Two Manhattan jail guards charged with falsifying records after Jeffrey Epstein was found dead in his cell will face trial in June, a federal judge ruled Thursday.
Tova Noel, 31, and Michael Thomas, 41, who worked inside Metropolitan Correctional Center’s (MCC) Special Housing Unit, are accused of failing to conduct mandated checks on inmates in the hours before the multi-millionaire sex-offender killed himself in August 2019. Both corrections officers have pleaded not guilty.
In Manhattan federal court on Thursday, defense lawyers asked to delay the trial until October—a request U.S. District Judge Analisa Torres promptly denied. Torres set a trial date for June 22, despite the protestations of Noel’s lawyer, Jason Foy, who said the schedule would interfere with his family vacation.
The defense attorneys also requested a later date because of what they described as “voluminous” discovery materials, including some they said they hadn’t received. “It’s necessary,” Foy told the court. “This isn’t about us laying back and taking our time.”
Thomas’ attorney, Montell Figgins, added, “It took the federal government 90 days to investigate … it’s going to take us more than 90 days to do the same amount of work.”
Figgins also told Judge Torres he’d likely file a motion to dismiss the indictment due to selective prosecution, and that he needed to obtain a report from the Department of Justice’s Inspector General which, along with the FBI and Bureau of Prisons, was tasked with investigating Epstein’s death in a federal facility.
Prosecutors had argued against delaying the trial—previously slated for April—which they said will last a week. Assistant U.S. Attorney Jessica Lonergan said the facts in the criminal case only relate to a 14-hour period of time. “This is a very focused, single-incident indictment,” Lonergan said, adding that broader working conditions at MCC were “just not relevant.”
Foy disagreed, saying MCC’s environs and alleged failures in security measures “are directly related” to his client’s case. (Both guards were working overtime shifts, and the union representing the officers told The Daily Beast that MCC is constantly understaffed, forcing some guards to work “mandatory overtime” shifts totaling 16 to 18 hours.)
After Thursday’s court appearance, Figgins told reporters that the feds “want to put my client in jail for the same conduct that’s happening with other officers on a daily basis.” He said Thomas is on leave without pay pending an administrative hearing.
He said his selective prosecution defense will center around the fact that other corrections officers within the Bureau of Prisons system, outside of the Epstein case, have also fallen short with required checks but without criminal consequences.
The Bureau of Prisons allowed guards to work nearly 24 hours straight, creating a system where guards could fall asleep on the job, Figgins claimed; guards might end a shift only to be told they couldn’t go home for another eight hours because of staff shortages. “How can they allow that type of work to go on and not expect something like that [Epstein’s death] to happen?” he said.
“Now when a billionaire dies, they want to make [Noel and Thomas] a scapegoat,” Figgins continued. He pointed out Noel and Thomas weren’t the only officers working the night before Epstein died; a lieutenant had to sign off on paperwork for their rounds, and a control room held other guards, too.
“Why are these the only people charged?” Figgins asked.
Last November, federal prosecutors charged Noel and Thomas each with one count of conspiring to defraud the United States.
Noel is also charged with five counts of making false records, while Thomas was slapped with three counts of making false records. According to prosecutors, the corrections officers face five years in prison for each count of the charges.
Prosecutors say the guards never conducted their mandated checks on inmates, including Epstein, on the night he hanged himself.
“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 [Special Housing Unit],” the indictment alleged. “To conceal their failure to perform their duties, Noel and Thomas repeatedly signed false certifications attesting to having conducted multiple counts of inmates when, in truth and in fact, they never conducted such counts.”
Epstein was found dead in his cell around 6:30 a.m. on Aug. 10—one month after he was arrested for trafficking minor girls. He’d previously attempted to hang himself on July 23, officials said, but was taken off suicide watch after 24 hours. He was under psychological observation until July 30.
Later in August, Assistant Attorney General Stephen Boyd said a jail psychologist removed Epstein from suicide watch. In a letter to the Judiciary Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives, Boyd said “a doctoral-level psychologist” had “determined that a suicide watch was no longer warranted.”
According to the indictment, no SHU guards conducted counts from about 10:30 p.m. on Aug. 9 until Epstein’s body was discovered the next morning. Both Noel and Thomas had been working overtime shifts the day Epstein died.
A cellmate of the multi-millionaire had been transferred out of MCC on Aug. 9, and “despite the MCC’s psychological staff’s direction that Epstein have a cellmate, no new cellmate was assigned to Epstein's cell,” the indictment stated.
Noel worked a shift from 4 p.m. on Aug. 9 to 8 a.m. on Aug. 10, while Thomas started his shift at 12 a.m. on Aug. 10. They were the only corrections officers on duty in the Special Housing Unit from 12 a.m. to 8 a.m. on Aug. 10, prosecutors say.
The guards were collectively responsible for two prisoner checks on Aug. 9, at 4 p.m. and 10 p.m., as well as three checks on Aug. 10, at 12 a.m., 3 a.m. and 5 a.m.
When a supervisor who’d just gotten to work responded to an alarm that went off in MCC at 6:33 a.m. on Aug. 10, Noel allegedly announced, “Epstein hung himself.” Noel was said to admit later, “We did not complete the 3 a.m. nor the 5 a.m. rounds.”
“We messed up,” Thomas allegedly told a supervisor. “I messed up, she’s not to blame, we didn’t do any rounds.”