U.S. government shakes up staffing at jail where financier Epstein died

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Justice Department on Tuesday announced a staff shakeup at the federal jail where financier Jeffrey Epstein was found dead in an apparent suicide while awaiting trial on sex trafficking charges, temporarily reassigning the warden and placing two corrections officers on administrative leave.

The announcement was made hours after President Donald Trump said he wanted a full investigation into the circumstances surrounding Epstein’s death. Epstein was found dead on Saturday morning, having apparently hanged himself in his cell at the Metropolitan Correctional Center (MCC) in lower Manhattan.

Kerri Kupec, a Justice Department spokeswoman, said that James Petrucci, the warden at Federal Correctional Institution Otisville in New York, has been named as acting warden at MCC.

The previous warden’s reassignment is pending the outcome of investigations by the FBI and Inspector General into Epstein’s death the department said.

U.S. Attorney General William Barr on Monday vowed to carry on the Epstein investigation even after the wealthy and well-connected money manager’s death. Barr has ordered the Justice Department’s inspector general to look into the matter.

The 66-year-old financier had been on suicide watch, but a source familiar with the matter who spoke on condition of anonymity said he was not on watch at the time of his death.

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.

“Basically what we’re saying is we want an investigation. I want a full investigation, and that’s what I absolutely am demanding. That’s what our attorney general, our great attorney general is doing. He’s doing a full investigation,” Trump told reporters in Morristown, New Jersey.

Trump also defended his decision on Saturday to retweet an unfounded conspiracy theory from a conservative comedian named Terrence K. Williams that former President Bill Clinton was involved in Epstein’s death.

“He’s a very highly respected conservative pundit,” said of Williams. “He’s a big Trump fan. And that was a retweet. That wasn’t from me. … So I think I was fine.”

Epstein, who once counted Trump and Clinton as friends, was arrested on July 6 and pleaded not guilty to charges of sex trafficking involving dozens of underage girls as young as 14.

New York City’s medical examiner has said an autopsy on Epstein was completed on Sunday, but the cause of death remained pending.

A growing chorus of lawmakers has demanded that the government hold responsible people who allegedly helped Epstein engage in sex trafficking.

Senator Ben Sasse, the Republican chairman of the Senate Judiciary Oversight Subcommittee, on Tuesday called on Barr to void a 2008 agreement that Epstein entered into with federal prosecutors in Florida that has been widely criticized as too lenient.

FILE PHOTO: U.S. financier Jeffrey Epstein appears in a photograph taken for the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services’ sex offender registry March 28, 2017 and obtained by Reuters July 10, 2019. New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services/Handout/File Photo via REUTERS

Under that deal, Epstein pleaded guilty to state prostitution charges and served 13 months in jail, but was allowed to leave the detention facility regularly for his office.

‘CROOKED DEAL’

Some of Epstein’s accusers have called on the federal judge overseeing that case to scrap portions of the agreement, which provided immunity to Epstein’s alleged co-conspirators. In a letter to Barr, Sasse said the agreement should be thrown out altogether.

“This crooked deal cannot stand,” and should be voided to “ensure that some measure of justice is finally delivered to Epstein’s victims who have been let down time and time again by their government,” Sasse said.

One of the prosecutors involved in the 2008 agreement, Alexander Acosta, resigned as Trump’s labor secretary in July as the Epstein deal came under fresh scrutiny after the financier’s arrest in New York.

Jerrold Nadler, the Democratic chairman of the House of Representatives Judiciary Committee, and Doug Collins, the panel’s top Republican, on Monday sent a letter to the acting director of the federal Bureau of Prisons regarding Epstein’s death, saying the “competency and rigor of our criminal justice system” have been marred.

The lawmakers said if the allegation about mistakes made at the facility is true, it would demonstrate “severe miscarriages of or deficiencies in inmate protocol and has allowed the deceased to ultimately evade facing justice.”

A representative for the agency and its acting director, Hugh Hurwitz, were not immediately available to comment.

U.S. President Donald Trump talks to reporters as he boards Air Force One for travel to Pennsylvania from Morristown Municipal Airport in Morristown, New Jersey, U.S. August 13, 2019. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

The Epstein scandal has also enmeshed Leslie Wexner, the billionaire chairman and chief executive behind Victoria’s Secret and Bath & Body Works parent L Brands Inc, who had previously entrusted Epstein to manage his personal finances and serve as trustee of his charitable foundation.

Wexner recently hired white-collar defense lawyer Mary Jo White, a partner at Debevoise & Plimpton LLP and former U.S. attorney in Manhattan, according to a person familiar with the matter, as scrutiny of Epstein’s finances intensifies.

Wexner has not been accused of criminal wrongdoing.

Neither White nor a representative for Wexner immediately responded to requests for comment. A spokesman for U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman in Manhattan declined to comment.

Reporting by Makini Brice, Jeff Mason, Jonathan Allen, Karen Freifeld, Andrew Hay, Mark Hosenball, Matthew Lavietes, Rich McKay, Jonathan Stempel, Sarah N. Lynch and Mike Spector; Editing by Noeleen Walder and Will Dunham

Source: Reuters Politics

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