'Serious irregularities' found at jail where Epstein died

Before his death Epstein faced up to 45 years in prison on federal sex-trafficking and conspiracy charges

United States Attorney General William Barr, listens to LaToya Cantrell, New Orleans mayor, during the Grand Lodge Fraternal Order of Police's 64th National Biennial Conference at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center on Convention Blvd. in New Orleans, La. Monday, Aug. 12, 2019. Barr said Monday that there were “serious irregularities” at the federal jail where Jeffrey Epstein took his own life this weekend as he awaited trial on charges he sexually abused underage girls. (David Grunfeld/The Advocate via AP)
Powered by automated translation

US Attorney General William Barr said on Monday that there were “serious irregularities” at the federal jail where Jeffrey Epstein killed himself as he awaited trial on charges of sex trafficking.

The financier, 66, was found on Saturday morning in his cell at the chronically short-staffed Metropolitan Correctional Centre, in a unit used to hold notorious prisoners under extremely tight security.

“I was appalled, and indeed the whole department was, and frankly angry to learn of the MCC’s failure to adequately secure this prisoner,” Mr Barr said at a police conference in New Orleans.

“We are now learning of serious irregularities at this facility that are deeply concerning and demand a thorough investigation. The FBI and the office of the inspector general are doing just that.

“We will get to the bottom of what happened and there will be accountability."

The manner in which Epstein killed himself has not been announced.

A postmortem examination was performed on Sunday, but New York City chief medical examiner Dr Barbara Sampson said investigators were awaiting further information.

A private pathologist, Dr Michael Baden, observed the examination at the request of Epstein’s lawyers.

Dr Baden was the city’s chief medical examiner in the late 1970s and has been called as an expert witness in high-profile cases, including OJ Simpson’s 1995 murder trial.

Epstein had been placed on suicide watch after he was found in his cell a little over two weeks ago with bruises on his neck. He was taken off suicide watch at the end of July.

Inmates on suicide watch receive 24 hours a day of “direct, continuous observation", the US Bureau of Prisons policy dictates.

They are issued tear-resistant clothing and placed in cells that are stripped of furniture or fixtures they could use to take their own lives.

After being returned to the jail's special housing unit, Epstein was supposed to have been checked on by a guard every 30 minutes, but that precaution was not taken the night before his death, The New York Times reported on Sunday.

On the morning of Epstein’s apparent suicide, guards on his unit were working overtime shifts to make up for staffing shortages.

A source said one guard was working a fifth straight day of overtime and another was working mandatory overtime.

Epstein’s death cut short a prosecution that could have revealed his activities and his connections to celebrities and presidents, although Mr Barr vowed on Monday that cases would continue “against anyone who was complicit with Epstein".

“Any co-conspirators should not rest easy. The victims deserve justice and they will get it,” he said.

Police reports show Epstein had a team of recruiters and employees who lined up underage girls for him.

In a court filing on Monday, his accusers said that an agreement he negotiated with federal prosecutors in Florida more than a decade ago to grant immunity to his possible accomplices should be thrown out now that he is dead.

Under that 2008 agreement, Epstein pleaded guilty to prostitution-related state charges and served 13 months behind bars.

At the time of his death, Epstein was being held without bail and faced up to 45 years in prison on federal sex-trafficking and conspiracy charges unsealed last month.

Epstein’s death is the latest stain on the Bureau of Prisons, which was already was under fire after Boston gangster James “Whitey” Bulger was beaten to death in October at a federal prison in West Virginia.

The two deaths underscore “serious issues surrounding a lack of leadership” within the bureau, said Cameron Lindsay, a former warden who ran three federal prisons.

One of Epstein's lawyers, Marc Fernich, also blamed jail officials, saying they "recklessly put Mr Epstein in harm's way" and failed to protect him.

Staffing shortages worsened by a partial government shutdown prompted inmates at the New York City jail to stage a hunger strike in January after they were denied family and lawyer visits.

Eight months later, the jail remains so short-staffed that the Bureau of Prisons is offering guards a $10,000 bonus to transfer there from other federal lockups.

After Epstein’s suicide, union president Eric Young of the American Federation of Government Employees Council of Prison Locals said a hiring freeze by the US government at the bureau led to thousands of vacancies and created “dangerous conditions” for prison workers and inmates.

Mr Young said that teachers, clerical workers and other support staff were regularly used to fill in for guards, and many guards were regularly forced to work 70 and 80-hour weeks.

Meanwhile, the French government called on prosecutors to open an investigation into Epstein’s links to France.

US authorities have said Epstein had a home in Paris and used a fake Austrian passport to travel to France in the 1980s.

France’s secretaries of state for women’s rights and protection of children said it was “fundamental” to launch an investigation in France so that Epstein’s death “doesn’t deprive the victims of the justice they deserve” and to protect other girls from “this kind of predator".

The Paris prosecutor's office did not comment.