A federal judge Tuesday approved deferred prosecution agreements for two prison officers charged with neglecting their duties when accused sex trafficker Jeffrey Epstein hanged himself in a Manhattan jail cell as part of deal in which the officers will avoid prison time of their own and criminal convictions.
Officers Tova Noel and Michael Thomas, assigned to Epstein’s special housing unit at the Metropolitan Correctional Center during the August 2019 overnight shift, admitted that they “willfully and knowingly” falsified documents showing that they had conducted required cell patrols, according to court documents.
At the time they should have been patrolling cell corridors, prosecutors had asserted that the officers appeared to be sleeping, lingering in an office common area or browsing the Internet.
FILE – This March 28, 2017, file photo, provided by the New York State Sex Offender Registry, shows Jeffrey Epstein. Dr. Michael Baden, a pathologist hired by Jeffrey Epstein's brother, says he believes the financier's death at a New York City jail was a murder, not suicide. Baden told Fox News on Tuesday, Oct. 29, 2019, that some injuries found on the 66-year-old Epstein's body "are extremely unusual in suicidal hangings" and more consistent with "homicidal strangulation." (New York State Sex Offender Registry via AP, File) (Photo: AP)
As part of Tuesday’s agreement, approved by U.S. District Judge Analisa Torres in a brief virtual hearing, the two officers will serve six months of supervised release, cooperate with a continuing investigation by the Justice Department’s inspector general and perform 100 hours of community service.
Following the six month term, the government will dismiss the criminal charges if the terms of the agreement have been satisfied.
“This offers you a chance to avoid a criminal conviction,” Torres said. “I trust you will take full advantage of the opportunity.”
In a Friday letter to the judge, prosecutors said the agreement represented the best path forward from an incident that rocked the federal prison system.
“After a thorough investigation, and based on the facts of this case and the personal circumstances of the defendants, the Government has determined that the interests of justice will best be served by deferring prosecution in this District,” prosecutors said.
When the charges were announced, prosecutors alleged that no inmate checks were made from 10:30 p.m. Aug. 9 to 6:30 a.m. the following morning, when the officers discovered Epstein’s body.
During that time, the officers should have conducted five separate inmate counts in the high-security unit. A review of surveillance video allegedly showed the two officers asleep at their desks at one point during the night, according to court documents.
Audrey Strauss, acting U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, points to a photo of Jeffrey Epstein and Ghislaine Maxwell during a news conference in New York. (Photo: John Minchillo, AP Images)
Epstein’s sudden death triggered a wave of recriminations from his many victims, who had anticipated his trial on sex trafficking and related conspiracy charges. Prosecutors alleged that Epstein “sexually exploited and abused dozens of minor girls” at his homes in Manhattan and Palm Beach, Florida, and at other locations from at least 2002 to 2005.
The suicide also prompted a leadership shakeup at the federal Bureau of Prisons, as then- Attorney General William Barr ordered multiple investigations focusing on operations at the Manhattan facility where Epstein was held.
The suicide underscored persistent staffing shortages at prisons across the vast federal system, where officers routinely work overtime and other staffers – nurses, teachers and kitchen workers – are often pressed into service to fill officer vacancies.
Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb, a member of the Judiciary Committee who has offered scathing criticism of the Bureau of Prisons’ handling of the Epstein case, was not satisfied after learning of the prosecution agreement last week.
“Apparently the Justice Department hasn’t finished embarrassing itself yet,” Sasse said. “This is unacceptable. Epstein’s victims have been failed at every single turn. One hundred hours of community service is a joke — this isn’t traffic court.”
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