Two federal prison officers tasked with guarding Jeffrey Epstein the night he hanged himself were charged Tuesday with falsely claiming they’d checked on inmates — when, instead, they allegedly spent much of the night doing some online shopping and, apparently, napping.
The officers, Tova Noel and Michael Thomas, are facing multiple charges, including counts of conspiracy and making false records, the United States Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York announced. They’re the first people to be charged from a criminal investigation into Epstein’s death, and may spend years in prison.
At the time of his hanging, the former financier and convicted sex offender was an inmate at the Manhattan Correctional Center, where he awaiting trial on federal sex-trafficking charges. He was staying in the Special Housing Unit, away from the general population, partly due to worries that he would kill himself. Epstein was also housed in his cell alone, because his cellmate had been recently transferred out.
Noel and Thomas were the only officers assigned to the Special Housing Unit from about midnight to 8 a.m. on August 10, the morning Epstein died, according to the indictment. During that time, they were supposed to check on the inmates at 3 a.m. and 5 a.m. as part of institution-wide “round,” as well as take a round of the Special Housing Unit every 30 minutes.
They did not, according to the indictment.
Instead, they allegedly sat at the corrections officers’ desk — just about 15 feet away from Epstein’s cell — moved around the common area, and used the computers. Noel searched for furniture sales, while Thomas looked up motorcycle sales and sports news, according to the indictment. For about two hours, they also sat without moving at their desks — as if they were asleep, investigators say.
Still, Noel signed more than 75 separate form entries indicating they’d done the 30-minute checks, according to the indictment. Both Noel and Thomas also submitted documents falsely saying that they had done the institution-wide counts.
Around 6:30 a.m., Noel and Thomas finally approached Epstein’s cell. That’s where they found his unresponsive body, with a noose around his neck.
After the alarm was sounded, however, the pair seemed to have come clean pretty quickly.
“We did not complete the 3 a.m. nor 5 a.m. rounds,” Noel told a supervisor, according to the indictment.
“We messed up,” Thomas said, per the indictment. He added, “I messed up, she’s not to blame, we didn’t do any rounds.”
“The security risks created by this type of behavior are immense,” FBI Assistant Director William F. Sweeney Jr. said in a statement. “The message here is simple — citizens place their trust in those who have taken an oath to serve and protect the public, and when that trust is deliberately violated by public servants, who instead choose to break those regulations, then they will be held accountable.”
Dozens of women have now accused of Epstein of sexually abusing them. Since his death, many have sued his $577 million estate, which is now exploring the possibility of setting up a kind of reparations program for his accusers — similar to the programs that repaid families devastated by national tragedies like the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, according to the New York Times.
Cover: This Aug. 13, 2019, file photo, shows the Metropolitan Correctional Center in New York. Two correctional officers responsible for guarding Jeffrey Epstein the night he killed himself at the Metropolitan Correctional Center have been charged with falsifying prison records. A grand jury indictment made public Tuesday, Nov. 19 accused guards Toval Noel and Michael Thomas of failing to perform checks on Epstein every half hour, as required, and of fabricating log entries to show they had. Epstein was found dead in his cell in August at the correctional center, where he had been awaiting trial on sex trafficking charges. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer, File)