Barr: ‘Fail­ure’ at prison where Ep­stein died

Hang­ing is scru­ti­nized; at­tor­ney gen­eral vows to con­tinue sex abuse case

The Washington Post - - FRONT PAGE - BY MATT ZAPOTOSKY, DEVLIN BAR­RETT AND RACHEL WEINER

At­tor­ney Gen­eral Wil­liam P. Barr on Mon­day de­cried what he called a “fail­ure” by fed­eral de­ten­tion cen­ter of­fi­cials in New York to se­cure Jeffrey Ep­stein, point­ing to un­spec­i­fied “ir­reg­u­lar­i­ties” there that pre­ceded the wealthy sex of­fender’s ap­par­ent sui­cide while in govern­ment cus­tody.

Barr’s com­ments un­der­scored the in­creas­ing scru­tiny on the Fed­eral Bureau of Prisons and the Metropoli­tan Cor­rec­tional Cen­ter in Man­hat­tan, where Ep­stein, 66, was found hang­ing in his cell Satur­day morning, ac­cord­ing to of­fi­cials fa­mil­iar with the mat­ter. The Bureau of Prisons is part of the Jus­tice De­part­ment and falls un­der Barr’s author­ity, and he seemed to be blam­ing of­fi­cials there for what hap­pened.

The FBI and the Jus­tice De­part­ment’s in­spec­tor gen­eral have been ag­gres­sively in­ves­ti­gat­ing Ep­stein’s death, fo­cus­ing on ap­par­ent break­downs of pol­icy at the fa­cil­ity in the hours be­fore staffers dis­cov­ered him un­re­spon­sive.

Barr made clear, too, that fed­eral pros­e­cu­tors’ in­ves­ti­ga­tion of those who might have fa­cil­i­tated Ep­stein’s al­leged sex abuse of mi­nors will con­tinue, even if

Ep­stein can no longer be pros­e­cuted. Ep­stein was in jail await­ing a trial on new fed­eral sex traf­fick­ing charges.

On Mon­day, ABC News showed footage of FBI and Cus­toms and Bor­der Pro­tec­tion per­son­nel on the dock of a pri­vate is­land that Ep­stein owned.

“Let me as­sure you that this case will con­tinue on against any­one who was com­plicit with Ep­stein,” Barr said. “Any co-con­spir­a­tors should not rest easy. The vic­tims de­serve jus­tice, and they will get it.”

Speak­ing to law en­force­ment of­fi­cials in New Or­leans, the coun­try’s top law en­force­ment of­fi­cial said he “was ap­palled . . . and, frankly, an­gry” to learn of the Metropoli­tan Cor­rec­tional Cen­ter’s “fail­ure to ad­e­quately se­cure” Ep­stein.

“We are now learn­ing of se­ri­ous ir­reg­u­lar­i­ties at this fa­cil­ity that are deeply con­cern­ing and de­mand a thor­ough in­ves­ti­ga­tion,” he said.

Barr did not spec­ify what ir­reg­u­lar­i­ties had been found in the aftermath of Ep­stein’s death but vowed to “get to the bot­tom of what hap­pened,” adding, “There will be ac­count­abil­ity.”

Law­mak­ers also de­manded an­swers from fed­eral of­fi­cials. The Demo­cratic and Repub­li­can lead­ers of the House Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee on Mon­day ad­dressed a let­ter to act­ing Bureau of Prisons di­rec­tor Hugh Hur­witz de­mand­ing an­swers to ques­tions about Ep­stein’s time in fed­eral de­ten­tion and as­sert­ing that Ep­stein’s death “demon­strates se­vere mis­car­riages of or de­fi­cien­cies in in­mate pro­to­col and has al­lowed the de­ceased to ul­ti­mately evade fac­ing jus­tice.”

The Bureau of Prisons de­clined to com­ment Mon­day.

Those who say Ep­stein vic­tim­ized them have long as­serted that the po­lit­i­cally con­nected mul­ti­mil­lion­aire was able to evade jus­tice, and many were dis­ap­pointed that he will now never an­swer for his crimes at a trial. It is pos­si­ble that pros­e­cu­tors — or those who claim to have been abused by Ep­stein — could sue for his con­sid­er­able as­sets. But they will be pur­su­ing his es­tate for fi­nan­cial com­pen­sa­tion rather than the man him­self for crim­i­nal wrong­do­ing.

Ep­stein was be­ing held in a spe­cial hous­ing unit of the Metropoli­tan Cor­rec­tional Cen­ter and should have been checked on by the staff ev­ery 30 min­utes. But cor­rec­tions of­fi­cers had not checked on Ep­stein for “sev­eral” hours be­fore he was found around 6:30 a.m., when the staff were hand­ing out break­fast to in­mates, a per­son fa­mil­iar with the mat­ter said.

This per­son, like oth­ers in­ter­viewed for this re­port, spoke on the con­di­tion of anonymity to dis­cuss the on­go­ing in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

Ep­stein, who had re­cently come off sui­cide watch, also should have had a cell­mate, the per­son said. But a man who had been as­signed to share a cell with Ep­stein was trans­ferred Fri­day and — for rea­sons that in­ves­ti­ga­tors are ex­plor­ing — Ep­stein did not get a new cell­mate, a per­son fa­mil­iar with the mat­ter said Sun­day night.

That left Ep­stein alone and un­mon­i­tored — at least in the hours be­fore his death — by even those of­fi­cers as­signed to guard him.

Joel Sick­ler, a prison con­sul­tant hired by Ep­stein, said be­fore Ep­stein’s death that his le­gal team had dis­cussed try­ing to get him trans­ferred to an­other jail. Prison con­sul­tants ad­vise clients — of­ten white-col­lar de­fen­dants — on how to nav­i­gate the bu­reau­cracy and dan­gers of the prison sys­tem.

