U.S. Attorney General William Barr has opened a federal investigation into the suicide of sex trafficker Jeffrey Epstein, who was found unresponsive Saturday morning in his cell at the Metropolitan Correctional Center in Manhattan, a federal prison where he had been housed awaiting trial.
Federal sources say that paramedics tried unsuccessfully to revive Epstein after he was found hanging in his cell about 6:30 a.m.
The facility, in Lower Manhattan, is considered one of the most secure federal prisons in the nation, which raises questions about how it was possible that Epstein — one of its highest-profile inmates — would have been able to kill himself.
Epstein, 66, allegedly tried to harm himself several weeks ago, so at one point he was on suicide watch, though it appears that he was taken off suicide watch since then. The Miami Herald was unsuccessful in reaching a spokesman for the federal Bureau of Prisons, which operates the facility.
But the Department of Justice released a statement saying in part, “Life-saving measures were initiated immediately by responding staff. ... Epstein was transported by EMS to a local hospital for treatment of life-threatening injuries, and subsequently pronounced dead by hospital staff.”
Victims and their families were stunned to learn of his death Saturday morning.
Jena-Lisa Jones, who was molested by Epstein when she was 14, said that he was a coward.
“I just can’t believe it. We were finally feeling that we might have some justice after all these years,’’ she said, her voice cracking.
Eva Ford, the mother of victim Courtney Wild, was angry.
“How does someone who is this high profile commit suicide? They had to have cameras on him! Someone must have been paid to look the other way,’’ Ford said.
“I just wanted him to be held accountable for his actions. I would never wish that somebody would die, but he took the easy way out,’’ said victim Michelle Licata.
Palm Beach lawyer Jack Scarola, who represents several victims, said an investigation is called for into how Epstein was able to, once again, get authorities to look the other way.
“It is inexplicable how such a high-profile person on suicide watch could commit suicide without help,’’ Scarola said.
“Epstein once again cheated his victims out of an opportunity for justice. While I’m sure none of them regret his death, all of them regret the information that died with him. The one expectation is that Epstein’s death not derail the investigation into others who participated in his criminal activities. There are named and unnamed co-conspirators who still need to be brought to justice,’’ Scarola said.
Attorney General Barr said he directed the FBI and inspector general to open separate probes into his death.
“I was appalled to learn that Jeffrey Epstein was found dead early this morning from an apparent suicide while in federal custody. Mr. Epstein’s death raises serious questions that must be answered,” Barr said in a statement Saturday afternoon.
His death came one day after the Miami Herald and other news organizations published a trove of documents describing in detail how he operated the equivalent of a sexual pyramid scheme, luring girls, most of them 14 to 16, to his Palm Beach home, then coercing them into sex.
The court papers provided damning evidence — in the form of sworn depositions, photographs, flight logs and witness statements — that Epstein and his alleged accomplice, Ghislaine Maxwell, were operating an international sex-trafficking operation in which girls and young women were lured into trafficking with the empty promise that the couple would help them with their education or careers.
His death could short-circuit what would have been a spectacular trial that likely would have drawn in an array of prominent witnesses. Epstein had a constellation of important friends in business, political and society circles, including former President Bill Clinton and President Donald Trump.
Court papers unsealed Friday also contained the names of political leaders and businessmen who allegedly availed themselves of Epstein’s ability to groom and train girls and women for sex.
However, with his death, prosecutors in the Southern District of New York will likely refocus their probe on Maxwell, Sarah Kellen Vickers, Adriana Ross and Lesley Groff — all of whom allegedly helped run Epstein’s operation in the mid- to late 2000s. Another woman, Nadia Marcinkova, who is now a commercial pilot, was accused of sexually abusing some of the underage girls.
The new scrutiny of the case came shortly after the Miami Herald published a series of stories on Epstein, Perversion of Justice, that looked at how the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida had negotiated a non-prosecution agreement with Epstein in 2007-08 despite having identified nearly three dozen underage girls who said they were sexually abused by him at his waterfront estate in Palm Beach.
As part of the deal, Epstein was given immunity on federal sex-trafficking charges and allowed to plead guilty to two minor prostitution counts in state court. He served 13 months in the Palm Beach County stockade. While in the stockade, he was allowed liberal work-release privileges that included being escorted by his own chauffeur to an office in downtown West Palm Beach, where he was attended to by deputies in plain clothes. He paid for those work details, and in recent weeks, Palm Beach County Sheriff Ric Bradshaw, who approved his work release, has come under scrutiny. On Tuesday, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis ordered a criminal investigation into both the sheriff’s office and former state attorney Barry Krischer’s handling of Epstein’s case.
