60°F
weather icon Mostly Cloudy

2 Epstein guards charged with falsifying jail records

NEW YORK — Two correctional officers responsible for guarding Jeffrey Epstein the night he killed himself were charged Tuesday with falsifying prison records.

A grand jury indictment made public Tuesday accused guards Toval Noel and Michael Thomas of neglecting their duties by failing to perform checks on Epstein every half hour, as required, and of fabricating log entries to show they had.

The charges against the officers are the first in connection with the wealthy financier’s death in August at the Metropolitan Correctional Center in New York.

The city’s medical examiner ruled Epstein’s death a suicide.

A message left with union officials representing the guards wasn’t immediately returned.

Embarrassment for prison officials

Epstein’s death while awaiting trial on charges he sexually abused underage girls was a major embarrassment for the U.S. Bureau of Prisons.

The cell where he died was in a high-security unit, famous for having held terrorists and drug cartel kingpins. Epstein’s death, though, revealed the jail was suffering from problems including chronic staffing shortages that lead to mandatory overtime for guards day after day and other staff being pressed into service as correctional officers.

Attorney General William Barr has said investigators found “serious irregularities” at the jail and the FBI’s investigation had been slowed because some witnesses were uncooperative.

Epstein had been placed on suicide watch after he was found July 23 on the floor of his cell with a bruised neck. Multiple people familiar with operations at the jail say Epstein was taken off the watch after about a week, meaning he was less closely monitored but still supposed to be checked on every 30 minutes.

Checks perhaps not done for hours

Investigators believe those checks weren’t done for several hours before Epstein was discovered in his cell with a bedsheet around his neck, another person familiar with the matter told AP. That person likewise spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the investigation.

Prosecutors had wanted the guards to admit they falsified the prison records as part of a plea offer that they rejected, according to people familiar with the matter. They spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not permitted to publicly discuss the investigation.

Federal prosecutors had subpoenaed up to 20 staff members at the jail in August. The case was a top priority for the Justice Department. Both Barr and Deputy Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen received regular updates.

Falsification of records has been a problem throughout the federal prison system.

Kathleen Hawk Sawyer, who was named director of the Bureau of Prisons after Epstein’s death, disclosed in an internal memo earlier this month that a review of operations across the agency found some staff members failed to perform required rounds and inmate counts but logged that they had done so anyway. A copy of the memo was obtained by the AP.

Epstein’s death ended the possibility of a trial that would have involved prominent figures and sparked widespread anger that he wouldn’t have to answer for the allegations.

He had pleaded not guilty and was preparing to argue that he could not be charged because of a 2008 deal he made to avoid federal prosecution on similar allegations.

Conspiracy theories

Epstein’s death prompted a whirl of conspiracy theories from people, including members of Epstein’s family and some of his alleged victims, who questioned whether it was possible that he’d killed himself in such a high-security setting.

Officials have said there is no basis for those suspicions.

Don't miss the big stories. Like us on Facebook.
THE LATEST
Base shooter watched shooting videos before attack, offical says

The Saudi student who fatally shot three people at a U.S. naval base in Florida hosted a dinner party earlier in the week where he and three others watched videos of mass shootings.

PG&E reaches $13.5 billion settlement from 2017-2018 wildfires

Pacific Gas and Electric announced Friday it has reached a tentative $13.5 billion settlement resolving all major claims related to the deadly, devastating Northern California wildfires of 2017-2018 that were blamed on its outdated equipment and negligence.

Driven by an unexpected virus, US flu season arrives early

An early barrage of illness in the South has begun to spread more broadly, and there’s a decent chance flu season could peak much earlier than normal, health officials say.

Navy base shooter Saudi Arabian aviation student, officials say

Authorities say an active shooter and three other people are dead after he opened fire on multiple people Friday at the Naval Air Station in Pensacola. Eleven people were shot.

266K jobs added in Oct.; unemployment falls to 50-year low of 3.5%

The unemployment rate declined to 3.5% in October, matching a half-century low, the Labor Department reported Friday. And wages rose a solid 3.1% in November compared with a year ago.