“He needed to be in a safer lo­ca­tion, so we were tak­ing mea­sures to try to get him trans­ferred out of the MCC,” Sick­ler said. But Sick­ler said that ef­fort had reached only the dis­cus­sion stage among the lawyers and that no re­quest had been made to the Bureau of Prisons at the time of Ep­stein’s death.

“When you’re a high-pro­file de­fen­dant who’s iden­ti­fied as not only wealthy but a sex of­fender, you’re . . . ba­si­cally a tar­get in prison,” said Sick­ler, who added that Ep­stein had asked to be taken off sui­cide watch last month.

What hap­pened between the trans­fer of Ep­stein’s cell­mate and the mo­ment he was dis­cov­ered dead is now a key fo­cus of in­ves­ti­ga­tors. Union of­fi­cials said while video cam­eras are preva­lent in the Metropoli­tan Cor­rec­tional Cen­ter, they gen­er­ally do not show in­mates’ cells — mean­ing footage of pre­cisely what hap­pened to Ep­stein may not ex­ist.

New York City Chief Med­i­cal Ex­am­iner Bar­bara Samp­son said that Ep­stein’s au­topsy was com­plete but that she had not reached a de­ter­mi­na­tion on the cause of death, “pend­ing fur­ther in­for­ma­tion.” The med­i­cal ex­am­iner al­lowed Michael Baden, a pri­vate pathol­o­gist, to ob­serve the au­topsy at the re­quest of Ep­stein’s rep­re­sen­ta­tives, Samp­son said. Her of­fice made no fur­ther public state­ments Mon­day.

Ep­stein was ar­rested July 6 af­ter his pri­vate plane landed at New Jer­sey’s Teter­boro Air­port from Paris. He was charged with sex­u­ally abus­ing dozens of young girls in the early 2000s. From that point on, he never left fed­eral cus­tody. He tried — un­suc­cess­fully — to be re­leased to home con­fine­ment while he awaited a trial, but a judge re­jected his re­quest to do so. He was ap­peal­ing that de­ci­sion.

On July 23, Ep­stein was found in his cell with marks on his neck, and jail of­fi­cials treated the episode as a pos­si­ble sui­cide at­tempt, though they also ex­plored whether Ep­stein had been at­tacked. At the time, Ep­stein had a cell­mate: Nicholas Tartaglion­e, a for­mer po­lice of­fi­cer in cus­tody on mur­der and nar­cotics charges.

Im­me­di­ately af­ter that in­ci­dent, of­fi­cials at the de­ten­tion cen­ter put Ep­stein on sui­cide watch, sub­ject­ing him to con­stant monitoring and daily psy­cho­log­i­cal eval­u­a­tions, peo­ple fa­mil­iar with the mat­ter said. Af­ter about a week, he was re­moved. He was re­turned to the spe­cial hous­ing unit and as­signed a dif­fer­ent cell­mate be­fore that per­son was moved out Fri­day, peo­ple fa­mil­iar with the mat­ter said. The peo­ple de­clined to iden­tify that cell­mate.

By some accounts, Ep­stein seemed all right. He showed no ap­par­ent signs of dis­tress at a July 31 court hear­ing, and in the week of his death, he was meet­ing with his at­tor­neys for many hours and seemed in good spir­its, peo­ple fa­mil­iar with the mat­ter said.

Union of­fi­cials said that un­der­staffing is a per­sis­tent is­sue at the Metropoli­tan Cor­rec­tional Cen­ter and that it was pos­si­ble over­work and ex­haus­tion played a role in the in­ci­dent. The two cor­rec­tional of­fi­cers as­signed to the spe­cial de­ten­tion unit where Ep­stein was held were work­ing over­time — one forced to do so by man­age­ment, the other for his fourth or fifth con­sec­u­tive day, said the pres­i­dent of the lo­cal union for staffers.

Serene Gregg, pres­i­dent of Amer­i­can Fed­er­a­tion of Govern­ment Em­ploy­ees Lo­cal 3148, said the Metropoli­tan Cor­rec­tional Cen­ter is func­tion­ing with fewer than 70 per­cent of the needed cor­rec­tional of­fi­cers, forc­ing many to work manda­tory over­time and 60- or 70-hour work­weeks.

She said one of the peo­ple as­signed to watch Ep­stein’s unit did not nor­mally work as a cor­rec­tional of­fi­cer but, like oth­ers in roles such as coun­selors and teach­ers, was able to do so. She de­clined to say which one or spec­ify the per­son’s reg­u­lar role.

“If it wasn’t Mr. Ep­stein, it would have been some­body else, be­cause of the con­di­tions at that in­sti­tu­tion,” Gregg said. “It wasn’t a mat­ter of how it hap­pened or it hap­pen­ing, but it was only a mat­ter of time for it to hap­pen. It was in­evitable. Our staff is se­verely over­worked.”

The fa­cil­ity has long held high­pro­file in­mates.

Weeks af­ter Ep­stein’s arrest, one of MCC’s most fa­mous pris­on­ers, convicted drug king­pin Joaquín Guzmán, bet­ter known as “El Chapo,” was trans­ferred out of the jail, af­ter declar­ing his time there was “psy­cho­log­i­cal, emo­tional, men­tal tor­ture, 24 hours a day.”

The high-rise jail has also held al-Qaeda mem­bers, mob boss John Gotti and Ponzi-scheme mas­ter­mind Bernard Mad­off.

Ep­stein was held in a sec­tion of the jail called Nine South, along with other in­mates who of­fi­cials de­cide re­quire ex­tra monitoring. The strictest con­di­tions in the MCC are found in a dif­fer­ent sec­tion, 10 South, where the most dan­ger­ous pris­on­ers are held.

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