Federal authorities pressed on Tuesday with their investigation into Jeffrey Epstein’s jailhouse suicide amid mounting evidence the chronically understaffed lockup may have bungled its responsibility to keep him from harming himself.
At the same time, prosecutors pursued a parallel investigation into whether any associates of the wealthy financier will face charges for assisting him in what authorities say was his rampant sexual abuse of teenage girls.
One of the new details provided by people familiar with the federal Metropolitan Correctional Center was that one of Epstein’s guards the night he took his own life was not a regular correctional officer.
Serene Gregg, president of the American Federation of Government Employees Local 3148, told The Washington Post that one of the guards was a fill-in who had been pressed into service because of staffing shortages.
In addition, Epstein was supposed to have been checked on by a guard every 30 minutes. But investigators have learned those checks weren’t done for several hours before he was found, according to a person familiar with the case. That person was not authorized to discuss the matter publicly and spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity.
A second person familiar with operations at the jail said Epstein was discovered in his cell Saturday morning with a bedsheet around his neck. That person likewise spoke on condition of anonymity for the same reason.
Attorney General William Barr said Monday that he was “frankly angry to learn of the MCC’s failure to adequately secure this prisoner.”
He added: “We will get to the bottom of what happened and there will be accountability.”
At the same time, Barr warned that any co-conspirator in the sex-crimes case against Epstein “should not rest easy. … The victims deserve justice, and they will get it.”
The 66-year-old Epstein was being held without bail, awaiting trial on federal sex trafficking and conspiracy charges that could have brought 45 years in prison.
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. But for reasons that have not been explained, he had been taken off that watch at the end of July and returned to the jail’s special housing unit.
The manner in which Epstein killed himself has not been officially announced. An autopsy was performed Sunday, but the city’s chief medical examiner said investigators were awaiting further information.
The Associated Press does not typically report on details of suicides but has made an exception because the circumstances of Epstein’s death are pertinent to the investigation.
In the sex-crimes case, authorities are most likely turning their attention to the team of recruiters and employees who, according to police reports, FBI records and court documents, knew about Epstein’s penchant for teenage girls and lined up victims for him.
If any Epstein assistants hoped to avoid charges by testifying against him, that expectation has been upended by his suicide.
“Those who had leverage as potential cooperators in the case now find themselves as the primary targets,” said Jacob S. Frenkel, a former federal prosecutor.