Jeffrey Epstein pleaded not guilty to charges of drug trafficking and allegedly sexually abusing dozens of underage girls in New York and Florida. USA TODAY
Conflicting information attempting to detail the final minutes of Jeffrey Epstein’s life emerged Tuesday as authorities sought to determine how the disgraced financier and registered sex offender managed to kill himself or otherwise die amid the tight security of a federal lockup.
CBS News reported that shouting and shrieking was heard from Epstein’s cell at the Manhattan Correctional Center on the morning he died. Guards attempted to revive Epstein while saying “Breathe, Epstein, breathe,” the news outlet reported – but cited no sources.
A lawyer for an inmate locked up a few cells away, however, said his client heard nothing out of the ordinary on Saturday morning.
“Nobody heard anything,” lawyer Bruce Barket told NBC News on Tuesday. “It was a silent act.”
Barket, who did not immediately respond to a request for comment from USA TODAY, represents Nicholas Tartaglione, a former upstate New York police officer awaiting trial on murder charges that could result in the death penalty. Tartaglione was a cellmate of Epstein, himself awaiting trial on sex trafficking charges when he was placed on suicide watch three weeks ago. He had been found in his cell with bruises on his neck, and attempted suicide was one possible explanation.
Epstein, 66, was later returned to the jail’s special housing unit but apparently had no cellmate. He was found “unresponsive in his cell shortly after 6:30 a.m. Saturday and was rushed to a hospital. Authorities have released few details on his death, but the MCC referred to it as an apparent suicide.
Barbara Sampson, the city’s chief medical examiner, said an autopsy on Epstein was performed and that a ruling on the cause of death was pending.
On Tuesday, the Justice Department announced that two staffers at the MCC were placed on leave and the warden was temporarily reassigned pending the outcome of investigations into Epstein’s death.
Guards on the unit are now suspected of falsifying log entries to show they were making the checks, another person familiar with the probe told The Associated Press.
In the past, guards at both federal and state prisons have faced criminal charges over false entries in duty logs that were discovered after something went wrong with a prisoner.
Surveillance video reviewed after the death showed guards never made some of the checks noted in the log, according to the person, who also wasn’t authorized to disclose information and spoke to The Associated Press Tuesday on condition of anonymity.
Death draws multiple investigations
Epstein’s death prompted outrage from victims, federal authorities and even Congress. Attorney General William Barr said he was “appalled” – and angered. The FBI and the Justice Department’s Office of Inspector General are among agencies probing the incident.
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The House Judiciary Committee also is looking into the matter. On Monday, House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., and Rep. Doug Collins, R-Ga., sent the Bureau of Prisons’ acting director a letter with 23 questions about Epstein’s confinement and removal from suicide watch.
“The apparent suicide of this high-profile and – if allegations are proven to be accurate – particularly reprehensible individual while in the federal government’s custody demonstrates severe miscarriages of or deficiencies in inmate protocol and has allowed the deceased to ultimately evade facing justice,” the lawmakers said in their letter to Hugh Hurwitz.
Staffing at the MCC is an issue
Serene Gregg, president of the MCC’s prison workers’ union, says staffing vacancies force correctional officers to work three or four overtime shifts per week. Prison officials assign teachers, counselors and cooks to cover officer shifts, she said, adding that the workers who discovered Epstein on Saturday had not been routinely assigned to that area of the detention center.
A person familiar with the jail’s operations told The Associated Press that one guard in Epstein’s unit was working a fifth straight day of overtime.
How Epstein ended up in the MCC
Epstein was indicted last month on charges of sex trafficking and conspiracy. The indictment alleged that Epstein “sexually exploited and abused dozens of minor girls at his homes” in Manhattan, in Palm Beach, Florida, and elsewhere from 2002-2005. The indictment came 11 years after Epstein pleaded guilty in Florida to state charges of soliciting and procuring a person under 18 for prostitution. He was sentenced to 13 months in county jail and was granted 12 hours daily of work release to his plush Palm Beach offices.
That plea deal has drawn intense scrutiny in recent weeks. Alex Acosta, who was involved in the plea deal in 2008 when he was a U.S. attorney in Miami, was forced to resign as President Donald Trump’s labor secretary.
Trump and the conspiracy theory
President Donald Trump on Tuesday defended his weekend re-tweet of a Twitter post that appeared to link Epstein’s death to former President Bill Clinton. The post provided no evidence. “The retweet was from somebody that is a very respected conservative pundit so I think that was fine,” Trump told reporters, adding that “I want a full investigation.”
Pal of the rich and famous
Epstein counted among his powerful connections former president Bill Clinton, President Donald Trump and Prince Andrew. Last week, thousands of pages of formerly sealed documents from a civil suit were unsealed that accuse rich and famous men, including Andrew, of having sex with an underage girl allegedly supplied by Epstein decades ago. Andrew has vigorously denied the claim.
In 2002, Trump weighed in on Epstein for New York magazine: “I’ve known Jeff for fifteen years. Terrific guy,” Trump said then. “He’s a lot of fun to be with. It is even said that he likes beautiful women as much as I do, and many of them are on the younger side. No doubt about it — Jeffrey enjoys his social life.”
Sex trafficking probe will continue
Barr made it clear that the probe of Epstein’s behavior will continue. Additional victims have come forward since the earlier plea deal. Epstein’s victims deserve justice, and any co-conspirators involved in sex trafficking with the disgraced financier “should not rest easy,” Barr said.
Jack Scarola, a Florida attorney representing five of Epstein’s accusers, says one target for prosecution is Epstein’s ex-girlfriend, Ghislaine Maxwell, a British socialite described in a civil case as a co-conspirator accused of recruiting girls to perform sex acts on Epstein and others.
“There is substantial evidence linking Ms. Maxwell to the recruiting, scheduling and the abuse of Jeffrey Epstein’s underage victims,” Scarola said.
Maxwell has not been charged with a crime, and she has denied wrongdoing.
“We will get to the bottom of what happened, and there will be accountability,” Barr said. “Let me assure you that this case will continue on against anyone who was complicit with Epstein.”
Contributing: Kevin Johnson, David Jackson and Kristine Phillips, USA TODAY.
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