Two prison guards who were on duty the night Jeffrey Epstein killed himself in his cell face federal charges of falsifying records, the US Attorney's office for the Southern District of New York announced.
The guards — Tova Noel, 31, and Michael Thomas, 41 — allegedly "repeatedly failed to complete mandated counts of prisoners under their watch" and instead "sat at their desk" and "browsed the internet," according to prosecutors.
The indictment alleges that both guards fell asleep at their desks for two hours, that Noel looked at furniture sales online, and Thomas searched motorcycle sales and sports news.
The two were taken into custody Tuesday and pleaded not guilty when they appeared in federal court, NBC News reported.
Noel and Thomas were released after the hearing on $100,000 bond each.
According to the indictment, shortly after finding Epstein in his cell, Thomas told a supervisor they "didn't do any rounds."
They then allegedly "repeatedly signed false certifications attesting to having conducted multiple counts of inmates that they did not do," causing prison officials to believe inmates were being regularly checked on. In fact, no guards had monitored the area between 10:30 p.m. on Aug. 9 until 6:33 a.m. on Aug. 10. — when Epstein was found dead, according to the indictment.
“As alleged, the defendants had a duty to ensure the safety and security of federal inmates in their care at the Metropolitan Correctional Center [MCC]," US Attorney Geoffrey S. Berman said in a statement. "Instead, they repeatedly failed to conduct mandated checks on inmates, and lied on official forms to hide their dereliction.”
The two guards are each charged with one count of "conspiring to defraud the United States by impairing, obstructing, and defeating the lawful functions of the MCC, and to make false records." The charge carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison.
Both also face several counts of making false records — five for Noel, and three for Thomas — each of which carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison.
After Tuesday's hearing, Thomas' attorney, Montell Figgins, told reporters the two guards were being used as "scapegoats," the Associated Press reported.
"We feel this is a rush to judgement by the U.S. attorney's office," he said. "They're going after the low man on the totem pole here."
After Epstein's suicide in August while awaiting his trial for federal sex trafficking charges, questions were immediately raised about whether guards' negligence had led to a failure to prevent the death.
The FBI announced they would investigate the circumstances surrounding the disgraced New York financier's death.
Attorney General Bill Barr said he was "appalled" to learn of Epstein's apparent suicide.
"Mr. Epstein’s death raises serious questions that must be answered," said Barr, adding that the Department of Justice inspector general would open its own investigation.
"We need answers," tweeted Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. "Lots of them."
One month prior to his death, Epstein — whose former associates included President Donald Trump, Prince Andrew, and former president Bill Clinton — had injured himself in an attempt to kill himself.
He was placed on suicide watch after the attempt but was taken off a week later and moved back to solitary confinement. Prison officials moved his cell to the one closest to the guards' desk in an effort to prevent future attempts, according to the US Attorney's office.
Epstein, 66, was arrested in July and accused of sexually abused dozens of underage girls — some as young as 14 — in an alleged sex trafficking operation between 2002 and 2005. He had pleaded not guilty.
He was accused of paying dozens of underage girls to give him nude "massages," through which he would then sexually assault them. He also allegedly paid some of the victims to recruit other girls into the trafficking ring.
Following his July arrest, Epstein was deemed a flight risk and denied bail. He faced a maximum sentence of 45 years in prison after being charged with one count of sex trafficking of minors and one count of conspiracy to engage in sex trafficking of minors.
Denied a chance at true justice when Epstein killed himself, US Attorney for the Southern District of New York Geoffrey Berman took the unusual step of allowing the victims to still tell their stories in court.
"He will not have his day in court, but the reckoning of accountability has begun, supported by the voices of these brave and beautiful women in this courtroom today," Virginia Giuffre said in the Manhattan courthouse. "The reckoning must not end — it must continue. He did not act alone and we, the victims, know that."