U.S. financier Jeffrey Epstein appears in a photo taken on the sex offender registry of the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services on March 28, 2017, and received by Reuters on July 10, 2019.
New York Department of Criminal Justice | Handout | Reuters
Two federal prison guards accused of failing to monitor sex criminal Jeffrey Epstein the night he killed himself have reached an agreement with prosecutors that will result in the dismissal of criminal charges against them if they do meet certain conditions.
Sen. Ben Sasse, a Republican from Nebraska who serves on the Senate Judiciary Committee, quickly blew the deal up as a slap in the face of Epstein’s victims, citing the deal as the US Department of Justice’s latest example of “embarrassing” Epstein-related case.
The guards, Tova Noel and Michael Thomas, will be under custody for six months under a postponed law enforcement arrangement announced late Friday afternoon.
They also have to do 100 hours of community service “preferably in an area related to the criminal justice system,” federal prosecutors told Judge Analisa Torres in a letter filed with the US District Court in Manhattan.
And the defendants are required to “work with a pending position of Inspector General of the Justice Department” to review the circumstances of Epstein’s death in August 2019 “by providing truthful information about their employment with the Bureau of Prisons,” the letter said.
In the deal, prosecutors Noel and Thomas admitted that they had “deliberately and knowingly” filled out documents falsely claiming they had periodically inspected Epstein’s and other inmates’ cells in the special housing unit in the Manhattan Correctional Centers, such as planned for the night The 66-year-old money manager hanged himself.
Epstein, a multimillionaire whose former high-profile friends included ex-Presidents Donald Trump and Bill Clinton, was held in jail without bail while awaiting federal child trafficking trial.
If they abide by the terms of the deal, prosecutors will suspend their pending criminal case against the guards arrested in November 2019 for conspiracy and false record filing.
However, if they fail to honor the agreement, the guards will be brought to justice or considered whether to plead guilty.
Torres is required to sign the deal already approved by the Federal Pretrial Services Division.
Prosecutors informed the judge that “after a thorough investigation and based on the facts of the case and the personal circumstances of the defendants,” they determined that “the best way to serve the interests of justice is to defer prosecution”.
Prosecutors have asked Torres to schedule a videoconference hearing next Tuesday so that the postponed law enforcement deal can be launched.
A spokesman for the US District Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York, who is pursuing the case, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
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A month before his death, Epstein was put on brief suicide watch after officers found him on the floor of his cell with a bed sheet around his neck.
On August 9 and 10, 2019, Noel and Thomas were responsible for checking in at Epstein on a regular basis.
However, according to prosecutors, Noel and Thomas did not complete all assigned check-ins in Epstein.
Instead, they surfed the Internet in the common area of the federal prison’s special housing unit, rummaged through sports news, and sold furniture and motorcycles. They also seem to have slept about two hours during their shift.
Epstein was in a cell about six feet from the guards desk, the prosecution said.
Gerald Lefcourt, a former Epstein attorney, told CNBC, “Prosecutions are usually very difficult to come by.”
“It’s usually a sign that the prosecution case is not what it originally looked like,” Lefcourt said.
The attorney played a key role in cutting a controversial non-law enforcement agreement with the United States attorney in Miami more than a decade ago in which Epstein avoided federal criminal charges related to his interactions with underage girls. Epstein was obsessed with receiving multiple daily massages, and a number of women have come forward to claim he sexually abused them during those sessions.
In this case, Epstein instead agreed to plead guilty in 2008, including the demand for sex for payment by an underage girl.
Epstein was imprisoned for 13 months in this case.
When asked if he believed the postponed law enforcement arrangement in the guards’ case was appropriate, Lefcourt declined, saying, “I don’t know the facts.”
Sasse, the Nebraska Senator, issued a statement condemning the agreement, saying, “Apparently the Justice Department has not finished embarrassing itself.
“That is unacceptable. Epstein’s victims failed at every turn. A hundred hours of community service is a joke – this is not a traffic court,” said Sasse.
“The leader of an international child trafficking ring has escaped justice, his co-conspirators have taken their secrets with them to the grave, and these guards will be picking up roadside rubbish,” said the senator.
“The public deserves a full account of the Bureau of Prisons’ failure, and Main Justice must redouble its work to bring every Epstein co-conspirator to justice.”
Sasse criticized the Justice Department last November after an investigation by the Department of Internal Affairs found that Alex Acosta, the federal prosecutor who negotiated the non-prosecution agreement with Lefcourt, used “poor judgment” in the deal. However, the investigation concluded that the prosecutor had neither broken the law nor committed professional misconduct.
“Letting a well-connected billionaire get away with child rape and international sex trafficking is not bad judgment – it’s a disgusting failure,” Sasse said in a November statement.
Acosta resigned as Trump’s labor minister in July 2019, shortly after Epstein’s sex trafficking arrest after being outraged over the non-law enforcement deal.
The Miami Herald reported in late 2018 that at the time of the deal in 2007, Acosta “agreed to keep the deal away from the victims despite federal laws to the contrary”.
Epstein’s suicide sent shock waves across the world and quickly sparked a number of politically charged conspiracy theories.
Days after his death, then Attorney General William Barr condemned the prison Epstein was held in, promising that the Justice Department “will investigate what has happened”.
Attorneys for Epstein’s alleged procurer, British celebrity Ghislaine Maxwell, recently complained to a federal judge that she is being “overwhelmed” in Brooklyn Federal Prison, where she is being held without bail.
Maxwell’s lawyers said her sleep is regularly interrupted by guards using flashlights to make sure she didn’t commit suicide.
Maxwell, who was arrested last summer, pleaded not guilty to the case.
She is charged with sex trafficking, recruiting underage girls who are sexually abused by Epstein, and perjury.