NEW YORK (AP) — Jeffrey Epstein, the connected financier accused of orchestrating a sex-trafficking ring, had been taken off suicide watch before he killed himself in a New York jail, a person familiar with the matter said Saturday.
Attorney General William Barr said he was “appalled” to learn of Epstein’s death in federal custody. The FBI and the Department of Justice Office of the Inspector General will investigate, Barr said.
“Mr. Epstein’s death raises serious questions that must be answered,” Barr said in a statement.
Epstein was found unresponsive in his cell Saturday morning at the Metropolitan Correctional Center, according to the Federal Bureau of Prisons. Fire officials received a call at 6:39 a.m. Saturday that Epstein was in cardiac arrest; he was pronounced dead at New York Presbyterian-Lower Manhattan Hospital.
Epstein, 66, had been denied bail and faced up to 45 years behind bars on federal sex trafficking and conspiracy charges unsealed in July. He had pleaded not guilty and was awaiting trial on accusations of sexually abusing dozens of underage girls.
He had been placed on suicide watch and given daily psychiatric evaluations after an incident in late July in which Epstein was found with bruising on his neck, according to a person familiar with the matter who wasn’t authorized to discuss it publicly. It has not been confirmed whether the injury was self-inflicted or the result of an assault.
Epstein was taken off suicide watch at the end of July, the person said.
The Bureau of Prisons confirmed that he had been housed in the jail’s Special Housing Unit, a heavily secured section that separates high-profile inmates from the general population. Until recently, the unit had been home to the Mexican drug lord Joaquin El Chapo Guzman, who is serving a life sentence at the Supermax prison in Colorado.
Epstein’s death raises questions about how the Bureau of Prisons ensures the welfare of such high-profile inmates. In October, Boston gangster James “Whitey” Bulger was killed in a federal prison in West Virginia to which had just been transferred.
Nebraska Sen. Ben Sasse, a Republican member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, wrote Saturday in a scathing letter to Barr that “heads must roll” for Epstein’s suicide.
“Every single person in the Justice Department — from your Main Justice headquarters staff all the way to the night-shift jailer — knew that this man was a suicide risk, and that his dark secrets couldn’t be allowed to die with him,” Sasse wrote.
Cameron Lindsay, a former warden who ran three federal prisons, said the death shows “an unfortunate and shocking failure, if proven to be a suicide.”
“Unequivocally, he should have been on active suicide watch and therefore under direct and constant supervision,” Lindsay said.
The federal investigation of sexual abuse allegations continues, U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman said in a statement Saturday that the indictment against Epstein included conspiracy, suggesting others could face charges in the case.
Epstein’s arrest upon stepping off an airplane in July led to investigations of how U.S. authorities handled his case when similar charges were brought against him in Florida more than a decade ago. Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta resigned in July after coming under fire for overseeing that deal when he was U.S. attorney in Miami.
On Friday, more than 2,000 pages of documents were released from a settled lawsuit against Epstein’s ex-girlfriend by Virginia Giuffre, one of Epstein’s accusers. The records contain graphic allegations against Epstein, and the transcript of a 2016 deposition of Epstein in which he repeatedly refused to answer questions.
Sigrid McCawley, Giuffre’s attorney, said Epstein’s suicide less than 24 hours after the documents were unsealed “is no coincidence.” McCawley urged authorities to continue their investigation, focusing on Epstein associates who she said “participated and facilitated Epstein’s horrifying sex trafficking scheme.”
Other accusers and their attorneys reacted to the news with frustration that the man won’t have to face them in court.
“We have to live with the scars of his actions for the rest of our lives, while he will never face the consequences of the crimes he committed the pain and trauma he caused so many people,” accuser Jennifer Araoz said in a statement.
Brad Edwards, a Florida attorney for nearly two dozen other accusers, said: “This is not the ending anyone was looking for.”
“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,” Edwards said in a statement.
Epstein’s arrest drew national attention, eventually focusing on a deal that allowed him to plead guilty in 2008 to soliciting a minor for prostitution in Florida and avoid more serious federal charges, involving dozens of underage girls.
Federal prosecutors in New York reopened the probe after investigative reporting by The Miami Herald stirred outrage over that plea bargain.
Epstein’s attorneys maintained that the new charges in New York were covered by the 2008 plea deal and that Epstein had not had any illicit contact with underage girls since serving his 13-month sentence in Florida.
Before his legal troubles, Epstein led a life of luxury bordering upon vile that drew powerful people into his orbit. He socialized with princes and presidents, including Donald Trump and Bill Clinton, and lived on a 100-acre private Caribbean island and one of the biggest mansions in New York.
(Courthouse News contributed to this report.)