New York – New York financier Jeffrey Epstein, whose vast fortune enabled him to spend his life among the rich and powerful, and who was imprisoned on grounds of sexual abuse of minors, was found dead in his federal prison cell this Saturday. The case is under investigation by the FBI and the US Justice Department.
Epstein, 66, was found hanged in his cell this morning, and soon afterwards the Office of Chief Medical Examiner of the City of New York confirmed him dead, though the autopsy is still pending.
The death of Epstein, who was born in New York in 1953 of a middle-class family, has occurred several weeks after being found unconscious in his cell last July 23 with marks on his neck. Authorities were investigating whether he had tried to commit suicide.
After that incident he was moved to a facility designed to prevent suicide attempts and whose efficiency local media are now questioning.
The New York Fire Department, whose jurisdiction also includes the city’s emergency medical units, got a call from the prison where staff members were trying to revive Epstein with cardiorespiratory procedures, after which he was taken to a hospital where his death was confirmed.
His demise immediately aroused multiple reactions including that of US Attorney General William Barr, who said he was “appalled” that this could have occurred in federal government custody.
“Mr. Epstein’s death raises serious questions that must be answered,” Barr said in a statement.
He added that besides the FBI investigation underway, the Justice Department will carry out its own scrutiny.
“I have consulted with the Inspector General who is opening an investigation into the circumstances of Mr. Epstein’s death,” Barr said.
Epstein, who founded his company in 1982, was arrested last July 6 when his private plane landed in New Jersey and he was whisked off to New York to face charges before the US District Court of the Southern District of New York. He was accused of creating a network for trafficking underage girls for sex at his mansions in New York and Florida for the past 10 years. He declared himself not guilty.
According to the accusation, Epstein was aided by employees and associates to entice girls into his residences, paying them hundreds of dollars to have sex with him and also to recruit other victims.
The magnate tried to pay his way out of prison while awaiting trial, scheduled for next year, with an offer of up to $100 million in bail. The judge refused the offer, however, with the argument that Epstein was a danger to society and could easily escape, thanks to his wealth.
His lawyers regretted his death and said in a statement that “no one should die in jail.”
“We cannot confirm rumors as to his cause of death, and we trust that the United States Attorney’s Office and the United States Marshals will thoroughly investigate the circumstances of today’s tragedy,” local media quoted the lawyers as saying.
Furthermore, his death occurred a day after a New York federal appeals court judge ordered the unsealing of hundreds of pages of court documents containing new details of sexual abuse allegations against Epstein.
However, an attorney representing one of the victims told the Wall Street Journal that this incident did not mean the end of the investigation.
“The many victims of Jeffrey Epstein and his accomplices should not lose hope,” said attorney Roberta Kaplan, who vowed to see that justice is done to her client, “but also to ensure that all the facts of his monstrous crimes become known to the world.”
Epstein, who never graduated from university, faced similar accusations in Florida in 2008 but reached an agreement with the Prosecutor’s Office, which is being studied and is considered against the law by a federal judge, since more than 30 complaints of sexual abuse of minors had been hidden.
Based on that deal, supervised by the then-US attorney in Miami, Alexander Acosta, Epstein pleaded guilty on minor state charges, was sentenced to 13 months in prison and reached an economic deal with the victims. He was also registered as a sex offender.
Acosta, who was named labor secretary by US President Donald Trump, was forced to resign amid the resulting public outrage when terms of the deal were made known.