Barr cites 'serious irregularities' at jail, says Epstein 'co-conspirators should not rest easy'

Kevin Johnson and John Bacon

Attorney General William Barr vowed Monday that the federal investigation into accused sex trafficker Jeffrey Epstein would continue, despite the former financier’s apparent suicide while in federal custody.

Barr, in remarks before the Fraternal Order of Police meeting in New Orleans, said he was appalled and angered by Epstein's death Saturday at the Manhattan Correction Center.

"We are learning of serious irregularities in the facility that are deeply concerning and demand a thorough investigation," Barr said. "The FBI and the office of inspector general are doing just that."

Epstein's victims deserve justice, and any co-conspirators involved in sex trafficking with the disgraced financier "should not rest easy,” Barr said.

"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."

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Eric Young, chief of the federal prison workers union, said the MCC has been troubled by persistent staffing shortages, prompting the Bureau of Prisons to dispatch officers from other locations in an attempt to fill the void.

Young said there are about 30 vacancies at the facility, a shortfall that is forcing officers to work multiple overtime shifts while some civilian workers are being pressed to work officer shifts.

“It’s going on right now,” Young said.

A person familiar with the jail’s operations told The Associated Press that a guard in Epstein’s unit was working a fifth straight day of overtime and another guard was working mandatory overtime the day he was found. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because he lacked authorization to publicly discuss jail operations.

Serene Gregg, president of the MCC’s prison workers’ union, said union officials raised concerns about staffing shortages at the facility with prison leaders as recently as last week.

“Every day,” Gregg said that the staffing vacancies are forcing prison officials to assign teachers, counselors and cooks to cover officer shifts throughout the facility. The guards who are there, she said, are working three to four over-time shifts per week.

Gregg said the workers who discovered Epstein had not been routinely assigned to that area of the detention center.

“You have people working who are extremely exhausted and others who are not trained to do the work,” Gregg said. “They have been playing a dangerous game for a long time. And it’s not just at MCC, it’s going on across the country.”

Epstein, 66, was awaiting trial on federal sex-trafficking charges when he as found "unresponsive in his cell" at around 6:39 a.m. Saturday and was transported to nearby New York Presbyterian-Lower Manhattan Hospital, where he was pronounced dead, according to a statement by the MCC.

The center referred to his death as an apparent suicide. Dr. Barbara Sampson, the chief medical examiner in New York City, said an autopsy on Epstein was performed Sunday and a ruling on the cause of death is pending.

Sampson said that, at the request of Epstein's representatives and with the awareness of federal prosecutors, she allowed a private pathologist (Dr. Michael Baden) to observe the autopsy. She called the approval a "routine practice."

President Donald Trump fueled controversy Saturday when he re-tweeted a conspiracy theory, backed by no evidence, seeking to link Epstein's death to former President Bill Clinton.

Catherine Linaweaver, who retired in 2014 after 16 months as the MCC’s warden, said some people were overreacting to Epstein’s suicide because he was well known. She noted the limitations jailers face when someone decides to take his or her own life.

“If someone really wants to commit suicide,” Linaweaver said, “they’re going to do it.”

Epstein, indicted last month on charges of sex trafficking and sex-trafficking conspiracy, had pleaded not guilty. The indictment alleged that Epstein "sexually exploited and abused dozens of minor girls at his homes" in Manhattan and Palm Beach, Florida, along with other locations from 2002-2005.

The indictment came 11 years after Epstein avoided what could have been a lengthy prison sentence when he pleaded guilty in Florida to state charges of soliciting and procuring a person under 18 for prostitution.

That plea deal has drawn intense scrutiny and led then-U.S. Attorney Alex Acosta to resign as Trump's Labor secretary.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Jeffrey Epstein: Attorney general will continue sex-trafficking probe