The director of the Federal Bureau of Prisons acknowledged during a Senate hearing Tuesday that federal investigators are looking into alleged “criminal enterprise” involvement in the death of wealthy financier and convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein.
Epstein, convicted in 2008 of soliciting prostitution, was arrested earlier this year on sex-trafficking charges.
But before Epstein, who in years past was a known associate of high-profile figures around the world, could be brought to trial, he was found dead in his New York City jail cell.
Authorities have ruled Epstein’s death a suicide. But many people — including some lawmakers — aren’t buying it, reasoning that there were a host of people who might have wanted Epstein dead so he would not be able to implicate them in any crimes.
South Carolina Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham asked Dr. Kathleen Hawk Sawyer, director of the Bureau of Prisons, about Epstein’s death as she testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday.
“With a case this high profile, there’s got to be either a major malfunction of the system or a criminal enterprise at foot to allow this to happen,” Graham said. “So are you looking at both? Is the FBI looking at both?”
Sawyer admitted the FBI was looking into the possibility of “criminal enterprise” involvement in Epstein’s death.
“The FBI is involved and they are looking at criminal enterprise, yes,” she replied.
The BOP has “different tiers of response if we identify an inmate who appears to have suicidal thinking,” she said, noting that while Epstein had been placed on “suicide watch,” the average inmate who’s been deemed suicidal is only on suicide watch for about a day.
“They move into psychological observation,” she added. “Psychologists see them routinely, interview them repeatedly and once it’s determined that the threat of suicide seems to have passed, then that inmate can be returned back to open population.”
That response wasn’t quite good enough for Graham.
“Well, clearly it didn’t work here so we await the report because all the victims of Mr. Epstein have to have their heart ripped out as they’ll never see justice,” he said.
Sawyer’s testimony came the same day that two federal prison guards were charged in connection with Epstein’s death.
Tova Noel and Michael Thomas, who were reportedly responsible for keeping watch over Epstein in the hours prior to his death, were charged with falsifying official documents to “defraud the United States by impairing the lawful functions” of the Metropolitan Correctional Center in Manhattan, according to a Department of Justice news release.
Noel and Thomas were supposed to check on Epstein every 30 minutes, The New York Times reported, but they allegedly failed to do so and lied about it.
During Sawyer’s Senate testimony, GOP Sen. Ted Cruz slammed the BOP for allowing Epstein to die under its watch.
“What happened to Jeffrey Epstein is an enormous black eye for the BOP,” Cruz said, according to the Miami Herald, “and yet he died in federal custody. He died in federal custody before he had a chance to testify about his crimes, about his wrongdoings and about the other powerful men who were complicit in that sexual abuse.”
“There were powerful men who wanted Jeffrey Epstein silenced,” he added.
One of two things likely happened to Epstein, Cruz said, indicating that the first was death by suicide that occurred due to “gross negligence and total failure of BOP to do its job.”
There’s also the possibility of “something far worse … that it was not suicide but rather a homicide carried out by person or persons who wanted Epstein silenced,” he added.
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