Jeffrey Epstein in 2004.
Rick Friedman | Corbis News | Getty Images
A judge Tuesday approved a deferred prosecution contract for two federal prison guards who failed to monitor sex offender Jeffrey Epstein on the night of August 2019. The wealthy investor hanged himself in his cell where he was being held for child trafficking.
The deal means the two guards, Tova Noel and Michael Thomas, will avoid conviction and possible jail sentence for pending criminal charges if they comply with the terms of the contract with the US Attorney General for the southern borough of New York.
These terms include performing 100 hours of community service, six months of pre-trial supervisory surveillance, and working with an ongoing Justice Department investigation into Epstein’s death.
As part of the deal, Noel and Thomas admitted that they lied on documents at the Manhattan Correctional Center on the night of August 9-10, 2019, alleging that they were monitoring Epstein’s cell and those of other inmates.
Prosecutors said the guards did not regularly check the detainees as planned and instead surfed the Internet, read sports news, and sold furniture and motorcycles. They also seem to have slept about two hours during their shift.
If Noel and Thomas fully honor the terms of the agreement, the government will dismiss the charges against them, US assistant attorney Nicholas Roos said in Tuesday’s hearing held via videoconference by the US District Court in Manhattan.
The guards were arrested in November 2019 on charges that charged them with conspiracy and filing false records.
A former friend of Presidents Donald Trump and Bill Clinton, 66-year-old Epstein was held without bail on sexual charges at the time of his death.
He was held in a special unit in the prison reserved for inmates at increased risk from or for other inmates in the facility’s general population.
Weeks before his suicide, he was found unresponsive in his cell in the same prison due to an initial suicide attempt. Following this incident, Epstein was briefly put on suicide watch.
Prosecutors told Judge Analisa Torres in a letter last Friday that they agreed to the deal with the guards after establishing “through a thorough investigation based on the facts of the case and the personal circumstances of the defendants …” that the interests of justice is best served by deferring law enforcement. “
During Tuesday’s roughly 15-minute hearing, Torres asked the guards if they understood that they had “deliberately and knowingly” submitted false documents about the night Epstein died.
“Yes, your honor,” both replied.
Torres then said to the guards, “This is an opportunity for you to avoid criminal conviction.”
“I trust that you will take full advantage of the opportunity,” said the judge.
Torres planned to renegotiate on December 16.
Senator Ben Sasse, a Republican from Nebraska and a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, blew up the deal last week as a slap in the face of Epstein’s victims.
Sasse also cited the deal as the Justice Department’s latest example of “embarrassing” an Epstein-related case.
“That is unacceptable. Epstein’s victims failed at every turn. A hundred hours of community service is a joke – this is not a traffic court,” Sasse said in a statement.
“The leader of an international child trafficking ring has escaped justice, his co-conspirators have taken their secrets with them to the grave, and these guards will be picking up roadside rubbish,” said the senator.
The deferred law enforcement treaty does not preclude both guards from being disciplined or dismissed by the US Bureau of Prisons.
Noel attorney Jason Foy said in a statement: “Ms. Noel is extremely grateful that we have been able to convince the government and court that ending the prosecution with a deferred prosecution arrangement is in the interests of justice.”
“Finding a solution that eliminates both incarceration and criminal conviction is the favorable outcome that Ms. Noel has prayed for since her arrest,” said Foy.
“Although we have reached a successful resolution, Ms. Noel will not publicly comment on the facts and circumstances surrounding this case until the dismissal of all charges is final in approximately six (6) months,” said Foy’s statement.
“Ms Noel is grateful that the government has reconsidered its decision to prosecute her. This agreement will allow the administrative process set out in the collective agreement between her union and the Bureau of Prisons to adequately address any deficiencies in the performance of her responsibilities . “
Epstein’s death sparked a conspiracy theory that he was killed because of the risk he would speak to authorities about his high profile friends, who included Trump and Clinton, Britain’s Prince Andrew and a number of other wealthy people.
The authorities have ruled that he died by suicide.
But that didn’t stop Trump himself from retweeting an unsubstantiated claim attempting to link Clinton to Epstein’s death.
The death also frustrated Epstein prosecutors and prosecutors, whose allegations of sexual abuse against him in the case pending against him at the time dated back to the early 2000s.
Within days of Epstein’s death, then US Attorney General William Barr said he was “appalled” by the incident and that there were “serious irregularities” in the prison.
“We’ll get to the bottom of what happened,” Barr vowed, “and there will be accountability.”
The circumstances of Epstein’s death remain the subject of an investigation by the office of the Inspector General of the DOJ.
As a condition of their deal, Noel and Thomas must cooperate with this investigation “by providing truthful information regarding their employment with the Bureau of Prisons,” prosecutors said in their letter to the judge.
Epstein’s former girlfriend, British celebrity Ghislaine Maxwell, was arrested last year on sexual and affidavit charges for her alleged role of procuring underage girls for Epstein.
Maxwell, who denies the charges, is being held on bail in a federal prison in Brooklyn, New York, awaiting her upcoming trial in Manhattan federal court.
Her attorneys have repeatedly complained to a judge that the guards at Brooklyn Jail are over-powering Maxwell, whom they routinely wake up in the middle of the night with checks every 15 minutes for unfounded fears that she will kill herself like Epstein.