Jail guards who guarded Jeffrey Epstein’s cell the night he killed himself have been charged with falsifying prison records.
Guards Toval Noel and Michael Thomas were accused in a grand jury indictment on Tuesday of neglecting their duties by failing to check on Epstein for nearly eight hours, and of fabricating log entries to show they had been making checks every 30 minutes, as required.
Prosecutors allege that instead of making their required rounds, the two guards sat at their desks, browsed the internet and walked around the unit’s common area. During one two-hour period, the indictment said, both appeared to have been asleep.
The charges against the officers are the first in connection with the wealthy financier’s death in August at the Metropolitan Correctional Center in New York, where he had been awaiting trial on charges of sex trafficking.
Read more: British Prince denies sex claims
The city’s medical examiner ruled Epstein’s death a suicide. Prosecutors said surveillance cameras confirmed that no one else entered the area in which he was housed.
“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,” US Attorney Geoffrey S Berman said.
A message left with union officials representing the guards was not immediately returned.
Epstein’s death was a major embarrassment for the US Bureau of Prisons.
The cell where he died was in a high-security unit, famous for having held drug cartel kingpins. Epstein’s death, however, revealed the jail was suffering from problems including chronic staffing shortages that lead to mandatory overtime for guards day after day and other staff being pressed into service as correctional officers.
Read More: Louisiana rejected Trump candidate
Attorney General William Barr had previously said investigators found “serious irregularities” at the jail and the FBI’s investigation had been slowed because some witnesses were uncooperative.
Epstein had been placed on suicide watch after he was found on July 23 on the floor of his cell with a strip of bedsheet around his neck.
The indictment said he was on that watch for 24 hours before he was moved to psychological observation until July 30, several days before his death.
Prosecutors wanted the guards to admit that they had falsified the prison records as part of a plea offer which they rejected, according to people familiar with the matter.
They spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not permitted to publicly discuss the investigation.
Federal prosecutors had subpoenaed up to 20 staff members at the jail in August. The case was a top priority for the Justice Department. Both Barr and Deputy Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen received regular updates.
Falsification of records has been a problem throughout the federal prison system.
Kathleen Hawk Sawyer, who was named director of the Bureau of Prisons after Epstein’s death, disclosed in an internal memo earlier this month that a review of operations across the agency found that some staff members failed to perform required rounds and inmate counts but logged that they had done so anyway.
Epstein’s death ended the possibility of a trial that would have involved prominent figures and sparked widespread anger that he would not have to answer for the allegations.
Jail guards who guarded Epstein’s cell have charged with falsifying records.