The FBI is investigating whether a “criminal enterprise” played a role in the controversial jailhouse death of well-connected sex criminal Jeffrey Epstein, the head of the federal prison system told Congress on Tuesday.
But Bureau of Prisons Director Kathleen Hawk Sawyer also testified that there is “no indication, from anything I know know,” that the wealthy investor’s demise on Aug. 10 “was anything other than a suicide.”
At the time Epstein died, the former friend of Presidents Donald Trump and Bill Clinton was awaiting trial on child sex trafficking charges.
Sawyer’s testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee came on the same day that two guards from a Manhattan jail operated by the BOP were criminally charged with falsifying official records to cover up the fact that they never conducted mandated safety checks on Epstein and other inmates in the hours before he was found with a noose around his neck in his cell.
Those guards, Michael Thomas and Tova Noel, allegedly browsed the Internet and appeared to have been asleep for about two hours during the time that they were supposed to be making sure that Epstein was alive and accounted for.
Sawyer said Epstein’s death is the one incident involving the BOP that has “probably gotten the most public attention.”
Epstein’s death sparked conspiracy theories because of his connections to numerous rich, powerful and high-profile people, such as L Brands’ Les Wexner, Microsoft’s Bill Gates and Britain’s Prince Andrew.
During Tuesday’s hearing, one senator underscored to the prisons boss how skeptical many people are about the official ruling that Epstein killed himself.
“Christmas ornaments, drywall and Jerry Epstein. Name three things that don’t hang themselves,” said Sen. John Kennedy, R-La., flubbing Epstein’s first name. “That’s what the American people think. And they deserve some answers.”
The New York City Medical Examiner’s Office has ruled Epstein’s death was a suicide by hanging. But Dr. Michael Baden, a forensic pathologist hired by Epstein’s brother, has said that the injuries found on Epstein’s neck were more consistent with those found in homicides.
On Tuesday, Sawyer was asked by Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., about Epstein’s death.
“With a case this high profile, there has got to be either a major malfunction of the system or a criminal enterprise afoot to allow this to happen,” Graham said. “So are you looking at both? Is the FBI looking at both?”
Sawyer answered: “The FBI is involved, and they are looking at criminal enterprise, yes.”
“I have received no information from the FBI investigation yet,” she later said.
Epstein’s death is also being investigated by the Inspector General’s Office of the BOP.
Weeks before his death, the 66-year-old Epstein was found semiconscious on the floor of his cell in Metropolitan Correctional Center with marks on his neck.
He was placed on suicide watch after that incident for 24 hours, and then put under psychological watch for less than a week.
Epstein had been arrested in July after arriving at a northern New Jersey airport on a private plane from France.
Federal prosecutors in Manhattan charged him with the trafficking of dozens of underage girls to be sexually abused by him from 2002 through 2005 at his huge townhouse on the Upper East Side, and at his mansion in Palm Beach, Florida.
The arrest came six months after The Miami Herald published stories detailing how a number of women who claimed to have been abused by Epstein were not informed of a non-prosecution agreement that he negotiated with federal prosecutors in Miami in 2007.
Under that agreement, Epstein agreed to plead guilty to relatively minor state charges in Florida, which included paying an underage girl for sexual services.
In that earlier case, Epstein served 13 months in jail, but was out on work release for much of that sentence. He also had to register as a sex offender.
Epstein’s plea deal occurred while Alex Acosta was U.S. attorney in southern Florida. Acosta went on to become Trump’s Labor secretary and resigned from that position days after Epstein was arrested in July.