U.S. Attorney General William Barr blasted the federal Bureau of Prisons on Monday over the death of accused child sex trafficker Jeffrey Epstein, saying officials have uncovered “serious irregularities” at the Manhattan detention center where Epstein died during the weekend, apparently a suicide.
Speaking to police officials in New Orleans, Barr didn’t specify the nature of the irregularities. But published reports have said Epstein was alone at the time of his death and was not being monitored every 30 minutes, contrary to routine protocol. Two of the officers assigned to his floor were also working overtime, one forced and the other for a fifth straight day, reports said, due to staff shortages.
The Associated Press reported late Monday that a person familiar with operations at the detention center said one of the two people guarding Epstein the night he died wasn’t a correction officer.The person wasn’t authorized to disclose information about the investigation and spoke on condition of anonymity.
The person also told the AP that Epstein hanged himself with a bedsheet and a second source said investigators have learned the 30-minute checks weren’t done for several hours before Epstein was discovered Saturday.
Epstein had been taken off suicide watch after what may have been an earlier attempt last month to take his own life. He had previously been found unconscious and with marks on his neck. After psychiatric evaluations, he was taken off suicide watch.
Barr said Monday he was “frankly angry to learn of the MCC failure to adequately secure the prisoner,” referring to the 66-year-old financier, who had socialized over the years with President Donald Trump, former President Bill Clinton, Britain's Prince Edward and other wealthy and politically active people. All have denied knowledge of Epstein's sexual activities with minors. He had been convicted previously of child sex abuse.
A top official of the union representing jail personnel at the Metropolitan Correctional Center in Manhattan said there had been warnings for months about understaffing and overtaxed guards as a result of a Trump administration hiring freeze.
The hiring freeze, instituted in 2017, directly led to staffing shortages throughout the [Bureau of Prisons] that were so severe that the bureau's facilities across the nation are regularly using “augmentation,” in which teachers, nurses, clerical workers and other support staff fill in for correctional officers, said Eric Young, a union official with the American Federation of Government Employees Council of Prison Locals.
The Bureau of Prisons also has been mandating overtime across the federal prison system with many correctional officers regularly forced to work 70- to 80-hour weeks, said Young.
Neither Young nor Barr directly linked any of the staffing problems at the 11-story MCC to Epstein’s death.
The exact cause and manner of death for Epstein have still not been officially disclosed. He was discovered by MCC personnel unresponsive in his cell about 6:30 a.m. on Saturday. EMS staffers with the FDNY responded and pronounced him dead. The city Office of Chief Medical Examiner said Sunday an autopsy had been completed, but the cause of death was pending. At the request of Epstein’s family, former city medical examiner Dr. Michael Baden attended the autopsy.
Baden said Monday he was under numerous gag orders and couldn’t discuss what he had seen during the postmortem examination of Epstein’s body. He believed the medical examiner's office would have results in a few weeks, after toxicological and other tests were finished.
Continuing uncertainty about cause of death and Epstein’s connections to prominent people has fueled social media speculation about conspiracy theories involving his death. Epstein was indicted in July on sex trafficking charges that accused him and others of recruiting minor girls to visit his various mansions to engage in sex acts for money. Epstein was being held at the MCC after Manhattan federal judge Richard Berman denied him bail.
In a statement released through one of his staff, Berman said Monday that he thought Epstein's death was a tragedy for everyone involved.
With his death, the criminal case against Epstein is over. But his alleged victims could still seek financial compensation by suing his estate. Attorneys for various women who said they were victimized by Epstein didn’t return telephone and email messages for comment.
One additional financial wrinkle to the end of the criminal case is that the alleged victims might try to “claw back” any sizable legal retainers and fees Epstein paid to his defense attorneys in anticipation of a long legal battle that will no longer happen.
“I think so,” noted defense attorney Barry Slotnick said on the claw-back issue. “ Clearly he paid legal fees upfront.”
Epstein defense attorneys Mark Fernich and James Brochin didn’t return numerous telephone and email messages for comment.
The July sex trafficking indictment is sprinkled with references to “victim-recruiters,” as well as “employees or associates,” who the indictment said played a role in Epstein’s conspiracy.
"Let me assure you that this case will continue on against anyone who was complicit with Epstein. Any co-conspirators should not rest easy. The victims deserve justice and they will get it," Barr said Monday, according to CNN.
Other potential targets are believed to have been involved in contacting victims and scheduling their sexual encounters with Epstein at his New York and Palm Beach residences beginning in about 2002. The girls, some as young as 14, were asked to provide massages that included sex acts, the indictment charged. The victims were paid a few hundred dollars for such sexual encounters, according to the charges.
“Epstein frequently traveled from New York to Palm Beach by private jet before which an employee or associate would ensure that minor victims were available for encounters upon his arrival in Florida,” according to the indictment.
With John Riley