WASHINGTON (AP) — The two Bureau of Prisons employees who were assigned to guard Jeffrey Epstein
on the night he committed suicide
in a New York jail have admitted to falsifying records, but they will avoid prison time under a plea agreement with federal prosecutors, authorities said Friday.
Tova Noel and Michael Thomas, two prison employees, were accused of sleeping and surfing the internet instead of monitoring Epstein on the night he committed suicide in August 2019.
They were charged with falsifying prison records to appear as if they had performed required checks on the financier before he was discovered in his cell. Epstein's death
was ruled a suicide by the New York City
According to a letter from federal prosecutors filed in court papers Friday, as part of the deal
with prosecutors, they will enter into a deferred prosecution agreement with the Justice Department
and will serve no time behind bars, instead being subjected to supervised release, 100 hours of community service, and fully complying with the terms of the agreement.
According to the letter, the two “admitted that they ‘willfully and knowingly completed materially false count and round slips regarding required counts and rounds’” in the housing
unit where Epstein was detained.
A judge would have to approve the agreement, which could happen as soon as next week. Attorneys for the guards did not immediately respond to messages seeking comment.
Sen. Ben Sasse, a Republican
member of the Senate
Judiciary Committee who has been a vocal critic of the Justice Department's handling of Epstein's case, called the agreement "unacceptable" and said the public deserves to see a report detailing the prison agency's failings.
“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 taken to the grave with him, and these guards will be picking up trash on the side of the road.”
Prosecutors claimed that Noel and Thomas sat at their desks just 15 feet from Epstein's cell, shopped online for furniture and motorcycles, and walked around the unit's common area instead of making the required 30-minute rounds.
According to the indictment, both appeared to be asleep for two hours.
Due to staffing shortages, both officers who were guarding Epstein were working overtime. One of the guards, who did not work primarily as a correctional officer, was working his fifth consecutive day of overtime, while the other guard was working mandatory overtime, which meant a second eight-hour shift of the day.
Both officers had turned down a plea bargain with federal prosecutors before being arrested.
Epstein's death, as well as the revelation that he was able to commit suicide while being held in one of America's most secure prisons, was a major embarrassment for the Bureau of Prisons, and it shone a light on the agency, which has also been plagued by serious misconduct in recent years.
The agency's staffing shortages are so severe that guards frequently work overtime day after day or are forced to work mandatory double shifts. Violence causes regular lockdowns at federal prison compounds across the United States, and a congressional report released in 2019 found that "bad behavior is ignored or covered up on a regular basis."
Falsification of records has long been a problem in the federal prison system, and union officials have long argued that staff reductions endanger both guards and inmates, but they've had a difficult time getting attention.
This story was contributed to by Associated Press writer
Michael R. Sisak.