The Department of Justice moved to drop its case against two Bureau of Prison workers who admitted to falsifying logs and were accused of sleeping and browsing the internet instead of monitoring jet-setting financier and convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein the night he allegedly killed himself in his prison cell.
Nicolas Roos, an assistant U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, told a federal court that prosecutors want to drop the charges entirely. He said the DOJ filing of a “nolle prosequi,” a Latin phrase indicating that prosecutors have decided to abandon the prosecution of a case, “will dispose of this case” against the guards.
The quiet move — the request was dated Dec. 13 but was not filed on the court docket until Thursday — was revealed one day after Ghislaine Maxwell, Epstein’s former girlfriend and close confidant, was found guilty by a jury on five of six federal counts related to the illegal sex trafficking of underage girls.
“A unanimous jury has found Ghislaine Maxwell guilty of one of the worst crimes imaginable — facilitating and participating in the sexual abuse of children. Crimes that she committed with her longtime partner and co-conspirator, Jeffrey Epstein,” U.S. Attorney Damian Williams said Wednesday. “The road to justice has been far too long. But, today, justice has been done.”
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Maxwell, 60, pleaded not guilty to the counts and faces up to 65 years in prison. Her attorney and family have vowed an appeal.
Audrey Strauss, then the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, told the court in May that her office had “entered into deferred prosecution agreements” with Tova Noel and Michael Thomas, guards at the Metropolitan Correctional Center, where Epstein had been found dead in the summer of 2019. Strauss claimed that “the government has determined that the interests of justice will best be served by deferring prosecution” and said the defendants “will cooperate with a pending Department of Justice Office of Inspector General review by providing truthful information related to their employment by the Bureau of Prisons, including about the events and circumstances described in the indictment.”
Roos recommended that the indictment against the guards be thrown out.
“The United States Pretrial Services Office has informed the government that Noel and Thomas have complied with the terms of the agreement during the period of deferral, which expired on Nov. 20, 2021,” Roos told the judge.
“The Department of Justice has continued to fail Epstein’s victims at every turn," Republican Sen. Ben Sasse told the Washington Examiner. "What these women deserve is justice. Dismissing the case against the guards who let Epstein escape justice is pathetic. A slap on the wrist isn’t going to cut it.”
Instead of jail time, prosecutors announced in May that Noel and Thomas would receive a supervised release, be required to complete 100 hours of community service, and be expected to cooperate fully with an investigation that's being conducted by Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz.
The DOJ Inspector General's Office declined to comment on its pending investigation.
“If you successfully complete the term of supervision and fulfill all the terms and conditions of this agreement, the government will move the court to dismiss the indictment,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Jessica Lonergan promised in May.
Epstein was found dead in his jail cell early on the morning of Aug. 10, 2019, in what was ruled a suicide within days. In late October 2019, New York City’s chief medical examiner, Dr. Barbara Sampson, stood by her conclusion “that the cause of Mr. Epstein’s death was hanging and the manner of death was suicide." Despite “Epstein Didn’t Kill Himself” becoming a viral meme, then-Attorney General William Barr said in 2019, “I have seen nothing that undercuts the finding of the medical examiner that this was a suicide.”
Noel and Thomas admitted they “willfully and knowingly completed materially false count and round slips regarding required counts and rounds in the Special Housing Unit of the Metropolitan Correctional Center on Aug. 9, 2019 and Aug. 10, 2019,” according to Strauss, but, instead of jail time, the duo “will complete 100 hours of community service.”
The Justice Department unsealed its indictment against Noel and Thomas in November 2019, alleging the two responsible for checking on Epstein lied “to conceal their failure to complete their duties.”
Authorities said Noel and Thomas “repeatedly failed to complete mandated counts of prisoners under their watch” and charged each with one count of conspiring to defraud the United States, along with a number of false records charges. Epstein’s cell was only 15 feet from the guard desk.
The DOJ said Noel and Thomas “sat at their desk, browsed the internet, and moved around the common area of the SHU” instead of doing their rounds. Prosecutors said that “as a result of those false reports” filed by Noel and Thomas, the prison thought Epstein was being checked on regularly. Around 6:30 a.m., Noel and Thomas “discovered the body of Epstein, who had committed suicide by hanging himself earlier that morning while unobserved.”
A trial had also been set for the guards for June 2020, but that was scuttled.
“Ms. Noel is extremely grateful that we were able to convince the government and the court that the termination of criminal prosecution through a deferred prosecution agreement is in the interests of justice,” defense lawyer Jason Foy said in May.
“Mr. Thomas is very happy to put this case behind him,” defense attorney Montell Figgins said at the time. “He is very pleased that this case may be dismissed in six months provided he meet certain conditions including 100 hours of community service.”
Epstein was alleged to have “sexually exploited and abused dozens of minor girls” at his homes in Manhattan and Palm Beach, among other locations, between 2002 and 2005 and perhaps beyond. Prosecutors claimed Epstein built a “vast network of underage victims.”
Epstein’s arrest in July 2019 marked the second time he had been investigated for sex crimes. Alex Acosta, the former U.S. attorney for Southern Florida who later served as former President Donald Trump’s labor secretary, reached a controversial agreement in 2008 with Epstein’s attorneys in which Epstein was allowed to plead guilty to two state-level prostitution solicitation charges.
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The Justice Department’s Office of Professional Responsibility also concluded in November 2020 that Acosta and other federal prosecutors exercised “poor judgment” in their handling of 2008’s sweetheart deal with Epstein but said they found no professional misconduct.
Acosta reached the agreement over a decade ago with Epstein’s attorneys, potentially allowing Epstein to dodge a slew of federal charges.