Posted 9 days ago
The disgraced financier, jailed in Manhattan on federal sex trafficking charges involving teenage girls, was found unconscious on the floor of his cell one morning in July 2019, a strip of bedsheet tied around his bruised neck.
In the hours and days that followed that suicide attempt, Jeffrey Epstein would claim to be living a “wonderful life,” denying any thoughts of ending it, even as he sat on suicide watch and faced daunting legal troubles.
“I have no interest in killing myself,” Mr. Epstein told a jailhouse psychologist, according to Bureau of Prisons documents that have not previously been made public. He was a “coward” and did not like pain, he explained. “I would not do that to myself.”
But two weeks later, he did just that: He died in his cell on Aug. 10 in the Metropolitan Correctional Center, having hanged himself with a bedsheet, the medical examiner ruled.
After a life of manipulation, Mr. Epstein created illusions until the very end, deceiving correctional officers, counselors and specially trained inmates assigned to monitor him around the clock, according to the documents — among more than 2,000 pages of Federal Bureau of Prisons records obtained by The New York Times after filing a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit.
Mr. Epstein’s booking mug shot from July 2019, when he was arrested at a New Jersey airport after flying in from Paris on a private jet.
The detailed notes and reports compiled by those who interacted with Mr. Epstein during his 36 days of detention show how he repeatedly assured them he had much to live for, while also hinting that he was increasingly despondent. The clues prompted too little action by jail and bureau officials, who made mistake after mistake leading up to Mr. Epstein’s death, the records reveal.
Beyond the legal and administrative matters, the collection of records provides the most intimate and detailed look yet at Mr. Epstein’s final days, and offers something often missing from public accounts: his voice.
He passed many days closed in a conference room with his lawyers, avoiding the confines of his dank and dirty cell. In conversations with psychologists and other inmates, he spoke of his interest in physics and mathematics and offered tidbits of investment advice. He reminisced about socializing with celebrities, even as he complained about the running toilet in his cell, the orange prison garb, his difficulty sleeping, his dehydration and a numbness in his right arm.
A log from the day of Mr. Epstein’s suicide attempt.
And where Mr. Epstein had once rubbed shoulders with politicians, scientists and Wall Street titans, now he was left to converse about the food in the 12-story detention center. “Epstein wants to know who’s the best cook on 11 North,” one inmate wrote.
The newly obtained records offer no support to the explosion of conspiracy theories that Mr. Epstein’s death was not a suicide. They also shed no light on questions raised by his brother and one of his lawyers that he might have been assisted in killing himself. But they do paint a picture of incompetence and sloppiness by some within the Bureau of Prisons, which runs the federal detention center.
An intake screening form erroneously described Mr. Epstein as a Black male (he was white), and indicated that he had no prior sex offense convictions, even though he was a registered sex offender with two 2008 convictions in Florida, for solicitation of prostitution and procurement of minors to engage in prostitution. A few social phone calls he made were not recorded, logged or monitored, records show, an apparent violation of jail policy.
© Provided by The New York Times
A sign from the jail, included in the records obtained by The Times.
The night he killed himself, Mr. Epstein lied to jail officials and said he wanted to phone his mother — who was long dead. He instead called his girlfriend. Jail personnel left him alone in his cell that night, despite an explicit directive that he be assigned a cellmate.
Two days after the suicide, William P. Barr, then the U. S. attorney general, said there were “serious irregularities” at the correctional center, but did not elaborate. He later blamed “a perfect storm of screw-ups.”
A 15-page psychological reconstruction of Mr. Epstein’s death, compiled by bureau officials five weeks later and never before made public, concluded that his identity “appeared to be based on his wealth, power and association with other high-profile individuals.”
“The lack of significant interpersonal connections, a complete loss of his status in both the community and among associates, and the idea of potentially spending his life in prison,” the post-mortem continued, “were likely factors contributing to Mr. Epstein’s suicide.”
Ghislaine Maxwell, Mr. Epstein’s onetime girlfriend. She faces trial this month on charges of sex trafficking and other offenses.
