Jeffrey Epstein prison guards charged with falsifying records

Two correctional officers responsible for guarding accused sex trafficker Jeffrey Epstein the day he died by suicide have been charged with falsifying prison records, federal prosecutors announced Tuesday.

Jeffrey Epstein, seen in a March 28, 2017 image provided by the New York State Sex Offender Registry. New York State Sex Offender Registry via AP

The guards, Tova Noel and Michael Thomas, surrendered to federal authorities Tuesday morning. They have been placed on leave.

Epstein was found unresponsive in his cell Aug. 10 at the Metropolitan Correctional Center in New York while awaiting trial on charges he sexually abused a number of underage girls. The medical examiner’s office ruled his death a suicide by hanging on August 16, but the death raised questions about how he could have died on the correctional center’s watch.

Epstein was put on suicide watch the month before he died after he was found with bruising on his neck. But Epstein had been taken off suicide watch after a week, and placed into a high-security housing unit where he was supposed to be checked on every 30 minutes.

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The jail guards are accused of failing to conduct the checks as required and falsifying jail records claiming they had, the indictment says.

Federal prosecutors allege that for large portions of their shifts, Noel and Thomas “sat at their desk, browsed the internet, and moved around the common area of the [special housing unit.]” No inmates in the unit received the necessary checks from about 10:30 the night of August 9 to 6:30 a.m. the morning of Aug. 10, when Epstein was found unresponsive, prosecutors allege.

“As alleged, the defendants had a duty to ensure the safety and security of federal inmates in their care at the Metropolitan Correctional Center.  Instead, they repeatedly failed to conduct mandated checks on inmates, and lied on official forms to hide their dereliction,” U.S. Attorney Geoffrey S. Berman said in a statement.

CBS News reported Friday that the two officers were offered the opportunity to plead guilty by federal prosecutors, but that they declined the offer.

The Justice Department is continuing to investigate.

Pat Milton contributed to this report.

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