BY JIM MUSTIAN AND MICHAEL R. SISAK
NEW YORK (AP) — Financier Jeffrey Epstein killed himself while awaiting trial on sex-trafficking charges in New York, officials said Saturday.
Epstein was found unresponsive in his cell at the Manhattan Correctional Center Saturday morning, according to a statement from the Federal Bureau of Prisons.
The Fire Department said it received a call at 6:39 a.m. Saturday that Epstein was in cardiac arrest, and he was pronounced dead at New York Presbyterian-Lower Manhattan Hospital.
The FBI is investigating Epstein’s suicide, the Bureau of Prisons said.
Epstein’s arrest last month launched separate investigations into how authorities handled his case initially when similar charges were first brought against him in Florida more than a decade ago. U.S. Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta resigned last month after coming under fire for overseeing that deal when he was U.S. attorney in Miami.
Epstein, 66, had pleaded not guilty and was facing up to 45 years in prison if convicted.
A little over two weeks ago, Epstein was found on the floor of his jail cell with bruises on his neck, according to a person familiar with the matter who spoke on condition of anonymity. At the time, it was not clear whether the injuries were self-inflicted or from an assault.
Epstein’s death is likely to raise questions about how the Bureau of Prisons ensures the welfare of high-profile inmates. In October, Boston gangster James “Whitey” Bulger was killed in a federal prison in West Virginia where had just been transferred.
The Justice Department and the federal Bureau of Prisons did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Saturday.
Cameron Lindsay, a former warden who ran three federal lockups, said the death represents “an unfortunate and shocking failure, if proven to be a suicide.”
“Unequivocally, he should have been on active suicide watch and therefore under direct and constant supervision,” Lindsay said. “When you have an inmate as high profile as Epstein, it’s absolutely imperative the warden set the tone with his or her leadership to ensure these kinds of incidents don’t happen.”
Some Epstein accusers and their lawyers reacted to the news with frustration that the financier won’t have to face them 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,” accuser Jennifer Araoz said in a statement.
Brad Edwards, a Florida lawyer for nearly two dozen other accusers, said that “this is not the ending anyone was looking for.”
“The victims deserved to see Epstein held accountable, and he owed it to everyone he hurt to accept responsibility for all of the pain he caused,” Edwards said in a statement.
Epstein’s arrest drew national attention, particularly focusing on a deal that allowed Epstein to plead guilty in 2008 to soliciting a minor for prostitution in Florida and avoid more serious federal charges.
Federal prosecutors in New York reopened the probe after investigative reporting by The Miami Herald stirred outrage over that plea bargain.
But his lawyers maintained that the new charges brought by federal prosecutors in New York were covered by the deal and were improper.
They said he hasn’t had any illicit contact with underage girls since serving his 13-month sentence in Florida.
Before his legal troubles, Epstein led a life of extraordinary luxury that drew powerful people into his orbit.
He socialized with princes and presidents and lived on a 100-acre private island in the Caribbean and one of the biggest mansions in New York. A college dropout, he became a sought-after benefactor of professors and scientists, donating millions of dollars in donations to Harvard University and other causes.
Still, it was never entirely clear how the middle-class Brooklyn math whiz became a Wall Street master of high finance.
The somewhat reclusive Epstein splashed into the news in 2002 after a New York tabloid reported he had lent his Boeing 727 to ferry former President Bill Clinton and other notables on an AIDS relief mission to Africa.
Magazine profiles followed and established Epstein’s reputation as a stealthy yet exorbitantly successful money man with a gilded social circle and as somewhat ascetic streak.
Vanity Fair in 2003 described him entertaining real estate tycoons, business executives and the scions of some of America’s wealthiest families at his New York mansion — while also spending 75 minutes a day practicing yoga with a personal instructor and eschewing email, alcohol, tobacco and drugs.
His friends over the years have included Donald Trump, Britain’s Prince Andrew and former Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz.
But Epstein also enjoyed surrounding himself with women much younger than he, including Russian models who attended his cocktail parties and beautiful women he flew aboard his plane, according to the Vanity Fair profile.