Jeffrey Epstein found dead in apparent suicide

Amid calls of foul play, FBI opens probe into circumstances of US financier’s hanging in jail cell.

August 11, 2019 08:32
U.S. financier Jeffrey Epstein (C) appears in court where he pleaded guilty to two prostitution char

U.S. financier Jeffrey Epstein (C) appears in court where he pleaded guilty to two prostitution charges in West Palm Beach, Florida, U.S. July 30, 2008. Picture taken July 30, 2008. . (photo credit: UMA SANGHVI/PALM BEACH POST VIA REUTERS)

The FBI is opening an investigation into the apparent suicide of disgraced financier Jeffrey Epstein, who was found dead on Saturday in the New York jail cell where he was being held without bail on sex-trafficking charges.

A source said he was not on suicide watch at the time of his death. Epstein, 66, was found unresponsive in his cell in the Special Housing Unit (SHU) of the Metropolitan Correctional Center and transported to a local hospital where he was pronounced dead, the Federal Bureau of Prisons, which operates the lower Manhattan jail, said in a statement.

Epstein, who was arrested on July 6, had pleaded not guilty to charges of sex trafficking involving dozens of underage girls as young as 14, from at least 2002 to 2005.

Last month, Epstein was found unconscious on the floor of his jail cell with marks on his neck, according to media reports, and officials were investigating that incident as a possible suicide attempt or assault.

Despite the incident, Epstein had been taken off suicide watch, a special set of procedures for inmates deemed in danger of taking their own life, a source familiar with the matter told Reuters. He was on suicide watch as late as Thursday, the source said.

The financier was in a cell by himself when his body was found, the source said. One day before Epstein’s death, a woman who accused Epstein of keeping her as a sex slave said that one of his associates instructed her to have sex with at least a half-dozen prominent men.

The claim by Virginia Giuffre came in a deposition that was included in about 2,000 pages of documents related to her defamation lawsuit against Ghislaine Maxwell, the associate whom Giuffre said helped Epstein procure girls for sex.

The well-connected money manager was known for socializing with politicians and royalty.

Over the years, he counted US President Donald Trump, former president Bill Clinton and former prime minister Ehud Barak as his friends, and, according to court papers, Britain’s Prince Andrew.

They were not mentioned in the indictment laying out charges against Epstein. Social media was inundated with posts on Saturday questioning how Epstein could have succeeded in killing himself, and suggesting that his contacts with people of power made the circumstances of the apparent suicide open to conjecture of foul play.

New York Times columnist Bret Stephens tweeted of Epstein’s death, “Unbelievable and suspicious.”

New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez tweeted, “We need answers. Lots of them.”

US Attorney-General William Barr said he was “appalled” to learn of Epstein’s death in federal custody.

“Mr. Epstein’s death raises serious questions that must be answered,” Barr said in a statement announcing the opening of an investigation by the FBI and the Justice Department's inspector-general.

At the Metropolitan Correctional Center, two jail guards are required to make separate checks on all prisoners every 30 minutes, but that procedure was not followed overnight, according to the source, who was not authorized to speak on the record.

In addition, guards are required to make another check every 15 minutes on prisoners who are on suicide watch.

Epstein was housed in the SHU, even though guards are required to remove prisoners on suicide watch from the unit, according to a Twitter post by Preet Bharara, a former US attorney for the Southern District of New York.

The SHU separates inmates such as accused sex offenders deemed likely to be harmed by other prisoners from the general population. Epstein had been confined to the correctional center while he appealed a district judge’s refusal to let him live under 24-hour guard in his opulent townhouse in Manhattan’s Upper East Side.

Democratic Union Party member Ehud Barak was reported to have stayed at Epstein’s Manhattan home regularly, bringing up accusations regarding the extent of their relationship.

Yair Netanyahu, son of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, tweeted regarding Epstein’s death that, “It is unbelievable how Ehud Barak manages to avoid [convictions] every time.”

He followed with the statement, “committed suicide” in quotes, suggesting that Epstein’s death was not at his own hands.

Barak responded to Epstein’s death, telling Channel 13, “I would have preferred if the connection between us was never made. I did not profit from it at all.” Barak expressed sympathy with Epstein’s victims.

Epstein reached a plea deal with prosecutors in 2007 that was widely criticized as overly lenient.

He served 13 months in prison, during which he was allowed to leave for 12 hours a day, six days a week, and Epstein’s alleged victims were not told the terms of the deal.

After his arrest this year, prosecutors said a search of his townhouse, conducted under a warrant, uncovered evidence of hundreds, and perhaps thousands, of nude photographs of “what appeared to be underage girls,” including some photos cataloged on compact discs and kept in a locked safe.

In a court filing on July 25, the government said it was pursuing an “ongoing investigation of uncharged individuals” in connection with the case against Epstein.

That investigation, in the US attorney’s office in Manhattan, will continue despite Epstein’s death, a different source familiar with the matter said. Epstein had been back in the public spotlight for months over the new charges.

Former US Labor secretary Alex Acosta resigned his position over his role in the plea deal.

Giuffre, one of Epstein’s accusers, said Epstein and his then-partner Ghislaine Maxwell turned her into a sex slave when she was 17.

Giuffre has also accused Epstein and Maxwell of directing her to have sex with well-known attorney Alan Dershowitz, who helped Epstein secure his controversial 2007 plea deal.

Dershowitz has denied being involved in the sex crimes. He wrote in an op-ed that he will continue to defend clients like Epstein. Besides Dershowitz, several other prominent Jews were connected to Epstein, including Leslie Wexner, the billionaire founder of the L Brands clothing conglomerate (formerly Limited Brands) who trusted Epstein to manage his money. Last week, Wexner, whose foundation focuses on cultivating Jewish professional leaders, said that Epstein had “misappropriated vast sums of money” from him.

“I am embarrassed that, like so many others, I was deceived by Mr. Epstein,” Wexner said in a letter to his foundation.

“I know now that my trust in him was grossly misplaced, and I deeply regret having ever crossed his path.” Epstein also donated to Jewish institutions, including $500,000 to the New York City Orthodox prep school Ramaz and $50,000 to the UJA-Federation of New York.

JTA and Gil Hoffman contributed to this report.

Related Content

People walk past the seat of the German Foreign Ministry in Berlin, Germany, March 1, 2018.
August 25, 2019
German Jews slam Merkel’s FM for belittling Palestinian terrorist attack


Cookie Settings