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The Justice Department has a clear path to release its investigation into how Jeffrey Epstein died in jail, more than 2 years after the financier's suicide

Jan 15, 2022, 00:30 IST
Jeffrey Epstein in 1995.Patrick McMullan/Getty Images
  • The Justice Department's inspector general has been investigating Jeffrey Epstein's death for more than two years.
  • Epstein's suicide in a Manhattan jail cell in 2019 led to a proliferation of conspiracy theories.

Hours after Jeffrey Epstein died in his Manhattan jail cell, on August 10, 2019, then-Attorney General Bill Barr sprang into action.

In a statement, Barr said Epstein's death in federal custody raised "serious questions" and that the Justice Department's Office of the Inspector General (OIG) would open an investigation into the circumstances of his death.

Two-and-a-half years later, following the conclusion of Epstein associate Ghislaine Maxwell's child-sex-trafficking trial, the results of that investigation may finally see the light of day.

Two guards who were indicted for failing to watch over Epstein the night of his death wrapped up their criminal cases in December, clearing the way for the OIG to release its findings.

According to Michael Bromwich, a former Justice Department inspector general, all investigators have left to do is dot their I's and cross their T's on a report.


"I would be surprised if it's not released in the next 30 days or so," Bromwich told Insider.

The OIG can put conspiracy theories around Epstein's death to rest

Epstein killed himself in his jail cell at the Metropolitan Correctional Center while awaiting trial on federal sex-trafficking charges.

While New York City's chief medical examiner ruled Epstein's death a suicide, and Barr later endorsed that position, a medical examiner hired by Epstein's brother found that a fractured bone in his neck was more consistent with strangulation.

This led to a proliferation of conspiracy theories about what really happened the night before guards found him dead by hanging in his cell, and in November 2019, an Insider poll found nearly half of Americans believed Epstein was murdered.

Was Epstein allowed to kill himself? How could the jail leave the highest-profile criminal defendant in America alone? Why weren't the cameras on his cell block working? Were any of his powerful friends glad he took secrets to his grave?


The OIG, armed with subpoena power and statutory independence from the politically-appointed attorney general, is uniquely suited to answer those questions.

U.S. President Donald Trump stands with Labor Secretary Alex Acosta, who announced his resignation, while talking to the media at the White House on July 12, 2019 in Washington, DC.Mark Wilson/Getty Images

The last time the investigation was in the spotlight was way back in December 2019, when four members of the Senate Judiciary Committee — Ben Sasse, Richard Blumenthal, Marsha Blackburn, and Ted Cruz — published an open letter urging Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz to complete the investigation.

"These events have ignited a crisis of public trust in the Department and exacerbated the erosion of trust that the American people have in our institutions of republican self-government more broadly," the senators wrote in their letter. "The Department's abject failure in this high-profile situation raises serious concerns about its ability to protect and secure inmates in the many cases that do not make the news."

Before Epstein's death, senators had also urged Horowitz to investigate the conduct of Alexander Acosta. As a US attorney in Florida in 2007, Acosta struck a deal with Epstein's attorneys that allowed the financier to plead guilty to state-level solicitation of a minor charges instead of more severe federal charges. Instead, the Justice Department's Office of Professional Responsibility conducted an investigation, which attorneys for Epstein's victims found toothless.

It's not clear whether Horowitz briefed the senators about his investigation into Epstein's death in the years since they published their letter. Representatives for the four senators did not reply to Insider's requests for comment. A spokesperson for Horowitz's office declined to comment about the investigation's progress.


Epstein's jail guards have been interviewed

Tova Noel and Michael Thomas, the two MCC guards who were supposed to be watching Epstein the night he died, were both questioned as part of the OIG's investigation.

Federal prosecutors filed charges against the guards in November 2019, alleging they napped and shopped online rather than do their job. The guards were also accused of falsely filling out forms saying they made their rounds in Epstein's cell block, when they actually didn't. Thomas was one of the guards who responded to a suicide attempt Epstein made a month earlier in a different jail cell, according to the indictment.

According to prosecutors, video footage showed that no one entered the area holding Epstein's cell until 6:30 a.m. on August 10, when Noel and Thomas finally checked the cell and found him dead.

Attorneys for the guards had argued that they were being unfairly punished for mismanagement from the federal Bureau of Prisons, the division of the Justice Department that oversees federal jails. The MCC had been plagued by staffing and upkeep issues for years, ultimately closing down in September. Michael Carvajal, the bureau's director, announced his resignation earlier this month following numerous scandals in federal detention centers across the country.

The Metropolitan Correctional Center, which is operated by the Federal Bureau of Prisons, stands in lower Manhattan on November 19, 2019 in New York City.Spencer Platt/Getty Images

In May 2021, Noel and Thomas entered deferred prosecution agreements with the Justice Department. As part of the deal, they agreed to sit down for interviews with the OIG's investigators. They also agreed that they falsely filled out the forms and would fulfill a number of community service hours. If the terms were satisfied, prosecutors would move to dismiss the criminal charges six months later.


A person familiar with the investigation, who spoke to Insider on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak on the record, said that the guards sat for the required interviews in June 2021. On December 13, prosecutors signed a "nolle prosequi," a document that formally dropped the criminal charges.

"Through the deferred prosecution agreement, Ms. Noel was given the opportunity to assist the Government, which she has been willing to do since the beginning of their investigation," Noel's attorney, Jason Foy, said in a statement. "She shared the information known to her at the time of Jeffrey Epstein's death and more importantly, provided truthful insight into the toxic culture, subpar training, staffing shortages, and dysfunctional management of the now closed Metropolitan Correctional Center."

The nolle prosequi said that Noel and Thomas complied with the terms of the deferred prosecution agreement. It was made public on December 30, one day after the jury in Maxwell's case returned their verdict.

The OIG's office typically waits for any connected criminal cases to conclude before publishing a report so that it doesn't interfere with the proceedings, according to Bromwich.

The person familiar with the OIG investigation told Insider that Justice Department officials waited until Maxwell's case was over to make the document public because they didn't want news of the dropped charges to influence the jury.


The OIG can release its findings now that the guards' case is shut

The final step in the process, Bromwich said, would be for the OIG to show a draft of its report to the Bureau of Prisons and allow 30 days for a written response. Horowitz can choose to integrate some of the agency's responses into his report at that point, and other witnesses are also sometimes permitted to review and respond to a draft of the report, Bromwich said.

The former inspector general believes the agency is working within that final response period now.

The report will likely offer the most detailed breakdown yet of the circumstances of Epstein's death. Investigators likely forensically studied the jail's video footage and interviewed everyone who made decisions about Epstein's jail conditions, such as why he wasn't assigned a cellmate after his previous suicide attempt, according to Bromwich.

We may also learn why jail officials kept Epstein in the same cell as an alleged quadruple murderer at the time of his first suicide attempt, and what the people who visited him while he was incarcerated spoke about. The person familiar with the investigation told Insider the investigation may have also addressed the larger culture of dysfunction within the MCC.

Investigators had two years to gather all the information they needed before interviewing Noel and Thomas. Talking to them was likely one of the last pieces of the puzzle, according to Bromwich.


"I would think that, given how long they had to wait for the criminal case against them to be disposed of, they were probably loaded for bear when they interviewed them," he said.

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