Using strikingly blunt language, Attorney General William Barr ratcheted up his criticism of the Bureau of Prisons Monday in the wake of Saturday’s death, by apparent suicide, of alleged sex trafficker Jeffrey Epstein at the Metropolitan Correctional Center in New York City. Barr pledged to hold accountable those responsible for letting the Palm Beach multimillionaire escape justice.
“We are now learning of serious irregularities at this facility that are deeply concerning and that demand a thorough investigation,” Barr said.
Speaking in New Orleans, Barr said the Justice Department will continue to investigate alleged co-conspirators and enablers of Epstein in the wake of his death.
“Let me assure you this case will continue on against anyone who was complicit with Epstein,” he said, addressing the national conference of the Fraternal Order of Police. “Any co-conspirators should not rest easy.”
Pronouncing himself “appalled” that Epstein was taken off suicide watch before his death, Barr said the hedge fund manager’s victims — including, allegedly, dozens of underage girls — deserved justice “and we will ensure that they get it.”
Over the weekend, Barr ordered the DOJ’s Office of Inspector General to examine how and why the jail failed to adequately secure Epstein, who had apparently tried to kill himself weeks earlier in the same facility.
The FBI was also looking into potential irregularities in the handling of Epstein, who had recently been denied bail pending trial and who had sought house arrest instead.
Barr promised Monday that “we will hold people accountable for this failure.”
The irregularities cited by Barr are only the latest in a legal odyssey that has been rife with puzzling twists from the beginning.
More than 10 years ago, Epstein was accused of sexually abusing as many as three dozen underage girls who had been lured to his waterfront estate in Palm Beach by recruiters under the pretext that they’d be giving an older man a massage. A number of the girls said they were sexually abused during those massages.
Nonetheless, Alexander Acosta, then the U.S. attorney for Southern Florida, agreed to shelve a 53-page sex-trafficking indictment as part of a deal with Epstein’s lawyers that called for the financier to plead guilty in 2008 to minor charges in state court. Epstein’s legal team demanded — and Acosta agreed — that victims not be informed of the plea deal and that the plea arrangement be sealed. That was later deemed a violation of the Crime Victims’ Rights Act, which requires that victims be informed of court hearings and plea deals.
After entering his plea, Epstein served 13 months in the Palm Beach stockade, which afforded him liberal work release privileges despite his pending status as a registered sex offender. While on work release, he was picked up six days a week by his private driver and chauffeured to a downtown West Palm Beach office suite, where he spent his waking hours.
The original plea deal, the work release arrangement and now Epstein’s death are all the subject of ongoing investigations..
With Barr’s talk of irregularities, attention focused on guards at the Metropolitan Correctional Center and whether they followed procedures such as performing set rounds. The New York Times reported that at least one officer assigned to Epstein had been on multiple days of overtime, raising speculation of a night shift nap.
“If the cameras were working, it’s going to show if officers made rounds,” said Darrell Palmer, northeast regional vice president for the Council of Prison Locals C-33, adding that “I’d look to see if rounds were done.”
Subsequently, the Times reported that one of the two officers responsible for watching over Epstein was a substitute who did not typically work as a corrections officer.
Palmer has responsibility over 19 locals in seven states, including New York, and has worked in the federal prison system for more than two decades. He has seen plenty of inmate murders and suicides, but no one of Epstein’s stature and infamy.
As for what type of discipline might be imposed, Palmer said “they’re not going to do anything until they know for sure what happened.”
Suicidal inmates tend to be given a cell mate who can ward off desolation and call for help if there is an attempted suicide. Preliminary indications are that Epstein was alone in his cell.
Palmer described federal prison guards as stretched dangerously thin and said a hiring freeze imposed by the incoming Trump administration may have exacerbated what already was a severe shortage.
Attorney General Barr, upon taking office, reviewed the prison system and ordered accelerated hiring, Palmer said, although the union official noted that Border Patrol and other federal security agencies often are more attractive potential workplaces.