The two jail guards who were tasked with watching over Jeffrey Epstein the night he killed himself admitted they falsified records but will likely avoid spending time behind bars after they reached an agreement with prosecutors. The two Bureau of Prisons employees, Michael Thomas and Tova Noel, had been charged with ignoring their duties and lying about it. Specifically, prosecutors accused them of napping and browsing the internet rather than checking on Epstein every 30 minutes like they were supposed to on the night he was found dead in his Manhattan jail cell. Epstein, who was going to face a trial on sex trafficking charges, hanged himself in August 2019. He faced up to 45 years in prison.
The two guards had been charged with lying on prison records to make it seem as though they had made the necessary checks on Epstein before he was found dead. They had pleaded not guilty to making false records and conspiracy to defraud the United States. But now they admitted to having “willfully and knowingly completed materially false” records regarding their rounds. If approved by the judge, the deal would allow Noel and Thomas to avoid jail time as part of a supervised release program that, among other things, would require them to complete 100 hours of community service and cooperate with an ongoing investigation by the Justice Department’s inspector general.
The deal immediately led to criticism. Sen. Ben Sasse, a Republican who is a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee and has been critical of the way the Justice Department has handled the Epstein case, blasted the deal as “unacceptable,” saying that a fuller accounting is needed of what the prison did wrong. “One hundred hours of community service is a joke—this isn’t traffic court,” Sasse said in a statement. “The leader of an international child sex trafficking ring escaped justice, his co-conspirators had their secrets go to the grave with him, and these guards are going to be picking up trash on the side of the road.”
Lawyers for the guards have said their clients were victims of larger problems in the federal prison system. They had both been working overtime due to staffing shortages. One was working a fifth straight day of overtime while the other was working a second eight-hour shift in one day. Plus, the focus on the guards ignores the fact that Epstein was left without a cellmate even though he had made a suicide attempt three weeks earlier. Thomas’ lawyer, Montell Figgins, said that Epstein had died “because of a system that failed completely.”