Jeffrey Epstein, the politically connected financier and registered sex offender charged recently with sexually abusing dozens of young girls in the early 2000s, has died by apparent suicide while in jail, and the FBI is investigating, the Bureau of Prisons said Saturday.
Epstein, 66, was found unresponsive in his cell in the special housing unit of the Metropolitan Correctional Center in New York about 6:30 a.m., the Bureau of Prisons said.
Two law enforcement officials said he was found hanging in his cell — though it was not immediately clear by what means. Lifesaving measures “were initiated immediately by responding staff,” who then requested aid from emergency medical services, the bureau said.
Epstein was transported to a hospital, where he was pronounced dead, the bureau said.
The incident was first reported by ABC News.
The Bureau of Prisons called the death an “apparent suicide,” though one official cautioned that the investigation was in its early stages and no final determination had been made.
Aja Davis, a spokesman for the New York City Medical Examiner, said her office was investigating the death.
Attorney General William Barr said in a statement that he was “appalled” to learn of Epstein’s death in federal custody, which he said “raises serious questions that must be answered.”
He said that in addition to the FBI’s investigation, he had consulted with the Justice Department’s inspector general, whose office also would look into the incident.
Epstein, a multimillionaire with ties to celebrities and politicians including President Donald Trump and former President Bill Clinton, was arrested last month on federal sex trafficking charges that could have put in him prison for 45 years. Prosecutors alleged he abused dozens of young girls at his Manhattan and Palm Beach, Fla., homes and enlisted his victims to bring him others.
Epstein pleaded not guilty in the case, and a federal judge recently denied his request to be released to home confinement. Epstein was appealing that decision.
Last month, Epstein was found in his cell with marks around his neck, and authorities were trying to determine whether he was attacked or attempted suicide. He showed no obvious signs of distress at a later court hearing.
People close to Epstein refused to rule out foul play, according to one person familiar with their discussions early Saturday, and asserted that Epstein seemed in good spirits in recent days.
His attorneys are seeking to learn from authorities how Epstein’s body was found and how such an incident could have occurred, this person said.
That Epstein was being held in the detention center’s special housing unit would mean he was subject to a higher level of security, though it was not immediately clear whether he was on suicide watch or whether he was in a cell alone. The Bureau of Prisons did not immediately respond to questions about Epstein’s condition of confinement or who found him dead.
At one point, Epstein did have a cellmate: Nicholas Tartaglione, a former police officer in custody on murder and narcotics charges. Bruce Barket, a lawyer for Tartaglione, called for “a thorough investigation into how this occurred despite the Bureau of Prisons being on notice that Mr. Epstein had already attempted suicide at least once. That investigation should be broad enough to examine the deplorable conditions inmates are forced to endure at the MCC.”
Two law enforcement officials said there were no early indicators of foul play, but they noted the FBI investigation was in its infancy.
“We don’t have an indication of that right now,” one law enforcement official said of the prospect that someone may have killed Epstein.
Epstein’s lawyers did not immediately return messages seeking comment. A spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in New York, which brought the new case against Epstein, declined to comment.
Epstein’s case had attracted widespread attention — in part because of his wealth and political connections, and in part because of a lenient plea deal he reached more than a decade ago to resolve similar allegations. That 2008 agreement allowed Epstein to plead guilty to just two state charges in Florida, avoiding federal exposure entirely, and spend just 13 months in jail, with work-release privileges.
The deal was approved by Alex Acosta, who was then the U.S. attorney in Miami and would go on to become Trump’s labor secretary — a post he resigned from after Epstein was charged last month and the controversy over the previous case was reignited.
Representatives for those who allege Epstein abused them and others who have followed the case said his death was not the justice they had sought.
“The fact that Jeffrey Epstein was able to commit the selfish act of taking his own life as his world of abuse, exploitation and corruption unraveled is both unfortunate and predictable,” said Brad Edwards, a lawyer for some alleged victims. “While he and I engaged in contentious legal battles for more than a decade, this is not the ending anyone was looking for. The victims deserved to see Epstein held accountable, and he owed it to everyone he hurt to accept responsibility for all of the pain he caused.”
Epstein’s death comes less than 24 hours after a court unsealed a massive cache of records, laying out disturbing details about Epstein’s alleged activities and the people in his orbit who might have observed them.
Sigrid McCawley, another lawyer for alleged victims, said the timing was “no coincidence,” and she was hopeful the government could continue to investigate “those who participated and facilitated Epstein’s horrifying sex trafficking scheme that damaged so many.”
“The reckoning of accountability begun by the voices of brave and truthful victims should not end with Jeffrey Epstein’s cowardly and shameful suicide,” McCawley said.
Attorney Lisa Bloom, who represents two alleged victims, said on MSNBC that she plans to file a civil lawsuit against Epstein’s estate in an effort to collect money for her clients. She called on the executors of his estate to freeze Epstein’s assets and not begin to distribute them to his beneficiaries.
The death is sure to draw intense scrutiny of the Bureau of Prisons and the Metropolitan Correctional Center. The high-rise federal detention center in downtown Manhattan has a fearsome reputation; one inmate who spent time there and in Guantanamo Bay famously said Guantanamo Bay was “more pleasant” and “more relaxed.”
The facility is no stranger to high-profile inmates. It recently housed notorious drug lord Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán while he was on trial in Brooklyn, and former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort has spent time there around court proceedings in New York — though records show he has since been moved to a different facility in Pennsylvania.
The facility in New York also housed Ramzi Ahmed Yousef, who masterminded the 1993 World Trade Center Bombing, and Bernard Madoff, who ran the biggest Ponzi scheme in U.S. history.
Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., who has urged the Justice Department to explore the handling of Epstein’s earlier plea agreement, said in a statement “the government has failed these girls yet again.”
“It is inexcusable that this rapist was not under constant suicide watch,” Sasse said. “These victims deserved to face their serial abuser in court.”