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Disgraced financier Jeffrey Epstein, awaiting sex trafficking charges, dead of apparent suicide

 

Jeffrey Epstein pleaded not guilty to charges of drug trafficking and allegedly sexually abusing dozens of underage girls in New York and Florida. USA TODAY

NEW YORK — Jeffrey Epstein, the disgraced financier who was being held in a Manhattan jail awaiting federal sex trafficking charges, died early Saturday from an apparent suicide, according to federal authorities.

After being found “unresponsive in his cell” at the Metropolitan Correctional Center at around 6:39 a.m. and receiving life-saving measures, Epstein was transported to nearby New York Presbyterian-Lower Manhattan Hospital, where he was pronounced dead, according to a statement by the MCC. The center referred to his death as an “apparent suicide.”

Attorney General William Barr said he was “appalled” that Epstein’s died of apparent suicide while in federal custody at the MCC, which is part of the U.S. Bureau of Prisons facility under the Department of Justice.

“Mr. Epstein’s death raises serious questions that must be answered,” Barr said in a statement. “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.”

U.S. Sen. Ben Sasse, a Republican from Nebraska, in turn, took Barr to task over the affair with a stinging letter to the attorney general demanding that “heads must roll.”

“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,” wrote Sasse, a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Epstein, 66, an investment banker who counted among his powerful connections former President Bill Clinton, President Donald Trump and Prince Andrew, had pleaded not guilty to charges of drug trafficking and allegedly sexually abusing dozens of underage girls in New York and Florida.

He repeatedly refused to answer questions regarding the lurid sexual allegations against him or the possible involvement of others, including high-profile figures.

His death came within 24 hours after long-sealed documents were released by a federal court in a since-settled lawsuit against Epstein’s ex-girlfriend brought by Virginia Giuffre, one of Epstein’s accusers.

Among the thousands of pages of documents was the partial transcript of a 2016 videotaped deposition in which Epstein pleaded the Fifth Amendment against incriminating himself when asked a series of explosive questions, including whether he was a member of the Mar-a-Largo resort in Florida owned by Trump.

Sigrid McCawley, Giuffre’s attorney, said Epstein’s suicide less than 24 hours after the documents were unsealed “is no coincidence.” McCawley called on federal authorities to continue their investigation, focusing on Epstein associates who she said “participated and facilitated Epstein’s horrifying sex trafficking scheme.”

“The reckoning of accountability begun by the voices of brave and truthful victims should not end with Jeffrey Epstein’s cowardly and shameful suicide,” McCawley said in a statement. “The victims await the true justice they have sought and deserve.”

Three weeks ago, Epstein was found unconscious in his cell at the center. He had suffered injuries to his neck in what appeared to be a suicide attempt or jailhouse assault.

A person familiar with the matter told The Associated Press that Epstein had been taken off suicide watch. The person wasn’t authorized to discuss the matter publicly and spoke to AP on condition of anonymity. It wasn’t immediately clear when he was taken off suicide watch.

The New York Times, quoting a person familiar with Epstein’s detention, reported that he was removed from suicide watch July 29 and returned to the special housing unit, which has extra security.

Epstein had been housed in the jail’s Special Housing Unit, a heavily secured part of the facility that separates high-profile inmates from the general population, according to the Bureau of Prisons.

Three members of Epstein’s defense team, lawyers Reid Weingarten, Marty Weinberg and Michael Miller, issued a statement saying, “We are enormously sorry to learn of today’s news. No one should die in jail.” They declined to comment on the circumstances of his death.

Another Epstein lawyer, Marc Fernich, issued a personal statement calling Epstein’s death an “unthinkable tragedy” and criticizing prosecutors, plaintiffs’ lawyers, jailers and the press, among others.

“All seem to have a share of Mr. Epstein’s blood on their hands,” he said. “All should be ashamed of their behavior.”

Fernich said in the statement that he was speaking as an “outraged citizen and defense lawyer, not as a representative of Jeffrey Epstein’s defense team.”

Epstein was convicted in 2008 on Florida charges of soliciting and procuring a person under 18 for prostitution.

He avoided what could have been a lengthy prison sentence under a plea deal with then-U.S. Attorney Alex Acosta. The deal drew intense scrutiny and led Acosta to resign as President Donald Trump’s labor secretary.

The recently released documents included depositions of years of alleged sex acts involving underage girls. The material, released as a result of petitions by the Miami Herald and other news media, included sordid allegations involving prominent individuals.

Among the documents are police reports, flight logs and even a purported memoir by a woman who says she was a victim of Epstein’s when she was teenager.

Jennifer Araoz said in a statement Saturday she and other accusers will be scarred for the rest of their lives, while he won’t confront the consequences of the “trauma he caused so many people.”

Brad Edwards, a lawyer for nearly two dozen other accusers, called Epstein’s suicide a “selfish act” that was “not the ending anyone was looking for.”

Epstein was arrested by federal agents in July at Teterboro Airport in New Jersey after his private jet landed from Paris.

The federal indictment claims Epstein “incentivized his victims” by paying them hundreds of dollars for each girl they recruited. Encounters with his victims would begin with a “massage” before Epstein would “escalate the nature and scope of physical contact with his victim,” the indictment says. It also says unnamed employees of Epstein aided in scheduling the girls.

Nicholas Biase, spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Southern District of New York, declined to comment on the reported suicide or the future status of the Epstein case.

The federal investigation into the allegations remains ongoing, U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman said.

It was unclear before Epstein’s death whether federal prosecutors were pursuing a superseding indictment that would include additional charges and defendants beyond Epstein.

Julie K. Brown, a reporter for the Miami Herald whose dogged reporting led to a re-examination of the Epstein saga, told CNN Saturday that his death may bring out more witnesses.

“It might open up the case even more,” she said. “There will be people that maybe will not be as afraid to talk now.”

 

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