The Bureau of Prisons, in a statement, declined to comment on Mr. Epstein’s detention, but said “the safe, secure and humane housing of inmates is B. O.P.’s highest priority.”
The bureau said it had created a task force to address the mental health implications of housing inmates alone, and was committed to improving its suicide prevention program, including “continuing to train B. O.P. staff on suicide prevention, risk assessment and emergency responses.”
This fall, the Justice Department, citing poor conditions at the jail, also temporarily closed it, moving its prisoners to other facilities.
The Times obtained the materials after suing the Bureau of Prisons, which had repeatedly rejected its public-records requests. As part of a settlement, the agency agreed to turn over internal memos and emails, visitor logs, handwritten notes from inmates, and the psychological reconstruction of Mr. Epstein’s death. Many of the documents were heavily redacted; some were withheld entirely, including a number of records associated with the earlier suicide attempt.
At a hearing in April regarding The Times’s lawsuit, Judge Paul A. Engelmayer of Federal District Court in Manhattan said he was “struck by the audacity of the initial denial by the Bureau of Prisons” to make the records available in a case that he described as a “high-profile epic failure.”
“It certainly does raise a concern,” the judge added, “that the wagons are being circled.”
Mr. Epstein’s stay at the detention center began on Saturday, July 6, 2019, after his arrest at Teterboro Airport in New Jersey, where he had arrived from Paris on a private jet. An indictment charged that Mr. Epstein, 66, had over many years recruited dozens of teenage girls to engage in sex acts with him at his mansion in Manhattan and his estate in Palm Beach, Fla., paying them each hundreds of dollars in cash.
If convicted, he faced up to 45 years in prison.
He initially was placed in the general inmate population, the jail’s least restrictive area. In an internal email, Hugh Hurwitz, then the Bureau of Prisons’ acting director, later attributed this to an oversight by the U. S. Marshals Service. “Apparently U.S.M.S. did not indicate that he was a high-profile inmate, and staff were unaware that he was coming so no plans had been established,” he wrote.
That evening, according to the post-mortem reconstruction, a facilities assistant found Mr. Epstein in his cell looking “distraught, sad and a little confused,” she said in an email to three jail officials.
When the assistant asked if he was OK, he said he was. But she was not convinced, she wrote. “He seems dazed and withdrawn.”
She added, “Just to be on the safe side and prevent any suicidal thoughts, can someone from Psychology come and talk with him?”
No one did at first, according to the records.
On Sunday, July 7, the center’s warden, Lamine N’Diaye, properly identified Mr. Epstein as “high-profile” and had him moved to the Special Housing Unit, or S. H.U., on the ninth floor, out of “concerns for his personal safety in general population,” according to Mr. Hurwitz’s email.
But it was not until 9:30 a.m. that Monday that Mr. Epstein was taken for an initial psychological evaluation, as had been suggested when he arrived.
That afternoon, Mr. Epstein was set to make his first court appearance. Anticipating that he would be denied bail, the jail’s chief psychologist recommended that he be evaluated for suicide risk upon his return, given the media attention and nature of the charges.
“Inmate Epstein will likely be receiving bad news in court today, and has multiple risk factors for suicidality as identified by B. O.P. statistics,” the psychologist wrote. “Let’s be proactive.”
By the time Mr. Epstein returned, it was after normal business hours and he was moved to “psychological observation” — a less restrictive status than suicide watch — in which so-called inmate companions took shifts to monitor him in his cell and chronicled his actions every 15 minutes.
Mr. Epstein spent his nights pacing his cell, sleeping fitfully and talking with other inmates, according to handwritten notes taken by those observing him.
Often, the entries were mundane: “Epstein is drinking water at sink.” But some were more evocative, suggesting at once his grim predicament and his unrealistic expectations. “Epstein is sitting on the edge of the bed with his head in the palm of his hands,” one inmate wrote on July 29.
In conversations with his minders, Mr. Epst... (Read more)