Two federal correctional officers have been charged with falsifying records in relation to disgraced financier Jeffrey Epstein’s apparent suicide at a Manhattan jail in August.
Tova Noel and Michael Thomas are accused of making false statements in jail logs to show they checked on Epstein and other detainees when they were instead napping and browsing the internet, according to an indictment filed Tuesday by federal prosecutors with the Southern District of New York.
“As alleged, the defendants had a duty to ensure the safety and security of federal inmates in their care at the Metropolitan Correctional Center,” U.S. Attorney Geoffrey S. Berman said in a statement. “Instead, they repeatedly failed to conduct mandated checks on inmates, and lied on official forms to hide their dereliction.”
Noel and Thomas pleaded not-guilty and were released on bond Tuesday afternoon. A judge also ruled that Noel would not be allowed to keep her personal firearm while the verdict is pending, the spokesman said.
A lawyer for Thomas told the Associated Press that both guards are being “scapegoated” and that “this is a rush to judgment by the U.S. Attorney’s office.”
Epstein was found dead in his cell at the Metropolitan Correctional Center on Aug. 10 around 6:30 a.m. while he awaited trial on charges of sex trafficking minors. New York City’s medical examiner ruled that Epstein died by suicide. However, numerous conspiracy theories have thrived in the wake of the circumstances of Epstein’s death. A forensic pathologist hired by Epstein’s brother suggested that the fatal injury could be consistent with being strangled.
The death also raised questions about how such a high-profile detainee could take his life in such a restrictive facility where inmates are supposed to be closely monitored.
Numerous high-profile men, notably President Donald Trump, former President Bill Clinton and Prince Andrew of the U.K. associated with Epstein. All have denied they knew about allegations that he was trafficking and abusing girls as young as 14.
Nick Akerman, a former federal prosecutor in the Southern District of New York, says the arrests are “very unusual”— but so was Epstein’s death.
“This is so high profile that the government decided to really investigate it thoroughly,” he says. “If it was somebody else, they probably would have gotten away with it.”
Akerman says prison supervisors may still need to be held to account because the guards should have been watching Epstein “like a hawk” given how how-profile he was.
Correctional officers are required to conduct checks at regular, scheduled intervals to make sure each inmate is alive and accounted for in the facility. Guards assigned to the special housing unit are supposed to complete and document rounds every 30 minutes, according charging documents. Epstein was assigned to this section, partially because of “high risk factors for suicidality and safety concerns.” Epstein had attempted suicide in July, after which he was placed on suicide watch.
Having attempted suicide once before, “you would think that they would be all over this to make sure nothing happened,” Akerman said.
According to Tuesday’s indictment, the two guards allegedly “repeatedly failed to complete mandated counts of prisoners under their watch” in the Metropolitan Correctional Center’s special housing unit. Surveillance footage showed that the guards did not conduct the mandated counts they said they had completed in official records.
Instead, Noel, 31 and Thomas, 41, allegedly “sat at their desk, browsed the internet, and moved around the common area” of the detention facility. For about a two-hour stretch, the duo allegedly “sat at their desk without moving, and appeared to have been asleep.” They allegedly used the computer periodically to search the internet for furniture and motorcycle sales, benefit websites and sports news.
Prosecutors said that in an attempt to hide their mistakes, they allegedly “repeatedly signed false certifications attesting to having conducted multiple counts of inmates that they did not do.”
Per the indictment, as a result of these “false statements,” the facility mistakenly believed that prisoners in the special housing unit were being regularly monitored, even though “no correctional officer conducted any count or round” of the unit from about 10:30 p.m. on Aug. 9 until about 6:30 a.m. the next morning—at which time the guards found Epstein’s body.
According to court documents, Noel had told a supervisor that “Epstein hung himself” and admitted that the guards “did not complete the 3 a.m. nor 5 a.m. rounds.”
“We messed up,” and “I messed up, she’s not to blame, we didn’t do any rounds,” Thomas said, according to the indictment.
The two guards were both working overtime as a result of staffing shortages when Epstein was found in his cell, the Associated Press previously reported.
More Must-Read Stories From TIME
- How an Online Pharmacy Sold Millions Worth Of Dubious COVID-19 Drugs — While Patients Paid the Price
- Why Literally Millions of Americans Are Quitting Their Jobs
- Meet the Women Participating in the Study That Could Change Future of Breast Cancer
- Inside the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of Tomorrow's Business Leaders
- An Innovative Washington Law Aims to Get Foreign-Trained Doctors Back in Hospitals
- Why the Ex-Husband of a Missing Chinese Billionaire Is Risking All to Tell Their Story
- Timothée Chalamet Wants You to Wear Your Heart on Your Sleeve