WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. Attorney General William Barr ordered the removal of the warden at the federal jail where financier Jeffrey Epstein was found dead in an apparent suicide while awaiting trial on sex trafficking charges, the Justice Department said on Tuesday, after condemning “serious irregularities” at the facility.
The New York Times, citing unnamed officials, reported late on Tuesday that the two guards on duty to watch Epstein and other prisoners were asleep for some or all of the three hours that Epstein is believed to have been left alone in his cell without checks.
The staff shakeup at the Metropolitan Correctional Center (MCC) in lower Manhattan announced by the department included temporarily reassigning the warden to another post within the federal Bureau of Prisons, appointing a temporary replacement and placing two corrections officers assigned to Epstein’s unit on administrative leave pending the outcome of investigations.
Epstein was found dead on Saturday morning, having apparently hanged himself in his cell.
The department’s announcement of the staff changes was made hours after President Donald Trump said he wanted a full investigation into the circumstances surrounding Epstein’s death.
“Additional actions may be taken as the circumstances warrant,” Kerri Kupec, a Justice Department spokeswoman, said in a statement.
Epstein, who once counted Trump and former President Bill Clinton as friends, was arrested on July 6 and pleaded not guilty to charges of sex trafficking involving dozens of underage girls as young as 14.
Kupec said James Petrucci, the warden at Federal Correctional Institution Otisville in New York, was named as acting MCC warden. The previous warden was reassigned to the bureau’s Northeast Regional Office, Kupec added. The corrections officers were not identified.
The department did not name the warden who was reassigned, but sources familiar with the matter identified him as Lamine N’Diaye, who formerly was in charge of the Bureau of Prisons office of internal affairs.
Barr, the top U.S. law enforcement official, on Monday vowed to carry on the Epstein investigation following the death of the wealthy and well-connected money manager. Barr said he was “appalled” at the jail’s “failure to adequately secure this prisoner.” Barr cited “serious irregularities at this facility,” but did not offer specifics.
The 66-year-old financier had been on suicide watch, but a source familiar with the matter who spoke on condition of anonymity said he was not on watch at the time of his death.
At the MCC, two jail guards are required to make separate checks on all prisoners every 30 minutes, but that procedure was not followed overnight, according to the source.
Corrections officers may have falsified reports saying they checked on Epstein and it appears he was dead for one to two hours before he was found, CBS reported, citing a law enforcement source and another source familiar with the investigation.
The Times reported that the guards were asleep for several hours on their shift and did not check on Epstein as they had stated.
Trump earlier on Tuesday praised Barr’s handling of the matter, adding, “I want a full investigation, and that’s what I absolutely am demanding. That’s what our attorney general, our great attorney general is doing.”
Speaking to reporters in Morristown, New Jersey, Trump also defended his decision on Saturday to retweet an unfounded conspiracy theory from a conservative comedian named Terrence K. Williams that Clinton was involved in Epstein’s death.
“He’s a very highly respected conservative pundit,” said of Williams. “He’s a big Trump fan. And that was a retweet. That wasn’t from me. ... So I think I was fine.”
New York City’s medical examiner has said an autopsy on Epstein was completed on Sunday, but the cause of death remained pending.
U.S. lawmakers have demanded that the government hold responsible people who allegedly helped Epstein engage in sex trafficking. Senator Ben Sasse, the Republican chairman of the Senate Judiciary Oversight Subcommittee, urged Barr to void a 2008 agreement that Epstein entered into with federal prosecutors in Florida that has been widely criticized as too lenient.
Under that deal, Epstein pleaded guilty to state prostitution charges and served 13 months in jail, but was allowed to leave the detention facility regularly for his office.
Some of Epstein’s accusers have called on the federal judge overseeing that case to scrap portions of the agreement, which provided immunity to Epstein’s alleged co-conspirators. In a letter to Barr, Sasse said the agreement should be thrown out altogether.
“This crooked deal cannot stand,” and should be voided to “ensure that some measure of justice is finally delivered to Epstein’s victims who have been let down time and time again by their government,” Sasse said.
One of the prosecutors involved in the 2008 agreement, Alexander Acosta, resigned as Trump’s labour secretary in July as the Epstein deal came under fresh scrutiny after the financier’s arrest in New York.
The Epstein scandal has also enmeshed Leslie Wexner, the billionaire chairman and chief executive behind Victoria’s Secret and Bath & Body Works parent L Brands Inc, who had previously entrusted Epstein to manage his personal finances and serve as trustee of his charitable foundation.
Wexner recently hired white-collar defence lawyer Mary Jo White, a partner at Debevoise & Plimpton LLP and former U.S. attorney in Manhattan, according to a person familiar with the matter, as scrutiny of Epstein’s finances intensifies.
Wexner has not been accused of criminal wrongdoing.
CNN earlier reported Wexner’s hiring of White.
Neither White nor a representative for Wexner immediately responded to requests for comment. A spokesman for U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman in Manhattan declined to comment.
Reporting by Makini Brice, Jeff Mason, Jonathan Allen, Karen Freifeld, Andrew Hay, Mark Hosenball, Matthew Lavietes, Rich McKay, Jonathan Stempel, Sarah N. Lynch and Mike Spector; Editing by Noeleen Walder and Will Dunham