UPDATES THROUGHOUT; HEADLINE, DECK
By Michael Hernandez
WASHINGTON (AA) - Two federal Bureau of Prisons jail guards who were on duty the night disgraced financier Jeffrey Epstein died in his jail cell were arrested and charged with falsifying records Tuesday.
Authorities filed a six-count indictment in Manhattan federal court that charges Tova Noel, 31, and Michael Thomas, 41, with one count of conspiracy to defraud the federal government, and five counts of falsifying records.
Epstein was found dead hanging in his Manhattan federal jail cell Aug. 10 while he was awaiting trial on sex trafficking charges.
Noel and Thomas "repeatedly failed to conduct mandated checks on inmates, and lied on official forms to hide their dereliction," U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York Geoffrey Berman said in a statement announcing the charges.
The indictment alleges that while the guards "repeatedly signed false certifications attesting to having conducted multiple" checks on inmates that they did not perform, they had in fact "sat at their desk, browsed the internet, and moved around the common area" of the unit where Epstein was being held.
But from 10:30 p.m. Aug. 9 until 6:30 a.m. the following day when Noel and Thomas discovered Epstein's body, no checks had been done "as a result of the defendants' conduct," the court document says.
The guards, who were the only ones assigned to Esptein's unit, were supposed to check in on him as part of routine rounds that were to be completed every 30 minutes.
Epstein's death has sparked a number of conspiracy theories, in part, due to the its circumstances.
In addition to the guards failing to check in on him, video cameras that were supposed to monitor Epstein's cell and the hallway where people would have to pass to access the area had malfunctioned.
New York City's chief medical examiner determined Epstein died of a suicidal hanging. But Dr. Michael Baden, a former New York City medical examiner who was hired by the Epstein family, said the autopsy discovered signs on the body that he said are more consistent with homicidal strangulation than a suicidal hanging.
"I think the evidence points more to homicide than suicide," said the famed doctor during a Fox News interview. He pointed specifically to a series of fractures on Epstein's neck he said "are very unusual for suicide."
If, in fact, Epstein was murdered, Baden said a "number of people" had to have been involved, claiming a "total breakdown in security" when Epstein died.
Barbara Sampson, New York City's chief medical examiner, has stood by her findings following Baden's charges.