Tova Noel and Michael Thomas are the Manhattan jail guards who are now accused of making false records after failing to check on financier and accused sexual predator Jeffrey Epstein in the hours before Epstein died. Video surveillance shows that no one else entered Epstein’s housing unit in the hours before his death, aside from two other unnamed officers who briefly visited a common area, federal officials say.
The indictment alleges that, instead of completing required counts and rounds, including checking on Epstein, Noel and Thomas were seated at the correctional officers’ desk, used the computers, moved around the common area, and, for about two hours, “appeared to have been asleep.” Noel is accused of searching the Internet for furniture sales and benefit websites. Thomas is accused of searching the Internet for motorcycle sales and sports news.
The United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York and other officials announced on November 19, 2019 the unsealing of an indictment charging the federal correctional officers Tova Noel and Michael Thomas “with making false records and conspiring to make false records and to defraud the United States by impairing the lawful functions of the Metropolitan Correctional Center… a Manhattan detention facility that houses federal inmates.”
U.S. Attorney Geoffrey S. Berman said in a news release, “As alleged, the defendants had a duty to ensure the safety and security of federal inmates in their care at the Metropolitan Correctional Center. Instead, they repeatedly failed to conduct mandated checks on inmates, and lied on official forms to hide their dereliction.”
You can read the indictment here.
Both Noel, 31, and Thomas, 41, surrendered on the morning of November 19, and their case was assigned to Southern District of New York U.S. District Judge Analisa Torres. They 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, which carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison. Noel is also charged with five counts of making false records, and Thomas is also charged with three counts of making false records, each of which carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison,” says a Justice Department news release.
Jeffrey Epstein was an accused sex trafficker, financier, and friend to many a prominent person over the years, including Prince Andrew, Donald Trump, and Bill Clinton. Questions and conspiracy theories have raged since Epstein’s death especially due to his times to famous people. A prominent pathologist hired by Epstein’s brother says the evidence may point to homicide. However, the federal indictment against Noel and Thomas states that Epstein “committed suicide by hanging himself earlier that morning while unobserved.”
Kathleen Hawk Sawyer, the director of the Bureau of Prisons, told lawmakers on November 19 that there was “no evidence to suggest” that Epstein’s death was homicide.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Authorities Accuse Tova Noel & Michael Thomas of Leaving Epstein Unobserved; They Say Noel Was the Last Person Near the Door of Epstein’s Tier
The criminal indictment paints a detailed picture of alleged dereliction of duty by the two correctional guards who were responsible for checking on Epstein, a known suicide risk.
On August 10, 2019, Noel and Thomas “repeatedly failed to complete mandated counts of prisoners under their watch in the MCC’s Special Housing Unit,” the press release alleges.
“Instead, for substantial portions of their shifts, Noel and Thomas sat at their desk, browsed the internet, and moved around the common area of the SHU (MCC’s Special Housing Unit),” alleges the release.
“To conceal their failure to perform their duties, Noel and Thomas repeatedly signed false certifications attesting to having conducted multiple counts of inmates that they did not do,” the release states.
“As a result of those false statements, the MCC believed prisoners in the SHU were being regularly monitored when, in fact, as a result of the defendants’ conduct, no correctional officer conducted any count or round of the SHU from approximately 10:30 p.m. on August 9 until approximately 6:30 a.m. on August 10, at which time, NOEL and THOMAS discovered the body of MCC inmate Jeffrey Epstein, who had committed suicide overnight while unobserved.”
The government further alleges that, on August 9, 2019, Noel was supposed to work at SHU from 4 p.m. to 8 a.m. on August 10, and Thomas was assignment to work with Noel from 12 a.m. to 8 a.m. on August 10.
Officers on duty in the SHU, including Noel and Thomas, were supposed to conduct five institutional counts as well as filling out forms attesting to the completion of those counts.
Instead, alleges the government, “Noel and Thomas repeatedly failed to complete mandated counts in the SHU.” During that time frame, they were the only correctional officers assigned to the SHU. “Aside from two other officers who briefly visited the common area of the SHU, as confirmed by video surveillance, no one else entered the SHU, no one conducted any counts or rounds throughout the night, and no one entered the area in which Epstein was housed,” alleges the release.
The indictment also mentions two other unidentified officers, called “Officer-1” and “Officer-2.” The indictment alleges that Noel and Officer-1 were responsible for conducting the 4 p.m. institutional count in the SHU. Video shows they did not perform this check, but they completed and signed a count slip falsely stating they had, the indictment alleges.
That evening, Epstein returned to the SHU from his attorney visit and was escorted into his cell by Tova Noel and another officer at about 7:49 p.m. Noel and the other officer left the tier in which Epstein was housed immediately thereafter, according to the indictment.
By 10 p.m., all of the inmates were locked in their cells for the night. At or around that time, Noel and Officer-2 were supposed to conduct the 10 p.m. institutional count in the SHU but video shows they didn’t perform the check, says the indictment. However, they are accused of completing and signing a count slip saying they had.
