Two Jeffrey Epstein Guards Are Charged by Federal Prosecutors in New York

(Bloomberg) -- Two guards at a federal jail in New York City were indicted for failing to keep watch on the accused sex trafficker Jeffrey Epstein just before he killed himself in custody three months ago.

The guards, Tova Noel and Michael Thomas, failed to check on the 66-year-old fund manager for about eight hours until he was found dead in his cell at the Metropolitan Correctional Center in lower Manhattan, prosecutors said. Noel and Thomas, who have been placed on leave, are accused of repeatedly signing false certifications claiming they conducted multiple counts of inmates.

The guards’ indictment was unsealed Tuesday as the director of the federal prison system told Congress that the FBI was investigating whether there was anything criminal about Epstein’s death. The official said the Federal Bureau of Investigation was “looking at criminal enterprise,” but declined to discuss specifics.

The guards never checked on Epstein after 10:30 p.m. on Aug. 9, until he was discovered after breakfast carts arrived in the unit around 6 a.m. the next morning, according to the indictment. In the intervening hours, they didn’t perform required checks every 30 minutes on Epstein or conduct regular rounds, but sat at their desk, searching the internet for furniture and motorcycle sales and sports news. For two hours they didn’t move, “and appeared to have been asleep,” prosecutors alleged.

“The security risks created by this type of behavior are immense,” FBI Assistant Director William Sweeney said in a prepared statement.

Epstein’s death has fueled speculation that he was killed, and his lawyers have disputed the official government conclusion that he committed suicide. The indictment makes no allegations of foul play, instead portraying Epstein’s death as the result of inept and lazy monitoring.

Noel and Thomas are charged with six counts of falsifying documents and conspiracy to defraud the U.S. Prosecutors said they surrendered themselves to the FBI shortly before 10 a.m. Tuesday. In a brief hearing before U.S. Magistrate Judge Sarah Netburn Tuesday afternoon, both guards pleaded not guilty to the charges. The judge approved an agreement between the prosecutors and defense lawyers that will allow the two to remain free on $100,000 bail each as they await trial.

Jason Foy, a lawyer for Noel, said he was “prepared to defend this case” if he can’t “reach a reasonable agreement” with prosecutors. Montell Figgins, an attorney for Thomas, said his client was offered a plea deal but it “was not something he wanted to do.”

“Understand Mr. Thomas is a single father with three children. This case is going to ruin his life,” he said.

“We had hoped that the U.S. attorney’s office would make an effort to try to address the systematic failures with respect to the Bureau of Prisons,” Figgins said.

The Metropolitan Correctional Center has been plagued by allegations of bribing guards for cell phones and drugs as well as inmate deaths and rape.

Epstein, who was worth hundreds of millions of dollars, was arrested in July as he was returning to the U.S. from Paris. He was charged with sex trafficking of girls, faced life in prison if convicted and was being held without bail. He denied wrongdoing.

He was found unresponsive in his cell early on Aug. 10 and declared dead at a nearby hospital shortly afterward. He had earlier been placed on suicide watch but was subsequently removed from it.

Epstein had previously been found in his cell with a strip of bedsheet around his neck in July. Thomas was one of the jail officers who responded to the earlier incident, according to the indictment. Epstein was placed on suicide watch for one day and psychological observation for a week afterward.

Once he was returned to his unit, he was assigned to the cell closest to the correctional officers’ desk and was required to have a cellmate. But the cellmate was transferred out of Epstein’s cell on Aug. 9, and no replacement was assigned.

His death came the day after more than 2,000 pages of filings were unsealed, revealing allegations that prominent people were involved in his acts. Prosecutors continue to investigate whether others were involved.

Epstein entered a controversial non-prosecution agreement with U.S. prosecutors in Florida more than a decade ago, admitting to two state prostitution charges and serving 13 months in a county jail. A federal judge ruled this year that the deal violated the law by failing to notify the accusers of it.

©2019 Bloomberg L.P.

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