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Prison where Jeffrey Epstein died has 'serious irregularities', says Attorney-General
[NEW YORK] US Attorney-General William Barr said the federal jail where Jeffrey Epstein died had "serious irregularities", and he vowed to pursue justice for the financier's victims.
"We are now learning of serious irregularities at this facility that are deeply concerning and demand a thorough investigation," Mr Barr said Monday in a speech before a law enforcement conference in New Orleans.
"We will get to the bottom of what happened, and there will be accountability," he said.
Epstein, 66, who faced federal charges of molesting teenage girls and sex trafficking, died in an apparent suicide while in a federal jail in Lower Manhattan. Epstein was not on a suicide watch at the time even though he had been earlier because of a previous apparent attempt to kill himself.
"Let me assure you that this case will continue," Mr Barr said. "Any co-conspirators should not rest easy. The victims deserve justice, and they will get it."
The House Judiciary Committee's top Democrat and Republican said Monday that they want answers from the US Bureau of Prisons about Epstein's apparent suicide, including information about the individual correctional officers who were responsible for monitoring the financier and whether there were any video surveillance cameras in operation near Epstein's cell
"Did they indicate, or do recordings show, the circumstances that led to Mr Epstein's death, or the presence of any other person during this time period?" committee chairman Jerrold Nadler of New York, and top panel Republican Doug Collins of Georgia wrote in a letter. The pair also asked for confirmation that Epstein had been placed on suicide watch and about who ordered the termination of that protocol. They asked for answers by Aug 21.
The Bureau of Prisons has said the FBI was investigating the circumstances.
Epstein was found unresponsive in his cell Saturday morning. Jail staff tried to revive him and summoned emergency medical personnel to take him to a nearby hospital, but he was pronounced dead by hospital staff, according to a brief statement.
New York City's chief medical examiner, Barbara Sampson, said in a statement that an autopsy of Epstein had been performed Sunday and that the determination of the cause of death awaited further information. A private pathologist, Michael Baden, who previously served as the city's chief medical examiner, observed the examination at the request of representatives of Epstein, which is routine practice, Ms Sampson said.
Ms Sampson is confident that Epstein committed suicide by hanging but was seeking more information from law enforcement before issuing her finding, the New York Times reported, citing a city official it didn't identify.
Despite Mr Barr's assurances, the death of Epstein, who evaded severe punishment for more than a decade thanks to lenient treatment by law enforcement, could mean that molestation victims who had finally been promised their day in court by federal prosecutors won't get one after all.
"Jeffrey Epstein's victims have once again been cheated out of an opportunity for justice," said Jack Scarola, a West Palm Beach, Florida, lawyer who represents some of Epstein's alleged victims. "I'm sure that none of them regret his death. All of them regret the loss of information that died with him."
Lawyer Lisa Bloom, who also represents alleged victims, called on the administrators of Epstein's estate to freeze all of his assets for those who are filing lawsuits.
"Give his entire estate to his victims," she said on Twitter. "It is the only justice they can get. And they deserve it. And on behalf of the Epstein victims I represent, I intend to fight for it."
A financier with hundreds of millions in assets, private planes and homes around the world, Epstein entered a controversial non-prosecution agreement more than a decade ago with US prosecutors, which barred federal charges in Florida against him and conspirators.
Instead, he admitted to two state prostitution charges and served 13 months in county jail in Florida. A federal judge ruled in February that the Justice Department broke the law by making that deal without consulting the accusers. US Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta, who was the lead federal prosecutor in Florida, resigned in July because of renewed public fury over the case.
Federal authorities in New York arrested Epstein in July and charged him with sex trafficking after his private plane returned to Teterboro Airport in New Jersey from Paris.
His death is another black eye for the grim Metropolitan Correctional Center in Manhattan, which holds almost 800 inmates awaiting trial in federal court or serving short-term sentences. It's been plagued in recent years by charges of corruption among guards accepting bribes to smuggle in drugs, alcohol and mobile phones, as well as rodent infestations and drug abuse and rape among inmates.
Epstein, who was being held without bail, faced life in prison if he was convicted. He pleaded not guilty last month, and his lawyers have argued that prosecutors in Manhattan were barred from bringing the case because of the agreement in Florida. They were expected to file a dismissal motion.