Two guards on duty the night Jeffrey Epstein died in prison are in FBI custody Tuesday and will be brought to federal court in Manhattan to face charges that are expected to include falsifying records, a law enforcement official said.
CNN reported last week that at least one federal prison worker had been offered a plea deal, and that the plea deal negotiations between prosecutors and attorneys indicated forthcoming charges by the Department of Justice relating to Epstein's death.
The expected charges come more than three months after Epstein was found dead at the Metropolitan Correctional Center, a federal detention facility in lower Manhattan. He was awaiting trial on federal charges accusing him of operating a sex trafficking ring from 2002 to 2005 at his Manhattan mansion and his Palm Beach estate, and allegedly paying girls as young as 14 for sex. He had pleaded not guilty.
New York City's chief medical examiner ruled his August 10 death a suicide by hanging, though a former medical examiner hired by Epstein's legal team has disagreed with that conclusion.
Of the two officers who were responsible for monitoring Epstein the night he died, one was not a detention guard but was temporarily reassigned to that post, according to a person briefed on the matter. The guard, a man not identified by officials, had previously been trained as a corrections officer but had moved to another position.
The second staff member on Epstein duty was a woman fully trained as a guard, according to the person briefed on the matter. Both guards were working overtime shifts, but it's unclear whether that was mandatory.
Rules at the Federal Bureau of Prisons allow people who work in other prison jobs, such as teachers and cooks, to be trained to fill in for posts usually manned by regular guards.
Investigation of a 'criminal enterprise'
At the time of his death, Epstein was perhaps the highest-profile inmate in the country, and his apparent suicide sparked an investigation by the Manhattan US Attorney's office into the circumstances of his death as well as public outcry about oversight at the federal prison.
Bureau of Prisons Director Kathleen Hawk Sawyer testified Tuesday the FBI is continuing to investigate the circumstances around his death, including the possibility that a "criminal enterprise" was involved.
Hawk Sawyer declined to discuss the findings of the ongoing FBI and inspector general reviews of the death, and did not comment on reports that prison staffers had been criminally charged in New York this week.
But she offered up the technical phrase after being pressed by Sen. Lindsey Graham, the Republican chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, who asked her if the FBI was examining "either major malfunction of the system or a criminal enterprise at foot to allow this to happen."
"The FBI is involved and they are looking at criminal enterprise, yes," Hawk Sawyer responded.
She said she did not have any evidence that disputed a medical examiner's finding that Epstein killed himself.
Epstein's suicide exposed what the prison's employee union has said are chronically overworked and short-staffed conditions at the Metropolitan Correction Center, including forced overtime and officers reassigned to guard duty.
In the wake of his death, Attorney General William Barr said there were "serious irregularities" at the prison, and he removed Hugh Hurwitz, the acting head of the Bureau of Prisons at the time.