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Two jail guards accused of shopping online and napping instead of checking in on Jeffrey Epstein the night he died by suicide won’t spend any time behind bars.
Instead, the guards, Tova Noel and Michael Thomas, will do 100 hours of community service and cooperate with the ongoing Justice Department investigation into Epstein’s death, according to a deferred-prosecution agreement approved Tuesday by Judge Analisa Torres in Manhattan federal court.
Noel and Thomas were indicted in November 2019 for falsifying documents that claimed that, the night Epstein died in August 2019, they’d regularly checked in on inmates at the Metropolitan Correctional Center, the New York City jail where Epstein was housed while he awaited trial on sex trafficking charges. Epstein had been jailed alone in his cell. But Noel and Thomas had whiled away their overnight shift by, among other things, surfing the internet for sports news and deals on furniture, according to the indictment.
The next morning, guards found Epstein unresponsive in his cell, with a noose around his neck. The convicted sex offender’s death was later ruled to be a suicide. Weeks ahead of his death, Epstein had been placed on suicide watch after he was found with marks on his neck. By the time he died, though, he’d been removed from the suicide watch protocols and jailed alone.
Last week, prosecutors announced in a letter to Torres that Noel and Thomas had admitted to “willfully and knowingly completed materially” submitting false records. But, prosecutors said, “After a thorough investigation, and based on the facts of this case and the personal circumstances of the defendants, the government has determined that the interests of justice will best be served by deferring prosecution.”
Ahead of Noel and Thomas’ indictment, a prison official told the New York Times that, even though falsifying government records is a felony, it’s usually punished by the Bureau of Prisons with suspension. Now, as long as Noel and Thomas stick to the rules of the deferred-prosecution agreement, the indictment against them will be dismissed in six months.
"This offers you a chance to avoid a criminal conviction," Torres told the guards in a Tuesday hearing. "I trust you will take full advantage of the opportunity."
Nebraska Sen. Ben Sasse, a Republican, has lambasted the announcement that prosecutors were prepared to make a deal with Noel and Thomas.
“Apparently the Justice Department hasn’t finished embarrassing itself yet. This is unacceptable. Epstein’s victims have been failed at every single turn,” he said in a statement. “One hundred hours of community service is a joke—this isn’t traffic court.