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Epstein death will prompt harsh scrutiny of New York jail

Christian Berthelsen, Bob Van Voris and David Voreacos, Bloomberg News on

Published in News & Features

NEW YORK -- The federal jail in lower Manhattan will face bracing questions and sharp criticism over the death of Jeffrey Epstein, who managed to kill himself early Saturday despite recently having been seen as a suicide risk.

The U.S. Bureau of Prisons said the FBI was investigating the incident. Martin Feely, an FBI spokesman, declined to comment. Attorney General William Barr said in a statement that Epstein's death "raises serious questions" and that the Department of Justice's Inspector General is opening an investigation into the circumstances.

Epstein was found unresponsive in his cell Saturday morning in what authorities termed an apparent suicide. Jail staff tried to revive him and summoned emergency medical personnel to take him to a nearby hospital, but he was pronounced dead by hospital staff, according to a brief statement.

The death of Epstein, who evaded severe punishment for more than a decade thanks to lenient treatment by law enforcement, could mean that molestation victims who had finally been promised their day in court by federal prosecutors will not get one after all.

"Jeffrey Epstein's victims have once again been cheated out of an opportunity for justice," said Jack Scarola, a West Palm Beach, Fla., lawyer who represents some of Epstein's victims. "I'm sure that none of them regret his death. All of them regret the loss of information that died with him."

A financier with hundreds of millions in assets, private planes and homes around the world, Epstein entered a controversial non-prosecution agreement more than a decade ago with U.S. prosecutors, which barred federal charges in Florida against him and conspirators.

 

Instead, he admitted to two state prostitution charges and served 13 months in county jail in Florida. A federal judge ruled in February that the Justice Department broke the law by making that deal without consulting the accusers. U.S. Secretary of Labor Alexander Acosta, who was the lead federal prosecutor in Florida, resigned in July because of renewed public fury over the case.

Federal authorities in New York arrested Epstein in July and charged him with sex trafficking after his private plane returned to Teterboro Airport in New Jersey from Paris.

His death is another black eye for the grim Metropolitan Correctional Center in lower Manhattan, which holds nearly 800 inmates awaiting trial in federal court or serving short-term sentences. It's been plagued in recent years by charges of corruption among guards accepting bribes to smuggle in drugs, alcohol and mobile phones, as well as rodent infestations and drug abuse and rape among inmates.

More precise details of how Epstein, 66, was able to kill himself were still emerging Saturday morning. Officials said he was found hanging in his cell, according to media reports. On July 23 prison guards found Epstein unconscious in his cell with marks around his neck, though it was unclear at the time the injuries were self-inflicted or he'd been attacked by another inmate. At some point he was briefly placed on, then taken off, a suicide watch.

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