U.S. billionaire Jeffrey Epstein was found dead early on Saturday after an apparent suicide in the New York jail cell where he was being held without bail on federal sex-trafficking charges, and a source said the FBI was investigating his death.
Epstein, 66, was found unresponsive in his cell in the Special Housing Unit of the Metropolitan Correctional Center and transported to a local hospital where he was pronounced dead, the Federal Bureau of Prisons, which operates the lower Manhattan jail, said in a statement.
Epstein, who was arrested on July 6, had pleaded not guilty to charges of sex trafficking involving dozens of underage girls as young as 14, from at least 2002 to 2005.
Last month, Epstein was found unconscious on the floor of his jail cell with marks on his neck, according to media reports, and officials were investigating that incident as a possible suicide or assault. It was not clear whether jail officials had taken any special precautions afterwards.
The FBI was opening an investigation to determine whether proper procedures to assure the safety of prisoners were followed at the jail overnight, a source familiar with the matter told Reuters.
At the MCC, two jail guards are required to make separate checks on all prisoners every 30 minutes, but that procedure was not followed overnight, according to the source, who was not authorized to speak on the record.
In addition, every 15 minutes guards are required to make another check on prisoners who are on suicide watch. It was not immediately clear whether Epstein was on such a watch.
Before the Bureau of Prisons statement, Aja Davis, a spokeswomen for the New York City Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, said she could not say how Epstein died before her office examined the body.
Epstein had been confined to the correctional center while he appealed a district judge’s refusal to let him live under 24-hour guard in his opulent townhouse on Manhattan’s Upper East Side.
The charges against Epstein were announced more than a decade after he pleaded guilty in Florida to state prostitution charges after a deal with prosecutors that has been widely criticized as too lenient.
Epstein’s death came a day after the unsealing of a court filing in which a woman who accused Epstein of keeping her as a sex slave said one of the financier’s associates had instructed her to have sex with at least a half-dozen prominent men.
The claim by Virginia Giuffre came in a deposition that was included in about 2,000 pages of documents related to her defamation lawsuit against Ghislaine Maxwell, the associate whom Giuffre said helped Epstein procure girls for sex.
Lawyers for Maxwell did not respond to several phone and email requests for comment.
In another court filing on July 25, the government said it was pursuing an “ongoing investigation of uncharged individuals” in connection with the sex-trafficking case against Epstein.
That investigation, in the U.S. Attorney’s office in Manhattan, will continue despite Epstein’s death, a source familiar with the matter said.
(Reporting by Sarah Lynch and Jan Wolfe in Washington, Karen Freifeld in New York, Alex Dobuzinskis in Los Angeles; Writing by Frank McGurty; Editing by Sonya Hepinstall)