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US says 'serious irregularities' at Epstein jail, vows to hunt any co-conspirators

Law Crime

AFP  |  New York 

US Attorney General Bill Barr pledged Monday to pursue any co-conspirators of accused sex trafficker Jeffrey Epstein, saying there were "serious irregularities" at the jail where the disgraced financier died of an apparent suicide.

Barr's comments came as FBI agents reportedly raided Epstein's private Caribbean island, two days after the convicted pedophile was found dead in his cell while awaiting trial on federal charges he trafficked underage girls for sex.

Barr, who heads the government's Justice Department and oversees federal prisons, said he was "appalled" and "frankly angry" to learn of the New York Metropolitan Correctional Center's failure to adequately secure the jail.

"We are now learning of serious irregularities at this facility that are deeply concerning and demand a thorough investigation.

"The FBI and office of the inspector general are doing just that. We will get to the bottom of what happened and there will be accountability," said Barr.

FBI agents searched Epstein's luxury home on Little St. James in the US Virgin Islands on Monday morning, using golf carts to get around, NBC reported.

The FBI is investigating how Epstein, 66, was able to take his own life in a high-security facility just weeks after he was found unconscious with marks on his neck following an earlier reported suicide attempt.

Media reports said Epstein, who hobnobbed with numerous politicians and celebrities over the years, had been taken off suicide watch.

US newspapers also reported that prison guards were working overtime due to major staff shortages at the jail and that Epstein had been left without a cellmate, which was against protocol.

A prison guards union said Monday that thousands of vacancies had created "dangerous conditions" at federal jails across the US.

Epstein's death came a day after a court released documents in which one of his alleged victims said she was forced to have sex with well-known American political and business personalities.

Even though Epstein's death ended his criminal prosecution, Barr said prosecutors would pursue cases against anyone else involved in his alleged crimes.

"Let me assure you 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," he said.

Epstein had been charged with one count of sex trafficking of minors and one count of conspiracy to commit sex trafficking of minors.

Prosecutors said Epstein sexually exploited dozens of underage teens, some as young as 14, at his homes in Manhattan and Palm Beach, Florida, between 2002 and 2005.

The young women were paid hundreds of dollars in cash to massage him, perform sexual acts and to recruit other girls, prosecutors alleged. Epstein, who faced up to 45 years in prison if convicted, denied the charges. In testimony released Friday, alleged victim Virginia Giuffre said she was used as a "sex slave" by Epstein and farmed out to some of his high-profile associates.

Giuffre, now 36, has alleged she was forced to have sex with Prince Andrew, former US Senator and architect of the Northern Irish peace deal George Mitchell, ex-New Mexico governor Bill Richardson and American celebrity lawyer Alan Dershowitz.

They have all strenuously denied the allegations.

Giuffre says she was recruited and abused by Epstein's friend Ghislaine Maxwell, an English socialite whose father was former British newspaper baron Robert Maxwell. Maxwell has accused Giuffre of being a liar. Giuffre also says she was sent to a French businessman. Two French government ministers called for an investigation Monday.

Epstein, whose friends also included Donald Trump and Bill Clinton, had been convicted in 2008 in a Florida state court of paying young girls for sexual massages at his Palm Beach mansion.

Epstein served just 13 months in jail over the Florida charges under a plea deal struck by the then federal prosecutor in the state, Alex Acosta, who was forced to resign as US labor secretary last month over the issue.

(This story has not been edited by Business Standard staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

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First Published: Tue, August 13 2019. 08:25 IST