International News Opinons

Guards on Duty During Epstein Suicide May Face Charges

Two prison workers who were guarding Jeffrey Epstein when he hanged himself could be charged as early as this week with falsifying records.

Two federal prison workers on duty the night Jeffrey Epstein killed himself in a Manhattan jail could be charged as early as this week with falsifying records to hide their failure to check on him as was required, according to a person briefed on the case.

The workers, who have not been publicly identified, came under scrutiny soon after Mr. Epstein’s death because they were responsible for monitoring the high-security unit where Mr. Epstein, the disgraced financier who had previously been convicted of sex crimes, was being held.

Rather than checking on Mr. Epstein every half-hour as they were supposed to, the workers fell asleep for several hours and doctored corrections records to cover up what they had done, according to several law enforcement and prison officials with knowledge of the matter.

The charges against the workers would be the first to arise from a criminal inquiry into the death of Mr. Epstein, who hanged himself at the Metropolitan Correctional Center in Manhattan while awaiting trial on new sex-trafficking charges.

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Mr. Epstein, 66, had been held at the jail for more than a month when he was found early on Aug. 10. He had pleaded not guilty and was set to go on trial next year. If convicted, he faced up to 45 years in prison.

New York City’s chief medical examiner ruled the death a suicide. Despite having only recently been removed from a suicide watch, Mr. Epstein was left unchecked for hours before tying a bedsheet to his bunk and hanging himself.

Lawyers for Mr. Epstein challenged the medical examiner’s finding, and a pathologist hired by his family said that “evidence points to homicide.”

That Mr. Epstein was able to kill himself while in federal custody was an embarrassment for the Justice Department and the Bureau of Prisons.

Attorney General William P. Barr said at the time of Mr. Epstein’s death that a preliminary investigation had turned up “serious irregularities” at the Manhattan jail, whose warden was reassigned.

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“We will get to the bottom of what happened,” he added. “There will be accountability.”

The two corrections workers who are expected to face charges were placed on leave in the days after Mr. Epstein’s death. In recent weeks, federal prosecutors in Manhattan have offered them plea deals, according to two people with knowledge of the matter.

The United States attorney’s office in Manhattan declined to comment.

Falsifying government records is a felony, but it is typically punished with suspension by the Bureau of Prisons, one prison official said.

That could be changing. Kathleen Hawk Sawyer, who previously led the bureau and was handed the reins again by Mr. Barr after Mr. Epstein’s death, warned staff members in a memo this month that falsifying logs could result in criminal investigation.

“Recent reviews of institution operations have resulted in findings that some staff members have failed to perform rounds and complete counts on housing units while documenting that they have,” said the memo, which was obtained by The New York Times.

“Failure to conduct rounds, complete counts, and providing inaccurate information in government systems and documents are considered very serious allegations of misconduct by the agency, and will be responded to appropriately,” Ms. Sawyer said.

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The investigation being led by federal prosecutors is one of three inquiries into the circumstances surrounding the death of Mr. Epstein, who was accused of running a sex-trafficking scheme that exploited dozens of underage girls in New York, Florida and the United States Virgin Islands.

The Bureau of Prisons is conducting an internal inquiry focused on its personnel and procedures. The findings of that investigation are expected to be released soon.

Michael E. Horowitz, the Justice Department’s inspector general, is investigating the possibility of systemic failures at the Manhattan jail and the Bureaus of Prisons more broadly. The results of that inquiry are not expected for some time.

Story cited here.