Ep­stein’s death prompts out­rage, ques­tions

San Antonio Express-News (Sunday) - - FRONT PAGE - By Matt Zapotosky, Devlin Bar­rett, Re­nae Merle and Carol D. Leonnig

Jef­frey Ep­stein, the po­lit­i­cally con­nected fi­nancier charged re­cently with sex­u­ally abus­ing dozens of young girls in the early 2000s, died Sat­ur­day af­ter ap­par­ently hang­ing him­self in jail, of­fi­cials said.

The death sparked out­rage among vic­tims who hoped to one day con­front him in court and trig­gered mul­ti­ple in­ves­ti­ga­tions into what hap­pened.

The FBI, the Jus­tice De­part­ment’s in­spec­tor gen­eral and the New York med­i­cal ex­am­iner all launched in­quiries into how the high­pro­file in­mate could have died in fed­eral cus­tody.

Ep­stein, 66, pre­vi­ously had been placed on sui­cide watch — though he was re­moved be­fore Sat­ur­day — and was in a pur­port­edly more se­cure unit of the Metropoli­tan Cor­rec­tional Center in Man­hat­tan.

He was found un­re­spon­sive in his cell about 6:30 a.m., of­fi­cials said.

His death short-cir­cuits a trial that many women hoped would bring jus­tice they felt Ep­stein long had evaded, and raises sig­nif­i­cant ques­tions about U.S. prison of­fi­cials’ abil­ity to pro­tect the lives of the sus­pects in their cus­tody.

“Ep­stein is gone, but jus­tice must still be served,” said Jennifer Araoz, who ac­cused Ep­stein of rap­ing her when she was 15 years old. “I hope the au­thor­i­ties will pur­sue and pros­e­cute his ac­com­plices and en­ablers, and en­sure re­dress for his vic­tims.”

Ge­off Berman, the U.S. at­tor­ney in Man­hat­tan, said au­thor­i­ties plan to keep open the in­ves­ti­ga­tion into those who might have con­spired with Ep­stein to fa­cil­i­tate his abuse.

“To­day’s events are dis­turb­ing, and we are deeply aware of their po­ten­tial to present yet an­other hur­dle to giv­ing Ep­stein’s many vic­tims their day in court,” Berman said in a state­ment. “To those brave young women who have al­ready come for­ward and to the many oth­ers who have yet to do so, let me re­it­er­ate that we re­main com­mit­ted to stand­ing for you, and our in­ves­ti­ga­tion of the con­duct charged in the In­dict­ment — which in­cluded a con­spir­acy count — re­mains on­go­ing.”

Ep­stein’s lawyers didn’t re­turn mes­sages seek­ing com­ment.

Jail staff dis­cov­ered Ep­stein hang­ing in his cell, peo­ple fa­mil­iar with the mat­ter said, though it wasn’t im­me­di­ately clear by what means.

The Bureau of Pris­ons said in a state­ment Sat­ur­day that lifesaving mea­sures “were ini­ti­ated im­me­di­ately by re­spond­ing staff,” who then re­quested aid from emer­gency med­i­cal ser­vices.

Ep­stein was trans­ported to a hos­pi­tal, where he was pro­nounced dead, the bureau said.

The Bureau of Pris­ons and At­tor­ney Gen­eral Wil­liam Barr called the death an “ap­par­ent sui­cide,” though one of­fi­cial cau­tioned that the in­ves­ti­ga­tion was in its early stages and no fi­nal de­ter­mi­na­tion had been made.

That of­fi­cial, like oth­ers in­ter­viewed, spoke on con­di­tion of anonymity.

Barr said in a state­ment that he was “ap­palled” to learn of Ep­stein’s death in fed­eral cus­tody, which he said “raises se­ri­ous ques­tions that must be an­swered.”

Ep­stein, a mul­ti­mil­lion­aire and reg­is­tered sex of­fender with ties to celebri­ties and politi­cians in­clud­ing Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump and for­mer Pres­i­dent Bill Clin­ton, was ar­rested last month on fed­eral sex traf­fick­ing charges that could have put in him prison for 45 years.

Pros­e­cu­tors al­leged he abused dozens of young girls at his Man­hat­tan and Palm Beach, Fla., homes and en­listed his vic­tims to bring him oth­ers.

Ep­stein had pleaded not guilty, and a fed­eral judge re­cently de­nied his re­quest to be re­leased to home con­fine­ment. Ep­stein was ap­peal­ing that de­ci­sion.

Last month, Ep­stein was found in his cell with marks around his neck, and au­thor­i­ties were try­ing to de­ter­mine whether he was at­tacked or at­tempted sui­cide.

A per­son fa­mil­iar with the mat­ter said Ep­stein was placed on sui­cide watch — which meant he was sub­ject to near-con­stant mon­i­tor­ing and daily psy­chi­atric eval­u­a­tions — af­ter that.

How­ever, he was taken off sui­cide watch af­ter about a week, this per­son said. He showed no ob­vi­ous signs of dis­tress at a July 31 court hear­ing and, in re­cent weeks, had been meet­ing with his lawyers for up to 12 hours a day to dis­cuss his case, the per­son said.

