Written by William K. Rashbaum, Danielle Ivory and Michael Gold
The night that Jeffrey Epstein hanged himself in a Manhattan jail, one of the guards on duty was catching up on sports news and looking at motorcycle sales on a government computer. The other spent time shopping online for furniture. For about two hours, they appeared to be asleep at a desk just 15 feet away from Epstein’s cell.
Those details were revealed in an indictment unsealed Tuesday against the two jail employees. The indictment said neither guard made the required rounds every 30 minutes to check on inmates. Yet they filed paperwork claiming they had.
The entire night, from 10:30 p.m. to 6:30 a.m., security cameras showed that nobody entered the wing where Epstein had been left alone in his cell, the indictment said. The guards, Tova Noel and Michael Thomas, only discovered Epstein was dead when they went in to give him breakfast.
“I messed up,” Thomas reportedly told a supervisor just minutes later, according to the indictment.
On Tuesday, Thomas, 41, and Noel, 31, became the first people to face charges stemming from a criminal investigation into the death of Epstein, the disgraced financier who authorities say killed himself at the Metropolitan Correctional Center in Manhattan where he was awaiting trial on sex-trafficking charges.
Prosecutors painted a picture of two experienced correctional officers who failed to perform basic duties.
“The defendants had a duty to ensure the safety and security of federal inmates in their care,” Geoffrey S. Berman, the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, said in a statement. “Instead, they repeatedly failed to conduct mandated checks on inmates and lied on official forms to hide their dereliction.”
Noel and Thomas were charged with conspiracy to defraud the United States and with making false records. They both surrendered to the FBI on Tuesday and pleaded not guilty at a hearing in U.S. District Court. Bail was set at $100,000 each.
Epstein, 66, had been in custody for more than a month when he was found dead on Aug. 10, having hanged himself from a bunk bed with a strip of bedsheet.
New York City’s chief medical examiner ruled the death a suicide, and the indictment appeared to back up the medical examiner’s finding. It said that correction officers on duty were the only people who would have had access to the ninth-floor “special housing unit” where Epstein had been held.
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