Stunning twist in Jeffrey Epstein death
Two prison guards tasked with monitoring disgraced paedophile Jeffrey Epstein while he was in custody have been arrested and charged over his death.
Corrections officers Tova Noel, 31, and Michael Thomas, 41, were on duty at the time of Epstein's suicide on August 10 at the Metropolitan Correctional Center in lower Manhattan. The late financier was awaiting trial for sex trafficking minors in Florida and New York when he died.
Ms Noel and Mr Thomas "repeatedly failed to perform mandated counts of prisoners under their watch" in the Special Housing Unit of the Metropolitan Correctional Center, according to a 19-page indictment unsealed in Manhattan federal court on Tuesday.
"Instead, for substantial portions of their shift, Noel and Thomas sat at their desk, browsed the internet and moved around the common area of the SHU," the indictment alleges, the New York Post reports.
According to the documents, the duo was delivering breakfast to inmates when they found Epstein's body in his cell at around 6.30am on August 10.
"The defendants had a duty to ensure the safety and security of federal inmates in their care at the Metropolitan Correctional Center," Geoffrey S. Berman, the United States attorney in Manhattan, said in a statement. "Instead, they repeatedly failed to conduct mandated checks on inmates and lied on official forms to hide their dereliction."
Ms Noel and Mr Thomas are each charged with one count of conspiracy. Noel is also charged with two counts of filing false reports related to checks that were supposed to be conducted at 4pm and 10pm on August 9. They are both charged with three additional counts related to checks at midnight, as well as at 3am and 5am on August 10.
Each offence count carries a maximum sentence of up to five years in prison.
The charges are the first to arise from a criminal investigation into the death of Epstein.
Federal prosecutors offered the corrections officers plea deals, the Associated Press previously reported, but the officers turned them down.
The Federal Bureau of Prisons did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The guards were taken into custody on Tuesday, according to sources familiar with the investigation.
Both guards were working overtime at the time of Epstein's death and allegedly failed to check on Epstein every half-hour as they were required to do. They are expected to be charged today over allegedly falsifying forms to claim they carried out the required check-ins.
The New York Times reports that the two guards fell asleep and Epstein was left for several hours before his body was found.
The warden of the MCC, Lamine N'Diaye, was also reassigned pending an investigation into Epstein's death.
New York City's medical examiner Barbara Sampson ruled Epstein's death a suicide.
But a forensic pathologist hired by his brother Mark Epstein claimed the autopsy showed his injuries - including broken bones in his neck - were more consistent with homicidal strangulation.
The 66-year-old multi-millionaire was placed on suicide watch after he was found with marks on his neck on July 23 but was removed from the monitoring a week before he died.
The reports and Ms Sampson's finding touched off a number of conspiracy theories, including several retweeted by US President Donald Trump, that Epstein's death may have been suspicious.
In 2008, Epstein was sentenced to 18 months in prison after he was found guilty of soliciting girls as young as 14 for prostitution.
The arrest of the guards comes as another Epstein accuser has come forward, claiming he committed a "vicious, prolonged sexual assault" on her when she was 15. The woman, who is named as Jane Doe 15 in legal documents, is one of about a dozen women suing Epstein's estate for alleged sexual abuses.
In announcing her lawsuit, Jane Doe 15 appealed for Prince Andrew to come forward with information about Epstein.
On Sunday, Prince Andrew gave an extraordinary interview to the BBC about his friendship with Epstein. The interview prompted significant backlash in the UK, the US and elsewhere, as Prince Andrew claimed he had no knowledge of Epstein's behaviour and had remained friends with the financier after he was convicted of child sex offences because he believed it was the "honourable thing to do".
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