The two Bureau of Prisons workers tasked with guarding Jeffrey Epstein the night he killed himself in a New York jail have admitted they falsified records, but they will skirt any time behind bars under a deal with federal prosecutors, authorities said Friday.
The prison workers, Tova Noel and Michael Thomas, were accused of sleeping and browsing the internet instead of monitoring Epstein the night he took his own life in August 2019.
They were charged with lying on prison records to make it seem as though they had made required checks on Epstein before he was found in his cell at the Metropolitan Correctional Center in Manhattan on Aug. 10. New York City's medical examiner ruled his death a suicide.
Epstein, who was a well-connected financier who socialized with princes and presidents, was facing up to 45 years behind bars on federal sex trafficking and conspiracy charges. He had pleaded not guilty and was awaiting trial on accusations of sexually abusing dozens of underage girls.
As part of the deal with prosecutors, Noel and Thomas will enter into a deferred prosecution agreement with the Justice Department and will serve no time behind bars, according to a letter from federal prosecutors that was filed in court papers Friday. They would instead be subjected to supervised release, would be required to complete 100 hours of community service and would be required to fully cooperate with an ongoing probe by the Justice Department's inspector general, it says.
The two have "admitted that they 'willfully and knowingly completed materially false count and round slips regarding required counts and rounds"' in the housing unit where Epstein was being held, the letter says.
The deal would need to be approved by a judge, which could come as soon as next week. Attorneys for the guards did not immediately respond to messages seeking comment.
Sen. Ben Sasse, a Republican member of the Senate judiciary committee who has been a vocal critic of the Justice Department's handling of Epstein's case, called the deal "unacceptable" and said the public deserves to see a report detailing the prison agency's failures.
"One hundred hours of community service is a joke — this isn't traffic court," Sasse said in a statement. "The leader of an international child sex trafficking ring escaped justice, his co-conspirators had their secrets go to the grave with him, and these guards are going to be picking up trash on the side of the road."
Prosecutors alleged that Noel and Thomas sat at their desks some four metres from Epstein's cell, shopped online for furniture and motorcycles, and walked around the unit's common area instead of making required rounds every 30 minutes.
During one two-hour period, both appeared to have been asleep, according to the indictment filed against them.
Both officers who were guarding Epstein were working overtime because of staffing shortages. One of the guards, who did not primarily work as a correctional officer, was working a fifth straight day of overtime. The other guard was working mandatory overtime, meaning a second eight-hour shift of the day.
Before they were arrested, both officers had declined a plea deal with federal prosecutors.
Epstein's death and the revelation that he was able to kill himself while behind bars at one of the most secure jails in America was a major embarrassment for the Bureau of Prisons and cast a spotlight on the agency, which has also been besieged by serious misconduct in recent years.
Staffing shortages at the agency are so severe that guards often work overtime day after day or are forced to work mandatory double shifts. Violence leads to regular lockdowns at federal prison compounds across the U.S. And a congressional report released in 2019 found that "bad behaviour is ignored or covered up on a regular basis."
The falsification of records has been a problem throughout the federal prison system. Union officials have long argued that the reduction of staff is putting both guards and inmates in danger, but they've faced an uphill battle getting attention.
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