NEW YORK — Jeffrey Epstein, the financier who was long dogged by accusations of sexual abuse of girls and who was able to cultivate an array of high-profile friends despite his lurid lifestyle, killed himself in his Manhattan jail cell, officials said Saturday.
Epstein hanged himself, the officials said. He was found around 6:30 a.m. Saturday at the Metropolitan Correctional Center and was taken to a hospital, where he was pronounced dead, the federal Bureau of Prisons said in a statement.
Last month, after being denied bail on federal sex trafficking charges, Epstein was found unconscious in his jail cell with marks on his neck. Prison officials had been investigating the incident as a possible suicide attempt.
Epstein, who had been found injured July 23, was placed on suicide watch and received a daily psychiatric evaluation, according to a person familiar with his detention. He was removed from suicide watch on July 29 and returned to the special housing unit, this person said.
The authorities did not immediately explain why he was taken off suicide watch. The FBI said it was investigating, and Attorney General William Barr said a special inquiry would be opened.
“I was appalled to learn that Jeffrey Epstein was found dead early this morning from an apparent suicide while in federal custody,” Barr said. “Mr. Epstein’s death raises serious questions that must be answered.”
In addition to the FBI, the inspector general, the Justice Department’s internal watchdog, will open an investigation into Epstein’s death, Barr said.
Federal prosecutors in Manhattan last month charged Epstein, 66, with sex trafficking of girls as young as 14 and sex trafficking conspiracy. The indictment renewed attention on how Epstein had escaped severe punishment in an investigation of sexual abuse more than a decade ago in Florida.
He had avoided federal criminal charges in 2008 after prosecutors brokered a widely criticized deal that allowed him to plead guilty to state charges of solicitation of prostitution from a minor and serve 13 months in jail. Even while in custody, Epstein was able to leave the jail for 12 hours a day, six days a week, to work at his office in Florida.
The new federal indictment also focused scrutiny on luminaries in government, politics, business, academia, science and fashion with whom Epstein had associated over the years, including Donald Trump, Bill Clinton, Prince Andrew of Britain, and the retail billionaire Leslie Wexner.
Epstein’s defense team — Reid Weingarten, Marty Weinberg, and Michael Miller — declined to comment on the circumstances of death. “We are enormously sorry to learn of today’s news. No one should die in jail,” they said in a statement.
A fourth member of Epstein’s legal team, Marc Fernich, spread the blame, saying prosecutors to victims’ lawyers to the media bear “some responsibility for this calamity.”
Epstein’s suicide brought an abrupt end to a prosecution that his accusers had hoped would finally shed light on how he had been allowed to commit what they said was a string of depraved crimes for so many years.
Jennifer Araoz, who said she had been raped by Epstein after being recruited into his circle in 2001 outside her Manhattan high school, was angry that he would not have to face his accusers in court.
“We have to live with the scars of his actions for the rest of our lives, while he will never face the consequences of the crimes he committed — the pain and trauma he caused so many people,” Araoz said. She said she hoped investigators would pursue charges against people who had aided and protected Epstein.
The demise of the new federal prosecution also spurred widespread airing of conspiracy theories online Saturday, with people questioning who would benefit from Epstein’s death.
Until last year, it seemed that he had largely been able to avoid further scandal over his dealings with young women and girls.
But then new questions were raised about the earlier plea agreement in an investigative report published by The Miami Herald in November which quoted four of Epstein’s victims, who are now adults, on the record for the first time.
In February, the Justice Department said it had opened an investigation into the nonprosecution agreement.
At the same time, federal prosecutors in Manhattan, apparently spurred by The Miami Herald investigation, opened an inquiry into accusations of sex trafficking by Epstein.
The US attorney in Florida who handled the 2008 case was R. Alexander Acosta, who was Trump’s labor secretary. After the new charges were announced against Epstein in
July, Acosta’s work on the earlier case came under intense criticism, and he resigned.
Epstein was arrested on July 6 at Teterboro Airport in New Jersey after his private plane landed on a flight from Paris.
He pleaded not guilty to the charges. If convicted, he would have faced up to 45 years in prison.
Epstein had sought home detention at his mansion while he awaited trial. His lawyers had proposed allowing Epstein to post a substantial bond and stay in the seven-story townhouse, watched by 24-hour security guards, at his expense.
But a federal judge denied the request, concluding that Epstein was a flight risk and citing his “vast wealth,” which prosecutors have placed at more than $500 million.
Epstein’s younger brother, Mark, was his “only living immediate family member,” according to a memo filed in federal court last month by Jeffrey Epstein’s lawyers.
Epstein, a former money manager with Wall Street experience, had long depicted himself as a wealthy financier with stellar investment savvy.
In addition to homes in Florida and New York, he owned a private island in the US Virgin Islands, a ranch in New Mexico, and a residence in Paris.
Even after he served time in a Florida jail and became a registered sex offender, Epstein successfully maintained a reputation as a billionaire investor, philanthropist, and sophist.
Still, since Epstein’s arrest last month, evidence has emerged that the former money manager’s business acumen was more myth than fact.
Last week, perhaps Epstein’s most notable client, Wexner, the executive behind Victoria’s Secret and Bath & Body Works, accused Epstein of misappropriating “vast sums of money” from him and his family.
After Epstein’s arrest in July, some Wall Street titans found themselves forced to explain why they had continued to socialize or do business with him after his 2008 conviction.
Also drawing attention were a number of major universities — including Harvard University and MIT — that had accepted large contributions from foundations established by Epstein even after his 2008 conviction.
The contributions to the universities and to scientists at those schools were part of a campaign by Epstein to polish his image and get himself back into the good graces of the academic and corporate elite.