Jeffrey Epstein dies by suicide a month after arrest in child sex trafficking case

Jeffrey Epstein, the wealthy financier criminally charged last month with child sex trafficking, has died by apparent suicide, according to the Justice Department

Epstein, 66, hanged himself in Manhattan's Metropolitan Correctional Center, where he was being held without bail, sources told NBC News. He was found at 6:30 a.m. Saturday.

He was transported by the FDNY-EMS from the jail to New York Downtown Hospital. When they arrived, Epstein was in cardiac arrest, sources told NBC. He was subsequently pronounced dead by hospital staff. The FBI is investigating the incident.

Epstein was being held without bail in the jail since his arrest in early July at an airport in northern New Jersey after arriving there on his private plane on a flight from Paris.

He was previously put on suicide watch after he was found semi-conscious on the floor of his jail cell on July 23 with marks on his neck. Multiple people familiar with the investigation say that Epstein was in his own cell, but was not currently on suicide watch at the time of his death.

Attorney General William Barr said he was "appalled" by Epstein's suicide and said the inspector general was opening an investigation in addition to the FBI.

"Mr. Epstein's death raises serious questions that must be answered," Barr said. "In addition to the FBI's investigation, I have consulted with the Inspector General who is opening an investigation into the circumstances of Mr. Epstein's death."

Epstein, a one-time friend of Bill Clinton and Donald Trump, was accused of sexually exploiting dozens of underage girls, some of whom were as young as 14.

NBC
A video still from the NBC archive showing Donald Trump talking with Jeffrey Epstein at a party in Mar-A-Lago from 1992.

He pleaded not guilty to the charges. He faced a maximum sentence of 45 years in prison if convicted.

The New York City medical examiner's office said it is investigating Epstein's "cause and manner of death."

Court documents unsealed

A federal appeals court on Friday unsealed nearly 2,000 pages of documents, including one that contains records showing that President Donald Trump flew on Epstein's private plane in 1997.

Another document showed that an accuser said Epstein's alleged procurer of underage girls, Ghislaine Maxwell, directed the accuser to have sex with former Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell, a Maine Democrat, former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson and other prominent people.

Those files released Friday are part of a defamation lawsuit that Virginia Giuffre, one of Epstein's accusers, filed against Maxwell several years ago. Both Mitchell and Richardson have denied ever meeting Giuffre. Epstein's former lawyer Alan Dershowitz also has denied Giuffre's claims to have had sex with him at Maxwell's behest when Giuffre was underage.

Joe Schildhorn | Patrick McMullan | Getty Images
Jeffrey Epstein and Ghislaine Maxwell attend de Grisogono Sponsors The 2005 Wall Street Concert Series Benefitting Wall Street Rising, with a Performance by Rod Stewart at Cipriani Wall Street on March 15, 2005 in New York City.

Epstein's criminal defense lawyer Reid Weingarten did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The U.S. Attorney Office in Manhattan and the FBI NY Office have no comment.

But in a statement to The New York Times, Weingarten and two other Epstein attorneys, Marty Weinberg and Michael Miller, said they could not confirm his cause of death and trusted it would be investigated by the United States Attorney's office and the United States Marshals Service.

"We are enormously sorry to learn of today's news. No one should die in jail," they said, according to The Times.

Marc Fernich, one of Epstein's attorneys, on Saturday blasted prosecutors who he said were "bent on locking up a presumptively innocent man posing no real danger or flight risk," as well as politicians "who wrote the restrictive bail laws that empower them to do it."

He also blamed the press, saying it recharged Epstein with "dated crimes for which he'd long since paid his debt to society under an arms length plea deal just because he had the misfortune to be a wealthy man in the #metoo era whose former prosecutor happened to take a job with President Trump."

"Unfortunate and predictable"

Brad Edwards, an attorney representing some Epstein accusers, called his death "both unfortunate and predictable."

"The fact that Jeffrey Epstein was able to commit the selfish act of taking his own life as his world of abuse, exploitation, and corruption unraveled is both unfortunate and predictable," said Edwards in a statement obtained by NBC News.

"The victims deserved to see Epstein held accountable, and he owed it to everyone he hurt to accept responsibility for all of the pain he caused."

Drew Angerer | Getty Images
Annie Farmer and Courtney Wild, alleged victims of Jeffrey Epstein, look on as their lawyers speak to the press at federal court following a bail hearing for Jeffrey Epstein, July 15, 2019 in New York City.

Gerald Lefcourt, a New York lawyer who previously represented Epstein in a similar case in the mid-2000s in Florida, was stunned to learn he had killed himself.

"It's shocking, totally shocking," Lefcourt told CNBC in a phone interview.

Lefcourt said Epstein's suicide was shocking not only because of the circumstances of where it occurred, but also because of Lefcourt and Epstein's current legal team belief that they could win a dismissal of the pending federal criminal case.

