What to Know
- Two guards responsible for guarding Jeffrey Epstein when he took his own life have been charged federally in connection with the probe
- Both guards were working overtime because of staffing shortages when Epstein was found; the medical examiner ruled his death a suicide
- The federal charges are the first in connection with Epstein’s death; he died at a Manhattan federal jail while awaiting his sex abuse trial
Two correctional officers responsible for guarding Jeffrey Epstein when he took his own life have been charged in connection with the federal investigation into the financier's death, a senior law enforcement official tells News 4.
The federal charges, which center around falsifying prison records, are the first in connection with Epstein’s death. The wealthy financier died at the Metropolitan Correctional Center in Manhattan while awaiting trial on charges of sexually abusing teenage girls.
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The officers on Epstein's unit at the federal jail are suspected of failing to check on him every half-hour, as required, and of fabricating log entries to claim they had. Federal prosecutors offered the guards a plea bargain, but the Associated Press reported Friday that the officers declined the deal.
Tova Noel, 31, and Michael Thomas, 41, were charged with conspiracy to defraud the United States by obstructing the functions of the MCC and making false records, according to the indictment.
The charges were filed by federal prosecutors in Manhattan, who have been investigating Epstein’s Aug. 10 death.
The indictment alleges Noel, who has been a correctional officer at the MCC since 2016, and Thomas, who has been a correctional officer at the MCC since 2007, failed to complete mandated counts of prisoners under their watch in the MCC’s Special Housing Unit. They allegedly sat at their desks, browsed the internet and even fell asleep.
The indictment also alleges they signed false certifications that they had conducted multiple counts of the inmates. No correctional officer conducted any inmate counts of the Special Housing Unit from 10:30 p.m. on August 9 until 6:30 a.m. on August 10 when Noel and Thomas discovered Epstein’s body.
“As alleged, the defendants had a duty to ensure the safety and security of federal inmates in their care at the Metropolitan Correctional Center," U.S. Attorney Geoffrey S. Berman said in a statement. "Instead, they repeatedly failed to conduct mandated checks on inmates, and lied on official forms to hide their dereliction.”
Both Noel and Thomas pleaded not guilty, and were released on $100,000 bond. After the court appearence, attorneys for the pair said their clients are being scapegoated.
The attorney for Noel asked the judge if her client could keep the gun she owns because "the world is crazy." The judge denied the request.
U.S. Senator Ben Sasse, a Republican member of the Senate Judiciary Committee holding an oversight hearing Tuesday, said that while the arrests were important, they were not the end of the investigation.
"Heads needed to roll the day Jeffrey Epstein died. The Bureau of Prisons and the Department of Justice need to start giving the public some answers," Sasse said in a statement. "These guards aren’t the only ones who should stand trial -- every one of Jeffrey Epstein’s co-conspirators should be spending the rest of their lives behind bars."
At the hearing, Director of the Federal Bureau of Prisons Kathleen Hawk Sawyer said the bureau has not made any major changes in policy as a result of Epstein's suicide. The policies weren't the problem, she said, it was a few employees who didn't follow the rules.
When she was asked if there's a widespread problem of employees sleeping on the job, she said, "a few," based on the results of reviewing cameras at the bureau's prisons. Those instances have been referred to the Justice Department inspector general. If other employees simply refuse to do their jobs, "we don't want them," she said.
In a subsequent statement, Sawyer said: "Any allegations of misconduct are taken very seriously by the agency and will be responded to appropriately. I am committed to this agency and am confident we will restore the public’s trust in us."
At the hearing, Sen. John Kennedy also stressed the need for an ongoing investigation.
"Christmas ornaments, drywall, and Jerry [sic] Epstein. Name three things that don't hang themselves," Kennedy said, adding: "That's what the American people think, and they deserve some answers."
Kennedy urged Sawyer to press the FBI and the Justice Inspector General to get their investigations done quickly.
Both guards charged were working overtime because of staffing shortages when Epstein was found. The officers have been placed on administrative leave while the FBI and the Justice Department's inspector general investigate the circumstances surrounding Epstein's death.
The city’s medical examiner ruled Epstein's death a suicide, but that hasn’t stopped conspiracy theories. A forensic pathologist hired by Epstein’s family to observe the autopsy has said authorities could help clear things up by being more transparent.
Epstein’s death ended the possibility of a trial that would have involved prominent figures, and it sparked widespread anger that he wouldn't have to answer for the allegations. He had pleaded not guilty to sexually abusing girls as young as 14 and young women in New York and Florida in the early 2000s.
Even with his death, federal prosecutors in New York have continued to investigate the allegations against Epstein. The Justice Department has vowed to aggressively investigate and bring charges against anyone who may have helped him.
There is also a related investigation in Paris, where accusers are complaining police haven't done enough to track down potential witnesses.
Epstein was placed on suicide watch after he was found July 23 on his cell floor with bruises on his neck. Multiple people familiar with operations at the jail have said Epstein was taken off suicide watch about a week before his death, meaning he was less closely monitored but still supposed to be checked on every 30 minutes.
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 the AP.
The falsification of records has been a problem throughout the federal prison system, which has been plagued for years by systematic failures, from massive staffing shortages to chronic violence.
In an internal memo earlier this month, Sawyer, the Federal Bureau of Prisons’ new director, said 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.
Staff members who are indicted by a grand jury will be placed on indefinite, unpaid suspension until the resolution of the criminal case, Hawk Sawyer wrote in the memo to top prison officials, a copy of which was obtained by the AP.
Associated Press writer Michael R. Sisak contributed to this report.