In a surprising move the day after the conviction of Jeffrey Epstein’s girlfriend Ghislaine Maxwell, the Justice Department dropped all charges against the two guards on duty the night of his death. The filing of a nolle prosequi notice just before New Year’s Eve (and just after the verdict) immediately rekindled long-standing conspiracy theories that Epstein was killed rather than committed suicide in his cell on August 9, 2019. Putting such theories to the side, the filing raises a host of other questions, including the basis and motive of bringing the charges in the first place.
The filing triggered a causation versus correlation debate. However, it is worth noting that the verdict came at the end of the year when many judges, prosecutors, and counsel tend to clear cases. Indeed, a civil lawsuit against one of Epstein’s former executive assistants by a “Jane Doe” victim was also voluntarily dismissed.
The lawsuit against Lesley Groff alleged that she “knew or recklessly disregarded the facts and information that made clear that Epstein was trafficking Jane to Paris for commercial sex purposes, and that Epstein was doing so by means of force, threats of force, fraud, coercion, and/or a combination of such means.” These were the same type of enabling allegations that were directed at Maxwell but Groff was never subject to an indictment. She has insisted that she had no knowledge of Epstein’s crimes and she did not have the close relationship that existed between Epstein and Maxwell. Jane Doe asked for her lawsuit to be dismissed with prejudice after the Maxwell verdict.
The Justice Department’s filing seems more of a coincidence of timing vis-a-vis the Maxwell case. After all, the guards were given a deal in May and their conditions were met by the end of the year. It is more likely that the Justice Department timed the filing itself for just before New Year’s Eve to bury the closing of the case to minimize coverage.
However, a more important question is why these charges were brought when the Justice Department is now saying that it would not be in the interest of justice to pursue convictions.
Metropolitan Correctional Center guards, Tova Noel and Michael Thomas, were indicted in November 2019, for falsifying records and conspiracy for allegedly failing to perform checks on the night of Aug. 9, 2019 and early morning of Aug. 10, 2019. The charges seemed at the time to be a response to the skepticism from many that Epstein died at a convenient time before he could name names. A long list of powerful men reportedly flew on his “Lolita Express” and visited his homes with young women and girls in attendance. The charges tagged these guards as the most responsible parties and then closed the matter as a suicide facilitated by negligence.
As attention died down, Noel and Thomas were then given deferred prosecution agreements in May. Assistant U.S. Attorney Jessica Lonergan declared that “after a thorough investigation, and based on the facts of this case and the personal circumstances of the defendants, the Government has determined that the interests of justice will best be served by deferring prosecution in this District.”
The question is why bring the charges in the first place if this was always negligence and a few altered work sheets. The guards could have been fired, but the Justice Department needed to bring criminal charges to suggest that there was something beyond negligence to explain the death. If these guards were criminally responsible, it reduced responsibility (and suspicions) for the government as a whole.
My concern is not an overarching conspiracy as much as the use of the criminal justice system for political purposes. Someone had to face the music, at least for a time. That does not make these guards innocent. They were, at best, negligent. However, there remains a disconnect with how this case was originally portrayed and how it ended. If these defendants falsified documents and lied to obstruct an investigation, they should have been prosecuted fully. Instead, the Justice Department ended the matter with a shrug just before New Year’s Eve when most people are focused on more celebratory matters.