"When somebody is suicidal, you just take better care of them," Lefcourt said. "This is unheard of, where there's a suicide attempt, and he's not closely watched so he can't hurt himself. It's just crazy. It's not understandable."

Controversial 2007 non-prosecution deal

Lefcourt in recent weeks had been consulting with Epstein's current defense lawyers about a non-prosecution deal that Lefcourt had cut with the U.S. Justice Department in 2007, that said Epstein would not be federally prosecuted in Florida as part of a probe there involving suspected sexual abuse of underage girls.

The deal called for Epstein to plead guilty to prostitution-related charges involving an underage girl in a case lodged by a state prosecutor, and to register as a sex offender. In exchange, Epstein and his suspected co-conspirators would not be hit with far more serious federal criminal charges.

U.S. Attorney for Manhattan Geoffrey Berman has said that deal did not prevent Berman's office from filing the new child sex trafficking case against Epstein last month, even though it involves the same time frame, the same conduct and Epstein's home in Florida. Berman said the 2007 deal did not bar him, or federal prosecutors outside of southern Florida, from charging Epstein for the same conduct and time frame.

Lefcourt said Berman is wrong. "The deal, if you read it, says to cover all federal and state liability, and even mentions this statute" of sex trafficking, Lefcourt said. "We were preparing to argue that the deal covers this."

"If you read the agreement, and know that it was approved by the deputy attorney general of the United States, and there was no new women" alleged to be abused since 2007 then the current prosecution "should have been precluded," Epstein said.

Tampering with potential witnesses

Epstein's bail was denied in mid-July when U.S. District Judge Richard Berman ruled he was a potential danger to "new victims" from his apparently "uncontrollable" sexual fixation on young girls, and the risk that Epstein would flee to avoid prosecution for child sex trafficking charges.

Artist: Christine Cornell
Courtroom sketch showing Jeffrey Epstein at his bail hearing in New York on July 15th, 2019.

"This newly discovered evidence also suggests that Mr. Epstein poses 'ongoing and forward-looking danger,'" the judge wrote. "Mr. Epstein's dangerousness is considerable and includes sex crimes with minor girls and tampering with potential witnesses."

That tampering included payments to potential witnesses and possible co-conspirators on the heels of a series of stories in the Miami Herald about Epstein last winter.

Those articles looked back at the prior Florida state and federal investigations into Epstein in the mid-2000s. Those probes focused on Epstein's hyper-obsessive fixation on receiving daily massages from underage girls and young-looking women at his Palm Beach, Florida, mansion.

Epstein received as many as three "massages" each day at his home from the girls and women, who were paid several hundred dollars per session.

Multiple women ended up saying that the massages were of a sexual nature. And a number of those women said that Epstein engaged in sexual conduct with them when they were underage.

Registered sex offender

Epstein hired a group of high-powered lawyers to defend himself during the probes. His legal team grew after local police, frustrated at what they saw as a state prosecutor's reluctance to bring serious charges in the case, took evidence to the U.S. Attorney's Office in Miami, the top prosecutor for the area.

That office, led at the time by Alex Acosta, did investigate Epstein.

But in what because a highly controversial decision, Acosta ultimately decided to only sign a non-prosecution agreement with Epstein that let the financier off the hook for serious federal charges.

In exchange, Epstein agreed to plead guilty to minor prostitution-related charges involving an underage girl -- charges that were lodged by state prosecutors. Epstein served just 13 months in jail in that case, but much of that time was spent on work release, and jailers reportedly kept his cell door open at night.

As a result of that earlier case, Epstein registered as a sex offender. Acosta's non-prosecution deal with Epstein generated widespread outrage last month on the heels of Epstein's arrest for the new federal case in Manhattan.

Critics questioned why Acosta, who by then was Trump's Labor secretary, had given what was now seen as a sweet-heart deal to Epstein. The deal is under investigation by an internal watchdog at the Justice Department, and has already been blasted by a federal judge because of Acosta's failure to notify Epstein's accusers at the time it was being crafted.

Acosta resigned as Labor secretary shortly after Epstein's arrest last month.

Leah Millis | Reuters
U.S. Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta makes a statement on his involvement in a non-prosecution agreement with financier Jeffrey Epstein, who has now been charged with sex trafficking in underage girls, during a news conference at the Labor Department in Washington, July 10, 2019.

This week, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis asked his state's Law Enforcement Department to conduct an investigation into both the original light plea deal Epstein cut with state prosecutors in 2008, and the circumstances of his stay in jail for that case.

Epstein's suicide came just days after L Brands chairman and founder Les Wexner claimed that Epstein had misappropriated more than $46 million from Wexner and his family more than a decade ago.

Wexner said the money was found to be missing after Epstein was placed under investigation in Florida in the mid-2000s, and as Wexner moved to sever ties with Epstein, who had managed his finances for years. Wexner said some of the money was returned by Epstein in the form of donations to a Wexner-controlled charity.

To get help: Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 (TALK), 24 hours a day, 7 days a week for free and confidential support.

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