WASHINGTON – The highest law enforcement official in the United States pointed on Monday to “serious irregularities” at the federal detention facility in New York where financier and accused sex trafficker Jeffrey Epstein died over the weekend in what the FBI called an apparent suicide.
“We are now learning of serious irregularities at this facility that are deeply concerning and demand a thorough investigation,” Attorney General William Barr said in New Orleans at a convention of the National Fraternal Order of Police.
“We will get to the bottom of it, and there will be accountability,” he said.
Early Saturday, the 66-year-old Epstein was found hanged inside his cell at the Metropolitan Correctional Center (MCC) in Manhattan, where the multi-millionaire hedge fund manager had been held since his July 6 arrest.
Praising Epstein’s alleged victims for their courage in coming forward, the attorney general said that the sex trafficking case “was very important to the Department of Justice and to me personally.”
“I was appalled, and indeed the whole department was, and frankly angry, to learn of the MCC’s failure to adequately secure this prisoner,” Barr said.
While the criminal prosecution of Epstein ends with his death, the attorney general said that federal prosecutors would pursue anyone identified as a co-conspirator.
“Let me assure you that this case will continue on against anyone who was complicit with Epstein. Any co-conspirators should not rest easy. The victims deserve justice and they will get it,” Barr said.
The attorney general announced Saturday that both the FBI and the Justice Department Inspector-General’s Office would investigate Epstein’s death.
Epstein, who pleaded not guilty last month to one count each of sex trafficking and conspiracy to commit sex trafficking, was found unconscious in his cell in Manhattan on July 23 with marks on his neck.
MCC administrators put the prisoner on suicide watch following that incident, but US media outlets reported Monday that the watch was discontinued at the request of Epstein’s lawyers.
The attorneys made the request after spending up to 12 hours a day meeting with the client, according to those accounts, which cited unnamed sources close to the investigation.
Epstein’s death came a day after a New York federal appeals court judge ordered the unsealing of hundreds of pages of court documents containing new details of the sexual abuse allegations.
Those documents were from a 2015 defamation suit that one of Epstein’s accusers, Virginia Roberts Giuffre, brought against Ghislaine Maxwell, a longtime female friend of the financier.
Giuffre and others say that Maxwell, the daughter of disgraced British media magnate and politician Robert Maxwell (1923-1991), procured underage girls to be sexually exploited by Epstein and his associates.
Epstein was known for friendships with high-profile figures such as US Presidents Donald Trump and Bill Clinton, Britain’s Prince Andrew and Israeli former Prime Minister Ehud Barak.
The documents unsealed Friday include accusations that Epstein instructed the then-underage Giuffre to have sex with Prince Andrew, with former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson and with George Mitchell, who led the Democrats in the US Senate from 1989-1995.
All three men have denied the allegations.
The nature of the charges against Epstein and his connections to prominent people have spurred skepticism about the circumstances of his death.
Though physicians performed an autopsy on Sunday, the New York City chief medical examiner, Dr. Barbara Sampson, said her office needed more information before reaching a definite conclusion of the cause and manner of Epstein’s death.
Epstein first faced charges of sexually exploiting minors more than a decade ago, but that prosecution ended in 2008 with an agreement that saw him serve a 13-month sentence in a jail in Palm Beach County, Florida, after pleading guilty to state charges.
The deal was approved by the-then US attorney in Miami, Alexander Acosta.
Epstein’s accusers, who were kept in the dark about the agreement, reacted angrily when they learned the details of the arrangement, thanks mainly to investigative reporting by The Miami Herald.
The decision by the US attorney in New York to revive the case and order the July 6 arrest of Epstein brought renewed attention to the 2008 deal, and the resulting public outrage forced Acosta to resign last month as labor secretary in the Trump administration.
Trump spoke warmly about Epstein in a 2002 New York Magazine profile of the financier.
Subsequently, however, the real estate magnate disclosed a falling out with Epstein and said he had banned him from the Trump-owned Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach.
Bill Clinton has sought to distance himself from Epstein, saying in a statement last month that he had traveled on the financier’s private Boeing 727 a total of four times, though information gleaned from the aircraft flight-logs appears to indicate otherwise.