Guards were supposed to be checking on Jeffrey Epstein every 30 minutes before he committed suicide over the weekend, but hadn’t been following procedure, The New York Times reported Sunday.
The jail had also transferred out Epstein’s cellmate, leaving him alone shortly after he was taken off suicide watch, which also went against the Metropolitan Correctional Center’s standard protocol, the report said, citing US law enforcement officials with knowledge of the detention. Epstein had been placed on suicide watch after he was found a little over two weeks ago with bruising on his neck.
The revelations will likely intensify scrutiny of his suicide, already the focus of investigations and conspiracy theories.
Epstein was found unresponsive in his cell Saturday morning at the Metropolitan Correctional Center, according to the Federal Bureau of Prisons. Fire officials received a call at 6:39 a.m. Saturday that Epstein was in cardiac arrest, and he was pronounced dead at New York Presbyterian-Lower Manhattan Hospital.
His abrupt death cuts short a criminal prosecution that could have pulled back the curtain on the inner workings of the high-flying financier with connections to celebrities and presidents, though prosecutors have vowed to continue investigating.
The FBI and the Office of the Inspector General at the Department of Justice will investigate his death. Attorney General William Barr said he was “appalled” by the news of the suicide.
“Mr. Epstein’s death raises serious questions that must be answered,” Barr said in a statement.
Epstein, 66, had been denied bail and faced up to 45 years behind bars on federal sex trafficking and conspiracy charges unsealed last month. He had pleaded not guilty and was awaiting trial on accusations of sexually abusing dozens of underage girls.
On Friday, more than 2,000 pages of documents were released related to a since-settled lawsuit against Epstein’s ex-girlfriend by Virginia Giuffre, one of Epstein’s accusers. The records contain graphic allegations against Epstein, as well as the transcript of a 2016 deposition of Epstein in which he repeatedly refused to answer questions to avoid incriminating himself.
Epstein’s death raises questions about how the Bureau of Prisons ensures the welfare of such high-profile inmates. In October, Boston gangster James “Whitey” Bulger was killed in a federal prison in West Virginia where had just been transferred.
Nebraska Sen. Ben Sasse, a Republican member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, wrote Saturday in a scathing letter to Barr that “heads must roll” after the incident.
“Every single person in the Justice Department — from your Main Justice headquarters staff all the way to the night-shift jailer — knew that this man was a suicide risk, and that his dark secrets couldn’t be allowed to die with him,” Sasse wrote.
Cameron Lindsay, a former warden who ran three federal lockups, said the death represents “an unfortunate and shocking failure, if proven to be a suicide.”
“Unequivocally, he should have been on active suicide watch and therefore under direct and constant supervision,” Lindsay said.
An attorney for Jeffrey Epstein, Marc Fernich, said in a statement that jailers at the Metropolitan Correctional Center failed to protect Epstein and to prevent the “calamity” of his death.
Fernich also said that reporters, plaintiffs’ lawyers and court officials “should be ashamed of their behavior” following Epstein’s indictment last month. He said Epstein had “long since paid his debt to society” for his crimes.
Epstein’s arrest drew national attention, particularly focusing on a deal that allowed Epstein to plead guilty in 2008 to soliciting a minor for prostitution in Florida and avoid more serious federal charges.
Federal prosecutors in New York reopened the probe after investigative reporting by The Miami Herald stirred outrage over that plea bargain.
His lawyers maintained that the new charges in New York were covered by the 2008 plea deal and that Epstein hadn’t had any illicit contact with underage girls since serving his 13-month sentence in Florida.
The federal investigation into the allegations remains ongoing, Manhattan US Attorney Geoffrey Berman said. He noted in a statement Saturday that the indictment against Epstein includes a conspiracy charge, suggesting others could face charges in the case.
His death fueled conspiracy theories online, with some offering unsubstantiated speculation — including some retweeted by US President Donald Trump — that his death wasn’t a suicide, or it was faked.
His relationships with Trump, former US president Bill Clinton and Britain’s Prince Andrew were at the center of those online rumors and theories, many of which question what politicians knew about Epstein’s alleged sex crimes.
Trump has acknowledged knowing Epstein but said he “had a falling out with him a long time ago.”
Before his legal troubles, Epstein led a life of extraordinary luxury that drew powerful people into his orbit. He socialized with princes and presidents and lived on a 100-acre private Caribbean island and one of the biggest mansions in New York.
The case became an unexpected hot-button issue in Israel’s election campaign after Epstein’s longstanding ties to former prime minister Ehud Barak were revealed.
Barak reacted Saturday to Epstein’s death, saying he wished he had never met him.
“On this day, I am thinking of his victims, the price [they paid] and the terrible things he did,” he told Channel 13 news.