Jeffrey Epstein jail guards get deferred prosecution deal in suicide case

Key Points
  • Two corrections officers accused of failing to keep watch over inmate Jeffrey Epstein the night he killed himself will avoid potentially serving time in jail by striking a deferred prosecution deal with prosecutors.
  • The guards, Tova Noel and Michael Thomas, admitted that they "willfully and knowingly" filled out documents falsely to suggest that they had been checking Epstein's cell on schedule.
  • Epstein, a former friend of ex-Presidents Donald Trump and Bill Clinton, was awaiting trial on child sex trafficking charges when he died in a Manhattan jail cell.
  • His alleged procurer Ghislaine Maxwell is in jail awaiting trial in her own case.
U.S. financier Jeffrey Epstein appears in a photograph taken for the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services' sex offender registry March 28, 2017 and obtained by Reuters July 10, 2019.
New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services | Handout | Reuters

Two federal jail guard officers accused of failing to keep watch over sex criminal Jeffrey Epstein the night he killed himself have reached an agreement with prosecutors that will lead to the dismissal of criminal charges against them if they comply with certain conditions.

Sen. Ben Sasse, a Nebraska Republican who is a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, quickly blasted the deal as a slap in the face to Epstein's victims, and called the agreement the latest example of the U.S. Justice Department "embarrassing itself" in an Epstein-related case.

Tthe guards, Tova Noel and Michael Thomas, will be kept under pre-trial supervision for six months as part of a deferred prosecution agreement revealed late Friday afternoon.

They also must perform 100 hours of community service "preferably in an area related to the criminal justice system," federal prosecutors told Judge Analisa Torres in a letter filed in U.S. District Court in Manhattan.

And the defendants must "cooperate with a pending Department of Justice Office of Inspector General review" of the circumstances of Epstein's death in August 2019 "by providing truthful information related to their employment by the Bureau of Prisons," the letter said.

In the agreement, prosecutors wrote, Noel and Thomas, admitted that they "willfully and knowingly" filled out documents falsely claiming that they had regularly checked on Epstein's and other prisoners' cells in the special housing unit in the Manhattan Correctional Centers as scheduled the night the 66-year-old money manager hung himself.

Epstein, a multi-millionaire whose former high-profile friends included ex-Presidents Donald Trump and Bill Clinton, was being held without bail in the jail while awaiting trial on federal child sex trafficking charges.

If they abide by the deal's terms, prosecutors will drop their pending criminal case against the guards, who were arrested in November 2019 on charges of conspiracy and filing false records.

But if they do not comply with the agreement, the guards will face a trial or consider whether to plead guilty.

Torres has to sign off on the deal, which already has been approved by the federal Pretrial Services division.

Prosecutors told the judge that they determined "after a thorough investigation, and based on the facts of this case and the personal circumstances of the defendants" that "that the interests of justice will best be served by deferring prosecution."

Prosecutors asked Torres to schedule a video-conference hearing for next Tuesday for the deferred prosecution agreement to be set in motion.

A spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Southern District of New York, which is prosecuting the case, declined to comment.

A month before his death, Epstein was briefly placed on suicide watch after officers found him on the floor of his cell with a bedsheet tied around his neck.

On Aug. 9 and Aug. 10, 2019, Noel and Thomas were responsible for checking in on Epstein at a series of intervals.

But Noel and Thomas did not complete all of their assigned check-ins on Epstein, prosecutors have said.

Instead, they surfed the internet in the common area of the special housing unit of the federal lockup, browsing sports news and sales of furniture and motorcycles, an indictment charged. They also appear to have been asleep for about two hours during their shift.

Epstein was in a cell just 15 feet or so from the guards' desk, the indictment says.

Gerald Lefcourt, a former lawyer for Epstein, told CNBC that, "Deferred prosecutions are usually very hard to come by."

''It's usually a sign that the prosecution's case is not how it originally appeared," said Lefcourt.

The lawyer played a key role more than a decade ago in cutting a controversial non-prosecution deal with the Miami's United States Attorney in which Epstein avoided federal criminal charges related to his interactions with underage girls. Epstein had an obsession with receiving multiple daily massages, and a number of women have come forward to claim he sexually abused them during those sessions.

In that case, Epstein agreed instead to plead guilty in 2008 to Florida state charges that included soliciting sex for pay from an underage girl.

Epstein served 13 months in jail for that case.

Asked if he thought the deferred prosecution agreement was appropriate in the guards' case, Lefcourt demurred, saying, ''I don't know the facts."

Sasse, the Nebraska senator, in a statement, condemned the agreement, saying, "Apparently the Justice Department hasn't finished embarrassing itself yet.

"This is unacceptable. Epstein's victims have been failed at every single turn. One hundred hours of community service is a joke — this isn't traffic court," Sasse said.

NBC archive footage shows Trump partying with Jeffrey Epstein in 1992
NBC archive footage shows Trump partying with Jeffrey Epstein in 1992

"The leader of an international child sex trafficking ring escaped justice, his co-conspirators had their secrets go to the grave with him, and these guards are going to be picking up trash on the side of the road," the senator said.

"The public deserves a full report of the Bureau of Prisons' failures and Main Justice needs to redouble its work to bring every one of Epstein's co-conspirators to justice."

Sasse last November criticized the Justice Department after an internal department investigation found that Alex Acosta, the federal prosecutor who had negotiated the non-prosecution deal with Lefcourt, "exercised poor judgment" in that agreement. But the probe concluded that the prosecutor had not broken the law or engaged in professional misconduct.

"Letting a well-connected billionaire get away with child rape and international sex trafficking isn't 'poor judgment' — it is a disgusting failure," Sasse said in a statement in November.

Acosta resigned as Trump's Labor secretary in July 2019 on the heels of Epstein's sex trafficking arrest after outrage over the non-prosecution deal.

The Miami Herald in late 2018 reported that at the time of the deal in 2007, Acosta "agreed, despite federal law to the contrary that the deal would be kept from the victims."

Epstein's suicide sent shockwaves all over the world and quickly sparked a slew of politically charged conspiracy theories.

Days after his death, then-Attorney General William Barr excoriated the jail where Epstein was being held, vowing that the Justice Department will "get to the bottom of what happened."

Lawyers for Epstein's alleged procurer, the British socialite Ghislaine Maxwell, recently have complained to a federal judge that she is being "overmanaged" in the Brooklyn federal jail where she is being detained without bail.

Maxwell's lawyers said her sleep is regularly interrupted by guards using flashlights to make sure she has not killed herself.

Maxwell, who was arrested last summer, has pleaded not guilty in the case.

She is charged with sex trafficking, recruiting underage girls to be sexually abused by Epstein, and perjury.