Jeffrey Epstein, seen in a photo provided by the New York...

Jeffrey Epstein, seen in a photo provided by the New York State Sex Offender Registry, was found unresponsive in his cell at the Metropolitan Correctional Center in Manhattan on Saturday morning. Credit: Bloomberg/AP

This story was reported by John Asbury, Matthew Chayes, Anthony M. DeStefano and John Riley. It was written by Asbury.

The U.S. Justice Department is investigating the apparent suicide Saturday of politically connected financier Jeffrey Epstein, who died in a federal jail in Manhattan while awaiting trial on sex-trafficking charges, authorities said.

Epstein, 66, was found unresponsive about 6:30 a.m. in his cell in the Special Housing Unit at the Metropolitan Correctional Center, according to a statement from the federal Bureau of Prisons.

The statement said that "lifesaving measures were initiated immediately" and jail personnel requested paramedics for further help. An ambulance took Epstein to a hospital where he was pronounced dead. An FDNY spokesman, who declined to give his name, said an EMS unit responded to the jail at 6:39 a.m., and that a patient in cardiac arrest was taken to NewYork-Presbyterian/Lower Manhattan Hospital.

Two law enforcement officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity, told The Washington Post that Epstein was found hanging in his cell.

The FBI is investigating the death, the Bureau of Prisons' statement said. U.S. Attorney General William P. Barr said in his own statement that the Justice Department's Office of the Inspector General also would investigate.

“I was appalled to learn that Jeffrey Epstein was found dead early this morning from an apparent suicide while in federal custody," Barr said. "Mr. Epstein’s death raises serious questions that must be answered."

A statement released by Epstein's attorneys said: “We are enormously sorry to learn of today’s news. No one should die in jail." 

A separate statement by one of Epstein's attorneys, Marc Fernich, who said he was speaking for himself and not the defense team, blamed "overzealous prosecution," politicians, judges and the media for piling onto Epstein's case and leading to his death.

"The public needs to know exactly what happened and why — and how his custodians could have let it occur," Fernich said.

Epstein had been locked up at the jail since July 6 after he was indicted on charges of sex trafficking of minors and conspiracy. The indictment had alleged that he abused dozens of young girls at his Manhattan and Palm Beach, Florida, homes.

Epstein had pleaded not guilty and was facing up to 45 years in prison if convicted. A federal judge had recently denied his request to be released to home confinement in his Manhattan penthouse.

A little over two weeks ago, Epstein was found on the floor of his jail cell with bruises on his neck, according to a person familiar with the matter who spoke on condition of anonymity. At the time, it was not clear whether the injuries were self-inflicted or from an attack.

On Saturday, a person familiar with the situation said Epstein had been taken off suicide watch. Asked whether Epstein was under suicide watch or any mental health observation, the Bureau of Prisons did not comment, referring only to the attorney general's statement. 

As an inmate in the jail's Special Housing Unit, Epstein was subject to a higher level of security and surveillance.

Conditions in the jail’s most restrictive wing have been called worse than the military prison at Guantánamo Bay.

Opened in 1975, the jail can house 763 inmates, according to the prison bureau’s website. Certain inmates, mostly pretrial, can be held in solitary confinement for 23 to 24 hours a day with little natural light, according to Amnesty International, which in 2014 said these and other conditions amounted to “cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment and are incompatible with the presumption of innocence.”

The jail — attached to the federal court complex and U.S. attorney’s office in lower Manhattan, next to St. Andrew Catholic Church — once held Bernie Madoff, mafioso John Gotti, and Ramzi Yousef, the mastermind of the first World Trade Center bombing, in 1993.

At one point, Epstein did have a cellmate: Nicholas Tartaglione, a former police officer jailed on murder and narcotics charges, though the two were not cellmates at the time of Epstein’s death. Bruce Barket, a Long Island-based lawyer for Tartaglione, called for “a thorough investigation into how this occurred despite the Bureau of Prisons being on notice that Mr. Epstein had already attempted suicide at least once. That investigation should be broad enough to examine the deplorable conditions inmates are forced to endure at the MCC.”

Brad Edwards, a lawyer for some of Epstein's alleged victims, also reacted to the news Saturday, The Washington Post reported: "The fact that Jeffrey Epstein was able to commit the selfish act of taking his own life as his world of abuse, exploitation and corruption unraveled is both unfortunate and predictable. While he and I engaged in contentious legal battles for more than a decade, this is not the ending anyone was looking for. The victims deserved to see Epstein held accountable, and he owed it to everyone he hurt to accept responsibility for all of the pain he caused.”

Manhattan U.S. Attorney Geoffrey S. Berman, whose office was prosecuting Epstein, said his office's investigation would continue and urged any additional victims to call the FBI.

"Today’s events are disturbing, and we are deeply aware of their potential to present yet another hurdle to giving Epstein’s many victims their day in court," Berman said. "To those brave young women who have already come forward and to the many others who have yet to do so, let me reiterate that we remain committed to standing for you, and our investigation of the conduct charged in the indictment — which included a conspiracy count — remains ongoing."

Jennifer Araoz, who accused Epstein of raping her when she was 15 years old, said: “Epstein is gone, but justice must still be served. I hope the authorities will pursue and prosecute his accomplices and enablers, and ensure redress for his victims.”

Epstein's arrest last month led to separate investigations into how authorities handled his case initially when similar charges were first brought against him in Florida more than a decade ago. In that case, Epstein was allowed to plead guilty to soliciting a minor for prostitution and avoid more serious federal charges.

U.S. Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta resigned last month after coming under fire for the way he oversaw that deal when he was U.S. attorney in Miami.

Berman's office reopened the probe after investigative reporting by The Miami Herald stirred outrage over that plea bargain.

But Epstein's lawyers argued that the new charges were covered by the deal and were improper. They said he hasn't had any illicit contact with underage girls since serving his 13-month sentence in Florida.

Before his legal troubles, Epstein led a life of extraordinary luxury that drew powerful people into his orbit.

He socialized with princes and presidents, including Donald Trump and former President Bill Clinton, and lived on a 100-acre private island in the Caribbean and in one of the biggest mansions in New York. A college dropout, he became a sought-after benefactor of professors and scientists, donating millions of dollars to Harvard and other causes.

Epstein’s death came less than 24 hours after hundreds of documents were ordered released by a federal appeals court detailing a 2016 deposition in a previously settled lawsuit by one of his accusers. Epstein repeatedly invoked his Fifth Amendment right not to incriminate himself regarding an alleged sex ring to procure underage girls.

The accuser, Virginia Roberts Giuffre, described a high-profile network of clients who she said she had sex with as part of Epstein’s alleged sex-trafficking ring, including Prince Andrew, former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson and Epstein’s former attorney Alan Dershowitz. The men have all denied the allegations.

Several local officials also called for further investigation, including Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-Bronx/Queens), and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio. News of the apparent suicide also elicited conspiracy theories, which went viral on social media.

"Died of SUICIDE on 24/7 SUICIDE WATCH ? Yeah right! How does that happen... #JefferyEpstein had information on Bill Clinton & now he’s dead" read one tweet from actor-comedian-commentator Terrence K. Williams. 

The tweet had 39,504 retweets as of 10:30 p.m. — among them President Donald Trump.

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