Two corrections officers at the Metropolitan Correctional Center (MCC) in New York City were charged on Tuesday for their alleged negligence in supervising Jeffrey Epstein, the billionaire financier who died in custody last August. According to the New York Times, the two employees are scheduled to appear in United States District Court this afternoon.
The two prison guards, Tova Noel and Michael Thomas, are accused of making false records and conspiring to defraud the United States. The indictment alleges that Noel and Thomas failed to check on detainees every 30 minutes, per their instructions, and signed official prison records claiming they had done so.
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At the time of his death, Epstein was being held at MCC on sex trafficking and sex trafficking conspiracy charges. He was on suicide watch following an attempt he had made on his life the month prior.
In a statement, U.S. attorney Geoffrey Berman said: “the defendants had a duty to ensure the safety and security of federal inmates in their care at the Metropolitan Correctional Center. Instead, they repeatedly failed to conduct mandated checks on inmates and lied on official forms to hide their dereliction.”
The charges against Noel and Thomas mark the first in the criminal investigation into the passing of the 66-year-old financier, who was found unresponsive in his cell on the morning of August 10th, with a sheet wrapped around his neck in a noose. He was later pronounced dead. On Friday, the AP reported that federal prosecutors offered the guards a plea deal that would have involved them admitting to having falsified prison records, which they rejected.
A billionaire financier with connections to powerful figures such as Prince Andrew, former President Bill Clinton, and current President Donald Trump, Epstein was arrested in July and charged with sex trafficking and sex trafficking conspiracy. Court documents alleged he “sexually exploited and abused dozens of minor girls” between 2002 and 2005. He was scheduled to stand trial in 2020, and faced 45 years in prison.
According to Duncan Levin, a former federal prosecutor in the Eastern District of New York, the case has highlighted the grueling work conditions of guards at federal correctional centers, as well as the corruption and lack of oversight that runs rampant at such facilities. “Anyone who practices criminal law and spends a lot of time at the MCC knows there are major problems there, and the conditions are abominable,” he says. “I don’t think a lot of people who spend a lot of time in these facilities are surprised this type of conduct happens.”
At the time of Epstein’s death, both of the guards had reportedly been working overtime due to staffing shortages at the prison. Following Epstein’s passing, they were placed on administrative leave pending the results of an FBI investigation.
It is not uncommon for federal prison guards to be accused of such negligent behavior, Levin says. “If botching a safety check was a crime I think a lot of federal corrections officers would be in prison here for a long time,” he says. “I think the crime here is the coverup… at the core of this is a case about prison guards [allegedly] falsifying documents and there are prisoners in MCC who are in there for exactly the same thing.”
More to the point, the forthcoming charges are likely to fuel the rampant theorizing surrounding the circumstances of Epstein’s death. Many have suggested that Epstein, who socialized with such powerful figures as Prince Andrew, former President Bill Clinton, and current President Donald Trump, was murdered as a way to prevent him from testifying against his famous friends. Such theories have even spawned a meme, “Epstein didn’t kill himself,” which was recently referenced by former Navy SEAL Mike Ritland during a Fox News interview.
Although an official autopsy by the New York City medical examiner concluded that Epstein did indeed die by suicide, these results have been questioned by private pathologist Dr. Michael Baden, who recently told Fox & Friends that Epstein’s broken hyoid bone was “extremely unusual in suicidal hangings and could occur much more commonly in homicidal strangulation.”
The criminal charges, says Levin, “pour gasoline” on feverish speculation regarding Epstein’s death. “We now know the government is charging two guards not only with looking the other way but with covering it up actively by filing false documentation,” he says. “And that begs the question why.”
It also demonstrates that the federal government is serious about its investigation into Epstein’s criminal activity. Levin says he wouldn’t be surprised if charges were forthcoming against members of Epstein’s inner circle, such as Ghislaine Maxwell, the British heiress and former Epstein paramour who has been accused of procuring young girls for Epstein.
“I would continue to be very nervous if I were in Epstein’s inner circle,” says Levin. “I’d continue to think about what defenses are available.”
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