Two weeks before ending his life, Jeffrey Epstein sat in the corner of his Manhattan jail cell with his hands over his ears, desperate to muffle the sound of a toilet that wouldn’t stop running.
Epstein was agitated and unable to sleep, jail officials observed in records newly obtained by The Associated Press. He called himself a “coward” and complained he was struggling to adapt to life behind bars following his July 2019 arrest on federal sex trafficking and conspiracy charges — his life of luxury reduced to a concrete and steel cage.
The disgraced financier was under psychological observation at the time for a suicide attempt just days earlier that left his neck bruised and scraped. Yet, even after a 31-hour stint on suicide watch, Epstein insisted he wasn’t suicidal, telling a jail psychologist he had a “wonderful life” and “would be crazy” to end it.
On Aug. 10, 2019, Epstein was dead.
Nearly four years later, the AP has obtained more than 4,000 pages of documents related to Epstein’s death from the federal Bureau of Prisons under the Freedom of Information Act. They include a detailed psychological reconstruction of the events leading to Epstein’s suicide, as well as his health history, internal agency reports, emails, memos and other records.
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Taken together, the documents the AP obtained Thursday provide the most complete accounting to date of Epstein’s detention and death, and its chaotic aftermath. The records help to dispel the many conspiracy theories surrounding Epstein’s suicide, underscoring how fundamental failings at the Bureau of Prisons — including severe staffing shortages and employees cutting corners — contributed to Epstein’s death.
They shed new light on the federal prison agency’s muddled response after Epstein was found unresponsive in his cell at the now-shuttered Metropolitan Correctional Center in New York City.
In one email, a prosecutor involved in Epstein’s criminal case complained about a lack of information from the Bureau of Prisons in the critical hours after his death, writing that it was “frankly unbelievable” that the agency was issuing public press releases “before telling us basic information so that we can relay it to his lawyers who can relay it to his family.”
In another email, a high-ranking Bureau of Prisons official made a spurious suggestion to the agency’s director that news reporters must have been paying jail employees for information about Epstein’s death because they were reporting details of the agency’s failings — impugning the ethics of journalists and the agency’s own workers.
The documents also provide a fresh window into Epstein’s behaviour during his 36 days in jail, including his previously unreported attempt to connect by mail with another high-profile pedophile: Larry Nassar, the U.S. gymnastics team doctor convicted of sexually abusing scores of athletes.
Epstein’s letter to Nassar was found returned to sender in the jail’s mail room weeks after Epstein’s death. “It appeared he mailed it out and it was returned back to him,” the investigator who found the letter told a prison official by email. “I am not sure if I should open it or should we hand it over to anyone?”
The letter itself was not included among the documents turned over to the AP.
The night before Epstein’s death, he excused himself from a meeting with his lawyers to make a telephone call to his family. According to a memo from a unit manager, Epstein told a jail employee that he was calling his mother, who’d been dead for 15 years at that point.
Epstein’s death put increased scrutiny on the Bureau of Prisons and led the agency to close the Metropolitan Correctional Center in 2021. It spurred an AP investigation that has uncovered deep, previously unreported problems within the agency, the Justice Department’s largest with more than 30,000 employees, 158,000 inmates and an US$8 billion annual budget.
An internal memo, undated but sent after Epstein’s death, attributed problems at the jail to “seriously reduced staffing levels, improper or lack of training, and follow up and oversight.” The memo also detailed steps the Bureau of Prisons has taken to remedy lapses Epstein’s suicide exposed, including requiring supervisors to review surveillance video to ensure officers made required cell checks.
Epstein’s lawyer, Martin Weinberg, said people detained at the facility endured “medieval conditions of confinement that no American defendant should have been subjected to.”
“It’s sad, it’s tragic, that it took this kind of event to finally cause the Bureau of Prisons to close this regrettable institution,” Weinberg said Thursday in a phone interview.
The workers tasked with guarding Epstein the night he killed himself, Tova Noel and Michael Thomas, were charged with lying on prison records to make it seem as though they had made their required checks before Epstein was found lifeless. Epstein’s cellmate did not return after a court hearing the day before, and prison officials failed to pair another prisoner with him, leaving him alone.
Prosecutors alleged they were sitting at their desks just 15 feet (4.6 metres) from Epstein’s cell, shopped online for furniture and motorcycles, and walked around the unit’s common area instead of making required rounds every 30 minutes.
During one two-hour period, both appeared to have been asleep, according to their indictment. Noel and Thomas admitted to falsifying the log entries but avoided prison time under a deal with federal prosecutors. Copies of some of those logs were included among the documents released Thursday, with the guards’ signatures redacted.
Another investigation, by the Justice Department’s inspector general, is still ongoing.
Epstein arrived at the Metropolitan Correctional Center on July 6, 2019. He spent 22 hours in the jail’s general population before officials moved him to the special housing unit “due to the significant increase in media coverage and awareness of his notoriety among the inmate population,” according to the psychological reconstruction of his death.
Epstein later said he was upset about having to wear an orange jumpsuit provided to inmates in the special housing unit and complained about being treated like he was a “bad guy” despite being well behaved behind bars. He requested a brown uniform for his near-daily visits with his lawyers.
During an initial health screening, the 66-year-old said that he had 10-plus female sexual partners within the previous five years. Medical records showed he was suffering from sleep apnea, constipation, hypertension, lower back pain and pre-diabetes and had been previously treated for chlamydia.
Epstein did make some attempts to adapt to his jailhouse surroundings, the records show. He signed up for a Kosher meal and told prison officials, through his lawyer, that he wanted permission to exercise outside. Two days before he was found dead, Epstein bought $73.85 worth of items from the prison commissary, including an AM/FM radio and headphones. He had $566 left in his account when he died.
Epstein’s outlook worsened when a judge denied him bail on July 18, 2019 — raising the prospect that he’d remain locked up until trial and, possibly longer. If convicted, he faced up to 45 years prison. Four days later, Epstein was found on the floor of his cell with a strip of bedsheet around his neck.
Epstein survived. His injuries didn’t require going to the hospital. He was placed on suicide watch and, later, psychiatric observation. Jail officers noted in logs that they observed him, “sitting at the edge of the bed, lost in thought,” and sitting “with his head against the wall.”
Epstein expressed frustration with the noise of the jail and his lack of sleep. His first few weeks at the Metropolitan Correctional Center, Epstein didn’t have his sleep apnea breathing apparatus he used. Then, the toilet in his cell started acting up.
“He was still left in the same cell with a broken toilet,” the jail’s chief psychologist wrote in an email the next day. “Please move him to the cell next door when he returns from legal as the toilet still does not work.”
The day before Epstein ended his life, a federal judge unsealed about 2,000 pages of documents in a sexual abuse lawsuit against him. That development, prison officials observed, further eroded Epstein’s previous elevated status.
That, combined with a lack of significant interpersonal connections and “the idea of potentially spending his life in prison were likely factors contributing to Mr. Epstein’s suicide,” officials wrote.