The US Department of Justice has put two jail staff assigned to Jeffrey Epstein’s unit on leave and reassigned the warden pending the outcome of investigations into the disgraced money manager’s death.
The moves came a day after William Barr, the US attorney-general, said there had been “serious irregularities” at the Metropolitan Correctional Center in New York where Epstein died in an apparent suicide last weekend.
“Additional actions may be taken as the circumstances warrant,” said Kerri Kupec, a justice department spokesperson, in a statement on Tuesday.
Epstein’s death on Saturday came as he was awaiting trial on charges of sex trafficking underage girls. The 66-year-old’s sudden demise has raised questions about conditions at the MCC, as well as conspiracy theories pushed by Donald Trump, the US president.
Prosecutors have vowed to pursue any co-conspirators, while his accusers have said they would seek redress from his estate. On Monday, two of Epstein’s victims asked a court in Florida to nullify the immunity from prosecution that his 2007 plea deal gave to his associates.
Ben Sasse, the Republican chairman of the Senate judiciary oversight subcommittee, called on Mr Barr to “rip up” the 2007 agreement that shielded Epstein from federal prosecution more than a decade ago.
“Only by ensuring that this shameful agreement does not command the force of law in shielding Epstein’s fellow rapists and exploiters can we ensure that some measure of justice is finally delivered to Epstein’s victims,” the US senator from Nebraska said in a letter on Tuesday.
Epstein’s death is under investigation by the FBI and the justice department’s inspector-general, who typically issues a public report at the end of their work.
The money manager had been put on suicide watch in July after he was found in his cell with marks on his neck, but was subsequently taken off and returned to the special housing unit, a secure area of the jail segregated from the general prison population.
He was meant to have a cellmate and checked up on every 30 minutes, but neither requirement was followed in the hours leading up to his death, according to a person familiar with the matter.
Union officials have said the MCC has been long understaffed and warned that the lack of prison guards has meant workers in civilian roles have been covering guard duty shifts.
James Petrucci has been named as acting warden at the MCC, said Ms Kupec, in place of Shirley Skipper-Scott, who has been temporarily reassigned to another office.
The New York chief medical examiner’s office has yet to make a public determination on Epstein’s cause of death following an autopsy on Sunday.
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