MANHATTAN (CN) — Federal prosecutors brought charges Tuesday against two prison guards accused of falsifying records to cover up their failure to check on Jeffrey Epstein before the high-profile inmate was found dead in his cell this summer.
Tova Noel, 31, and Michael Thomas, 41, are each charged in New York with one count of conspiring to defraud the United States by their Metropolitan Correctional Center misconduct.
Noel is also charged with five counts of making false records, while Thomas is charged with three counts of making false records — each of which carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison.
After Epstein’s July arrest on sex-trafficking charges, authorities had been holding the politically connected financier in the MCC’s special housing unit ahead of trial.
Epstein was found dead in his cell at 6:30 a.m. on Aug. 10, caused by what the New York City's chief medical examiner concluded was suicide by hanging.
This morning’s indictment says video surveillance show the guards did not perform inmate counts on the night of Aug. 9 or the following morning, but they did fill out paperwork falsely affirming that that they conducted the required checks.
It quotes what Thomas, a materials handler who occasionally worked overtime shifts, told his supervisor after Epstein was found unresponsive in his cell.
Thomas said, according to the indictment: "We messed up," and "I messed up, she's not to blame, we didn't do any rounds."
“Despite the requirement that officers on duty in the SHU conduct and document regular, 30-minute rounds, Tova Noel and Michael Thomas, the defendants did not perform any of the required 30-minute rounds during their shift between 12 a.m. and 6:30 a.m.,” the indictment says. “Nonetheless, Noel completed and signed more than 75 separate 30-minute round entries falsely affirming that they had in, in fact, conducted such rounds.”
Instead of performing their rounds, Noel and Thomas allegedly sat at their desk, browsed the internet and moved around the Special Housing Unit.
“To conceal their failure to perform their duties, Noel and Thomas repeatedly signed false certifications attesting to having conducted multiple counts on inmates when, in truth and in fact, they never conducted such counts,” the indictment states.
According to the indictment, the last time any person checked on Epstein was around 10:30 p.m., when Noel briefly walked up to the door of the Epstein's cell, just 15 feet from the correctional officers’ desk in the Special Housing Unit.
At their arraignment Tuesday afternoon, Noel and Thomas both pleaded not guilty and were released on their own signature with matching $100,000 bail packages.
Noel's attorney Jason Foy said both defendants surrendered voluntarily to authorities Tuesday morning and that his client has been completely cooperative and in communication with the government since Aug. 14.
Thomas was one of the correctional officers who responded to a July 23 incident, when MCC officers found Epstein on the floor of cell with a strip of bedsheet around his neck in an apparent suicide attempt.
Epstein was temporarily transferred out of the Special Housing Unit after this incident and placed on suicide watch. For the next 24 hours, Epstein was housed in a cell on the hospital-wing floor of the MCC where he was constantly monitored by staff member or specially trained inmate companion.
He remained under 24-hour-a-day watch after he was transferred to psychological observation until July 30, 2019, which is less restrictive than suicide watch.
Defense attorneys had requested a bail package after Epstein’s arrest that included pretrial home confinement, but U.S. District Judge Richard Berman denied the request, citing Epstein’s decoy passport, his status as a convicted sex offender and untold assets of over half a billion dollars.
Thomas was represented at the hearing by Newark-based defense attorney Montell Figgins.
Workers at the prison are represented by the Council of Prison Locals C-33, a union council within the American Federation of Government Employees.
More than a dozen MCC employees attended the hearing Tuesday.
Prior to Epstein's death, the last detainee suicide at the MCC occurred in 2006, a Bureau of Prisons spokesperson confirmed to Courthouse News.
The next hearing in the case will be held before U.S. District Judge Analisa Torres on Monday, Nov. 25.Follow @jruss_jruss
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