In the Miami Herald’s series, Epstein’s team of lawyers, including Alan Dershowitz, Roy Black, Jay Lefkowitz and Kenneth Starr, demanded that the plea deal be kept secret from the girls who had accused Epstein of operating a pyramid-like sex scheme involving underage high school girls who were lured to his home under the pretext that they would be paid $200 to $300 to give a wealthy man a massage.
In reality, the scheme was a ruse to prey on vulnerable girls, many of whom were on the verge of homelessness or whose parents were absent or involved with drugs.
After the Herald’s reporting, U.S. District Judge Kenneth Marra ruled that the non-prosecution deal with Epstein was illegal because prosecutors, led by former U.S. Attorney Alexander Acosta, intentionally kept the deal secret from Epstein’s victims in violation of the Crime Victims’ Rights Act, which requires that victims be privy to plea negotiations and court hearings.
Last month, Epstein was arrested by federal authorities upon his arrival at New Jersey’s Teterboro Airport on his private jet, after a visit to his home in Paris. The charges involved alleged abuse years earlier at Epstein’s homes in Palm Beach and Manhattan. He was being held in New York City, where he died.
Acosta resigned as President Trump’s secretary of labor after Epstein was arrested.
Marc Fernich, an attorney for Epstein, issued a statement Saturday blaming, among others, “pandering politicians,” “greedy lawyers” and “breathless reporters” for Epstein’s arrest and subsequent death.
“All these actors appear to bear some responsibility for this calamity. All seem to have a share of Mr. Epstein’s blood on their hands. All should be ashamed of their behavior,” he said.
Epstein has never denied having his staff lure girls to his mansions, but has said he did not know they were underage.
Born in Brooklyn, Epstein was the son of a New York parks department worker. In one of several depositions he gave as part of the lawsuits filed against him, he said he attended the Cooper Union school for the advancement of science and art and then studied physics at New York University. But he never obtained a degree, instead going on to teach at the Dalton School, an elite K-12 private academy on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. Various news profiles over the years have speculated about how he made his vast fortune, calling him an “International Moneyman of Mystery’’ and “The Talented Mr. Epstein.”
He then struck out on his own, opening J. Epstein & Co. His fortunes improved when he became a financial advisor for Leslie Wexner, founder of The Limited stores and owner of Victoria’s Secret brands. Later, Epstein would boast that he would manage the portfolios of only those clients who had $1 billion or more. Just recently, Wexner accused Epstein of swindling him out of $46 million, although it’s not clear why the business tycoon didn’t report it to authorities or sue Epstein to return the money.
There were other mysteries surrounding Epstein’s rise to the top, but this much is known: He got his start on Wall Street after being offered a job by the father of one of his students. At Bear Stearns, he became a derivative specialist, applying complex math formulas and computer algorithms to evaluate financial data and trends.
Through Wexner, he acquired a seven-story stone mansion that is considered the largest private residence in Manhattan — a 21,000-square-foot fortress with heated sidewalks that spans the entire block on 71st Street between Fifth and Madison avenues.
He also owned a 10,000-acre ranch, named “Zorro,’’ in New Mexico; a private island called “Little St. James’’ in the Virgin Islands; a larger island, Great Saint James; the $13 million house in Palm Beach; a Gulfstream jet, and, at one point, a Boeing 727.
Along with a vast fortune, Epstein left behind a reservoir of anger and frustration among his accusers — and a determination to hold accountable others who abetted his actions.
Manhattan U.S. Attorney Geoffrey S. Berman said: “Today’s events are disturbing, and we are deeply aware of their potential to present yet another hurdle to giving Epstein’s many victims their day in court. To those brave young women who have already come forward and to the many others who have yet to do so, let me reiterate that we remain committed to standing for you, and our investigation of the conduct charged in the Indictment — which included a conspiracy count — remains ongoing.”
He repeated a previous plea for victims or others who have information to contact 1-800- CALL FBI.
David Boies, the attorney representing Virginia Giuffre, Epstein’s most persistent accuser, added: “Jeffrey Epstein did not act, and could not have done what he did, alone. Justice demands that those who acted with him also be held accountable.”