(CNN) — Two Bureau of Prisons guards were charged by a federal grand jury Tuesday with conspiracy and filing false records in connection with their actions the night Jeffrey Epstein died in prison, according to an indictment.
On that night, the indictment said, guards Tova Noel and Michael Thomas repeatedly failed to complete counts of prisoners on their watch in the specialized housing unit where Epstein was being held. They instead sat at their desks, browsed the internet and moved around the common area, the indictment said.
To mask the fact that they had allegedly neglected to complete the checks, the two guards signed false certifications saying they had performed their duties, according to the indictment.
The night Epstein died, no officer completed any count or round in the unit between 10:30 p.m. on August 9 and 6:30 a.m. August 10, at which time they discovered Epstein’s body, the indictment says. Epstein “had committed suicide overnight while unobserved,” according to the indictment.
Epstein’s attorney declined to comment on the latest developments.
CNN reported last week that at least one federal prison worker had been offered a plea deal, and that the plea deal negotiations between prosecutors and attorneys indicated forthcoming charges by the Department of Justice relating to Epstein’s death.
The charges come more than three months after Epstein was found dead at the Metropolitan Correctional Center, a federal detention facility in lower Manhattan. He was awaiting trial on federal charges accusing him of operating a sex trafficking ring from 2002 to 2005 at his Manhattan mansion and his Palm Beach estate, and allegedly paying girls as young as 14 for sex. He had pleaded not guilty.
New York City’s chief medical examiner ruled his death a suicide by hanging, though a former medical examiner hired by Epstein’s legal team has disagreed with that conclusion.
Investigation of a ‘criminal enterprise’
At the time of his death, Epstein was perhaps the highest-profile inmate in the country, and his apparent suicide sparked an investigation by the Manhattan US Attorney’s office into the circumstances of his death as well as public outcry about oversight at the federal prison.
Bureau of Prisons Director Kathleen Hawk Sawyer testified Tuesday the FBI is continuing to investigate the circumstances around his death, including the possibility that a “criminal enterprise” was involved.
Hawk Sawyer declined to discuss the findings of the ongoing FBI and inspector general reviews of the death, and did not comment on reports that prison staffers had been criminally charged in New York this week.
But she offered up the technical phrase after being pressed by Sen. Lindsey Graham, the Republican chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, who asked her if the FBI was examining “either major malfunction of the system or a criminal enterprise at foot to allow this to happen.”
“The FBI is involved and they are looking at criminal enterprise, yes,” Hawk Sawyer responded.
She said she did not have any evidence that disputed a medical examiner’s finding that Epstein killed himself.
Epstein’s suicide exposed what the prison’s employee union has said are chronically overworked and short-staffed conditions at the Metropolitan Correction Center, including forced overtime and officers reassigned to guard duty.
In the wake of his death, Attorney General William Barr said there were “serious irregularities” at the prison, and he removed Hugh Hurwitz, the acting head of the Bureau of Prisons at the time.