At about 10:30 p.m. on August 9, 2019, Noel “briefly walked up to, and then walked back from, the door to the tier in which Epstein was housed. As confirmed by the video obtained from the MCC’s internal video surveillance system, this was the last time anyone, including any correctional officer, walked up to, let alone entered, the only entrance to the tier in which Epstein was housed until approximately 6:30 p.m. on August 10.”
Officer-1’s shift ended around 10 p.m. and, at around 12 a.m., Michael Thomas replaced Officer-2, joining Tova Noel “as the only two correctional officers on duty in the SHU.”
Who else was in the area at the time?
According to the indictment, an overnight supervisor briefly visited and conferred with Noel and Thomas, who were seated at and around the officers’ desk, before leaving. Around 5:30 a.m., another correctional officer “briefly walked through the SHU common area.” Those guards are not named.
2. The Guards, Who Discovered Epstein’s Body With a Noose Around His Neck, Were Employed as Correctional Officers Since 2016 and 2007
Around 6 a.m., Thomas and Noel received a delivery of breakfast carts. They were again the only officers in the SHU. Shortly after 6:30 a.m., they entered the tier in which Epstein was housed to serve breakfast.
Around 6:33 a.m., an alarm was activated.
Epstein was alone in his cell and not responsive, with “a noose around his neck,” says the indictment.
A supervisor who had just started his shift responded to the alarm and, as Noel approached the door to to the SHU to open the door for the supervisor, Noel told the supervisor that “Epstein hung himself,” says the indictment.
The MCC “is a federal administrative detention facility located in Manhattan that is run by the Federal Bureau of Prisons,” according to the Justice Department. “The MCC employs correctional officers, whose primary duty is to ensure the care, custody, and control of the inmate population of the MCC.”
Federal authorities say that Tova Noel has worked as a correctional officer at the facility since 2016, and Thomas had worked there since 2007. Both were regularly assigned work shifts there.
Online records show Noel with an address in the Bronx and a previous address in Pennsylvania. Ancestry records show she married in 2008. A salary database says Tova Noel worked in clerical for the New York State, Metropolitan Transportation Authority, making just over $31,000 a year.
Authorities allege that, “to conceal their failure to complete their duties, Noel signed false certifications attesting to having conducted counts of inmates at 4:00 p.m. and 10:00 p.m., and Noel and Thomas signed false certifications attesting to having conducted counts of inmates at 12:00 a.m., 3:00 a.m., and 5:00 a.m. when, in truth and in fact, they never conducted such counts.”
As a result of the alleged false reports, the MCC “believed prisoners in the SHU were being regularly monitored and accounted for when, in fact, no correctional officer conducted any count or round of the SHU from approximately 10:30 p.m. on August 9 until approximately 6:30 a.m. on August 10, at which time, Noel and Thomas discovered the body of Epstein, who had committed suicide by hanging himself earlier that morning while unobserved.”
Noel and Thomas were supposed to conduct an institutional count at midnight but didn’t and signed a false slip, the indictment says. The same thing happened at 3 a.m. and 5 a.m., it says.
They also didn’t perform any of the required 30-minute round during their shift between 12 a.m. and 6:30 a.m., according to the indictment.
Although the New York City medical examiner’s office concluded Epstein hanged himself in a suicide in his jail cell, his brother hired a famed pathologist, Dr. Michael Baden.
Baden, 66, said injuries on Epstein’s body, including a broken neck bone, “are extremely unusual in suicidal hangings and could occur much more commonly in homicidal strangulation,” according to The New York Times.
On Fox & Friends, Baden said, “I think that the evidence points to homicide rather than suicide.”
Questions first started mounting about the death after The Washington Post reported that some of Epstein’s neck bones were broken.
ABC News first broke the news that Epstein had died. Julia Macfarlane, ABC News foreign affairs reporter, wrote on Twitter on the morning of August 10, 2019: “Breaking: Jeffrey Epstein committed suicide overnight at MCC Manhattan, the federal lockup where he had been held pending trial on federal sex trafficking charges, three law enforcement officials told @ABC News. Via @AaronKatersky.”
3. Thomas Is Accused of Saying ‘We Messed Up’ & the Attorney General Previously Declared He Was Appalled by Epstein’s Death
Noel is accused of telling a supervisor “we did not complete the 3 a.m. nor 5 a.m. rounds.” Thomas stated, “we messed up” and “I messed up, she’s not to blame, we didn’t do any rounds,” the indictment alleges.
DOJ OIG Special Agent in Charge Guido Modano said in the press release that “correctional Officers swear an oath to carry out their duties. Completing rounds to verify inmate counts and certifying the accuracy of logs are important tasks to ensure the safety and security of institutions and the wellbeing of inmates. Those who shirk their duties but falsely state they have completed them place the institution, fellow employees, inmates, and the public at risk.”