Peo­ple close to Ep­stein, not­ing that he seemed re­cently to be in good spir­its, were sur­prised by re­ports of sui­cide, ac­cord­ing to one per­son fa­mil­iar with their dis­cus­sions Sat­ur­day, and ex­pressed con­cern about the pos­si­bil­ity of foul play.

His at­tor­neys are seek­ing to learn from au­thor­i­ties how Ep­stein’s body was found and how such an in­ci­dent could have oc­curred, this per­son said.

Ep­stein was be­ing held in the de­ten­tion center’s spe­cial hous­ing unit, which would mean he was sub­ject to a higher level of se­cu­rity, though it wasn’t im­me­di­ately clear whether he was in a cell alone. The Bureau of Pris­ons did not ad­dress ques­tions about Ep­stein’s con­di­tion of con­fine­ment.

At one point, Ep­stein did have a cell­mate: Ni­cholas Tartaglion­e, a for­mer po­lice of­fi­cer in cus­tody on mur­der and nar­cotics charges, though the two weren’t cell­mates at the time of Ep­stein’s death.

Bruce Bar­ket, a lawyer for Tartaglion­e, called for “a thor­ough in­ves­ti­ga­tion into how this oc­curred de­spite the Bureau of Pris­ons be­ing on no­tice that Mr. Ep­stein had al­ready at­tempted sui­cide at least once. That in­ves­ti­ga­tion should be broad enough to ex­am­ine the de­plorable con­di­tions in­mates are forced to en­dure at the MCC.”

Two law en­force­ment of­fi­cials said there were no early in­di­ca­tors of foul play, but they noted the FBI in­ves­ti­ga­tion was in its in­fancy.

“We don’t have an in­di­ca­tion of that right now,” one law en­force­ment of­fi­cial said of the prospect that some­one may have killed Ep­stein.

Ep­stein’s case had at­tracted wide­spread at­ten­tion — in part be­cause of his wealth and po­lit­i­cal con­nec­tions, and in part be­cause of a le­nient plea deal he reached a decade ago to re­solve sim­i­lar al­le­ga­tions.

That 2008 agree­ment al­lowed Ep­stein to plead guilty to two state charges in Florida, avoid­ing fed­eral ex­po­sure en­tirely, and spend 13 months in jail, with work-re­lease priv­i­leges.

The deal was ap­proved by Alex Acosta, who then was the U.S. at­tor­ney in Mi­ami and would go on to be­come Trump’s la­bor sec­re­tary. He re­signed from that post af­ter Ep­stein was charged last month and the con­tro­versy over the pre­vi­ous case was reignited.

Ep­stein’s death came less than 24 hours af­ter a court un­sealed a mas­sive cache of records, lay­ing out dis­turb­ing de­tails about Ep­stein’s al­leged ac­tiv­i­ties and the peo­ple in his or­bit who might have ob­served them.

The ma­te­rial was gath­ered as part of a defama­tion suit brought by one of Ep­stein’s al­leged vic­tims against his as­so­ci­ate Ghis­laine Maxwell, a mat­ter that was set­tled for an undis­closed sum in 2017.

Lawyers for Maxwell did not re­spond to re­quests for com­ment.

Si­grid McCaw­ley, an­other lawyer for al­leged vic­tims, said the tim­ing was “no co­in­ci­dence,” and she was hope­ful the govern­ment could con­tinue to in­ves­ti­gate “those who par­tic­i­pated and fa­cil­i­tated Ep­stein’s hor­ri­fy­ing sex traf­fick­ing scheme that dam­aged so many.”

Al­leged vic­tims plan to press on

Lawyers rep­re­sent­ing Jef­frey Ep­stein’s al­leged vic­tims said Sat­ur­day that his death won’t stop their clients from seek­ing jus­tice from those they say en­abled or con­spired with Ep­stein to al­legedly sex­u­ally abuse dozens of un­der­age girls.

The at­tor­neys con­demned as cow­ardly and un­fair Ep­stein’s ap­par­ent sui­cide overnight while in fed­eral prison on charges of sex traf­fick­ing.

“I guess there is some­what an el­e­ment of re­lief be­cause the fear of him get­ting out is ob­vi­ously over, but there is also, they’ll never be able to look into his eye and say, ‘You hurt me,’ there’s that el­e­ment of clo­sure that he’s taken away from them,” said Kim­berly Lerner, an at­tor­ney for one of Ep­stein’s ac­cusers.

But, Lerner said, “There’s a whole net­work that en­abled him and al­lowed this to hap­pen, and it’s time that every­one who was a part of this be held ac­count­able,” she said.

Lerner’s client, Jennifer Araoz, has ac­cused Ep­stein of rap­ing her in his New York home when she was 15. She said she had been re­cruited out­side her high school to make reg­u­lar vis­its to his house.

“We have to live with the scars of his ac­tions for the rest of our lives, while he will never face the con­se­quences of the crimes he com­mit­ted, the pain and trauma he caused so many peo­ple,” Araoz said.

Wash­ing­ton Post

Ep­stein

Bebeto Matthews / As­so­ci­ated Press

New York med­i­cal ex­am­iner per­son­nel head to the Man­hat­tan Cor­rec­tional Center, where fi­nancier Jef­frey Ep­stein died de­spite be­ing held in a spe­cial hous­ing unit.

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