of Labor," Trump said during an afternoon press conference on Feb. 16.

If confirmed, Acosta would be the first Latino to serve in Trump's Cabinet.

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Acosta is a very different pick from Puzder, a businessman whose CKE Restaurants includes fast-food chains Hardee's and Carl's Jr. Acosta is a Harvard-educated lawyer with extensive experience in government, someone likely to win support from the left for his civil rights work and who is known for taking on big banks in fraud cases.

Acosta earned his bachelor's degree in economics from Harvard University and his law degree from Harvard Law School.

In July 2009, Acosta became the second dean of Florida International University College of Law. His biography on the law school's website says that he was a member of the NLRB, where he participated in or authored more than 125 opinions.

After that, the biography reads, he became the first Hispanic to hold the rank of assistant attorney general, serving in the civil rights division of the U.S. Justice Department. He was also principal deputy assistant attorney general in the same division. During his tenure there, he gave testimony in support of ensuring the civil rights of Muslims.

More recently, Acosta served as the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida, where he made a name for himself prosecuting high-profile figures for fraud, terrorism and cocaine trafficking, and for targeting white-collar crime. His office prosecuted lobbyist Jack Abramoff for fraud, New Yorker José Padilla for aiding terrorists and Charles "Chuckie" Taylor Jr., son of a former Liberian president, for torture. His office also imposed $780 million in fines on Swiss bank UBS for tax evasion and convinced the bank to divulge the names of people who were using secret Swiss bank accounts to avoid U.S. taxes.

He also prosecuted Palm Beach County Commission Chairman Tony Masilotti, Palm Beach County Commissioner Warren Newell and Broward Sheriff Ken Jenne for corruption; won a conviction against Columbian drug cartelffounders Miguel and Gilberto Rodríguez Orejuela for importing 200,000 kilos of cocaine into the country; and prosecuted Hamilton Bank executives for white-collar crime.

In December 2013, Acosta became chairman of U.S. Century Bank, the largest domestically owned Hispanic community bank in Florida and one of the 15 largest Hispanic community banks in the country.

Acosta has twice been named one of the nation's 50 most influential Hispanics by Hispanic Business magazine. He was named to a list of 100 most influential individuals in business ethics in 2008 by Ethisphere, which promotes ethics in business.

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Puzder Problems

Puzder withdrew his nomination for Labor Secretary Feb. 15—a day ahead of his confirmation hearing—amid mounting bipartisan opposition. In a statement, Puzder did not specify why he dropped out but noted that he made the decision "after careful consideration and discussions with my family."

Several Senate Republicans broke ranks with the White House and said they wouldn't confirm Puzder after it was revealed that there were alleged violations of wage and hour, safety, and equal employment opportunity laws at Carl's Jr. and Hardee's restaurants.

He had already been plagued with allegations that he was tutored by a mob lawyer while working toward his law degree and failed to pay taxes on an undocumented immigrant who worked for him as a housekeeper.

Puzder also was a controversial pick because of his opposition to a significant increase in the minimum wage, his support for the automation of some jobs, his criticism of the overtime rule, his support of deregulation and his opposition to the Affordable Care Act.

In addition, a decades-old video had surfaced on which Puzder's ex-wife, Lisa Fierstein, claimed on Oprah Winfrey's talk show that Puzder had physically abused her. Fierstein later retracted the abuse allegations, claiming she made the remarks to try to gain leverage in a custody battle between the couple. But the tape had already been given to senators ahead of the confirmation hearing.

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