FBI Assistant Director William F. Sweeney Jr. added to the criticism against Noel and Thomas with this quote: “Security protocols are in place to protect the public, fellow officers and inmates being held in the MCC. We allege these officers falsified records to create the appearance they were following those protocols. The security risks created by this type of behavior are immense. The message here is simple – citizens place their trust in those who have taken an oath to serve and protect the public, and when that trust is deliberately violated by public servants, who instead choose to break those regulations, then they will be held accountable.”
US Attorney General William Barr said previously that he was “appalled” by Epstein’s death in custody. The Justice Department’s Inspector General is investigating, CNN reported. Many people on social media questioned the death due to the high-profile nature of Epstein’s case and associates.
Barr said on August 12 that the Department of Justice has learned of “serious irregularities” at the federal facility where Epstein was being held that are “deeply concerning” and said officials “demand a serious investigation.” He said the FBI and the DOJ’s Inspector General’s office “are doing just that” and will “get to the bottom of what happened and there will be accountability.”
Barr, speaking at a law enforcement conference in New Orleans, said, “This sex trafficking case was very important to the Department of Justice and to me personally. It was important to the dedicated prosecutors in the Southern District of New York and to our FBI agents who investigated the case and were preparing it for trial. Most importantly, this case was important to the victims who had the courage to come forward and deserve the opportunity to confront the accused in the courtroom. I was appalled, and indeed the whole department was, and frankly, angry, to learn of the MCC’s failure to adequately secure this prisoner.”
The attorney general added, “Let me assure you that this case will continue on against anyone who was complicit with Epstein. Any co-conspirators should not rest easy. The victims deserve justice and they will get it.”
President Donald Trump even tweeted an Epstein conspiracy theory connecting the Clintons to the death, a claim for which there is no evidence, as #clintonbodycount trended on Twitter.
Epstein had been facing 45 years in prison if convicted of the sex trafficking and conspiracy charges that alleged he was involved in the sex trafficking of underage girls in New York and Florida.
4. Epstein Had Previously Tried & Failed to Commit Suicide; Authorities Say Michael Thomas Responded to That Incident
In late July 2019, Epstein “was discovered semi-conscious, in a fetal position, with marks on his neck,” sources told NBC News.
The indictment says that, on July 23, 2019, while Epstein was housed in the SHU, MCC officers responded to an emergency call and “found Epstein on the floor of his cell with a strip of bedsheet around his neck.”
Michael Thomas was one of the MCC officers who responded to that incident and Epstein was placed on suicide watch and moved out of the SHU. Epstein remained on suicide watch for about 24 hours and was then transferred to psychological observation until July 30 2019.
On July 30, 2019, he was transferred back to the SHU and, at the direction of the MCC’s psychological staff, was “required to have an assigned cellmate. Epstein was also assigned to the cell closest to the correctional officers’ desk in the common area of the SHU, which was approximately 15 feet from the cell. Conducting the required institutional counts and 30-minute rounds in the SHU were also part of the MCC’s procedures for ensuring the safety of inmates, including Epstein,” the indictment says.
However, after that occasion he was able to walk into a federal court hearing with no outward signs of injury on July 31, 2019, according to NBC.
BBC’s Megha Mohan wrote on Twitter, “So many questions now. One being how Epstein could have killed himself at MCC Manhattan – the jail where the 1993 World Trade Centre bomber as well as El Chapo was held. It’s supposed to have the strictest security and be ‘tougher than Guantanemo Bay.’”
The charges against Epstein allege in part that he would bring underage girls to his Palm Beach mansion for sexual activity, luring them to Florida with the use of “female fixers,” according to The Associated Press. He also had a private Caribbean island and other homes throughout the United States.
5. There Was a Major Development in the Case the Day Before Epstein’s Death
Some of the world’s most prominent people have been caught up in the Epstein scandal. Among them: Prince Andrew, who recently gave a major interview to try to defend his reputation. A federal court in New York released new documents in a 2015 defamation case involving Epstein the day before his death, CNN reported.
The documents shed light on specific claims made by Virginia Roberts Giuffre against the multimillionaire. She was recruited for Epstein’s alleged sex ring “while working as a teenage locker room attendant at President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort,” according to Politico.
According to CNN, the new documents also contained new allegations that Guiffre alleged she was told to have sex with former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson and former US Sen. George Mitchell. Both men fervently and categorically denied those claims. They have not been charged in connection with the case.
Guiffre alleged that she was Epstein’s “sex slave” when she was a teenager and that a British woman named Ghislane Maxwell assisted Epstein. Maxwell was not charged in the case.
Giuffre has long claimed that she was told to perform sex acts with Prince Andrew, who has adamantly denied those claims. Another woman also made an allegation against Prince Andrew in the new documents, sparking Buckingham Palace to tell CNN, “This relates to proceedings in the United States, to which The Duke of York is not a party. Any suggestion of impropriety with underage minors is categorically untrue.”
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