Financier Jeffrey Epstein has been found dead in a Manhattan jail while awaiting trial on sex-trafficking charges, law enforcement officials say.
Mr. Epstein, 66 years old, was being held pending trial at the Metropolitan Correctional Center in Manhattan.
About two weeks ago, officials moved Mr. Epstein to a suicide-watch unit after he was found unconscious in his cell with marks on his neck.
Mr. Epstein was arrested July 6 at Teterboro Airport in New Jersey as he was returning from Paris on his private jet. Federal prosecutors in Manhattan indicted him on two counts related to sex trafficking of minors, which together carry a maximum sentence of 45 years in prison.
“We are enormously sorry to learn of today’s news,” Mr. Epstein’s lawyers said in a statement Saturday morning. “No one should die in jail. We cannot confirm rumors as to his cause of death, and we trust that the United States Attorney’s Office and the United States Marshals will thoroughly investigate the circumstances of today’s tragedy.”
Prosecutors accused Mr. Epstein of orchestrating a yearslong sex-trafficking operation in which he and his associates lured dozens of girls—some as young as 14 years old—to his homes in New York and Florida. He recruited them to perform massages in the nude that steadily progressed to masturbation and sex acts, prosecutors said.
Mr. Epstein had pleaded not guilty and was awaiting trial. At a recent hearing, U.S. District Judge Richard Berman discussed June 2020 as a tentative trial date.
Mr. Epstein had sought to be released from jail and put under house arrest in his Manhattan apartment pending trial. Judge Berman denied his request for bail, saying Mr. Epstein posed too great a danger to the community. Mr. Epstein’s lawyers appealed the decision.
Mr. Epstein’s death doesn’t end the investigation, and other people who participated in the alleged sex-trafficking scheme could still be charged, according to a person familiar with the matter.
Mr. Epstein had been held at a Manhattan jail, the Metropolitan Correctional Center, that has housed high-profile inmates such as Mexican drug lord Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán.
The facility has drawn criticism from staffers, union officials, inmates and attorneys for substandard conditions and a lack of basic amenities, such as books, for inmates.
Officials with the Federal Bureau of Prisons, who administer the jail, didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment on Mr. Epstein’s death.
The recent charges against Mr. Epstein came more than a decade after Mr. Epstein signed a nonprosecution agreement with federal prosecutors in Miami, following an investigation into similar alleged conduct in Florida.
That deal, which had been criticized by victims and some lawmakers as too lenient, guaranteed Mr. Epstein wouldn’t be federally charged and allowed him to plead guilty to two state felonies related to prostitution. He registered as a sex offender and served a 13-month sentence with work-release privileges that let him spend much of his time outside prison.
Renewed scrutiny of the deal, spurred by a series of articles late last year by the Miami Herald, led to the resignation last month of President Trump’s labor secretary, Alexander Acosta, who had been the U.S. attorney in Miami overseeing the agreement.
Mr. Epstein’s legal team planned to argue the Manhattan case is an improper re-do of the Florida case and that the agreement was intended to apply to federal jurisdictions nationally.
Federal prosecutors in Manhattan said the 2007 deal is only binding in Miami’s federal district and doesn’t stop them from initiating their own case. The Manhattan indictment also covered new alleged conduct that occurred in New York, which wasn’t part of the Florida case, prosecutors said.
Mr. Epstein grew up in a working-class community in the Coney Island section of Brooklyn, N.Y. He never graduated from college. Instead, he benefited from good timing, self-promotion and what former associates described as charming intelligence.
Over four decades, Mr. Epstein built a fortune of more than a half-billion dollars through close relationships with a small number of rich and powerful people, such as retail magnate Leslie Wexner, Johnson & Johnson heiress Elizabeth Johnson and hedge-fund billionaire Glenn Dubin.
Mr. Epstein became deeply entwined in their lives, records and interviews show. He served as a private wealth manager, pitching tax-saving strategies, handling prenuptial agreements, estate planning and other personal matters.
Mr. Epstein earned at least $200 million through his yearslong relationship with Mr. Wexner, the founder and chairman of L Brands Inc. Last week, Mr. Wexner accused Mr. Epstein of stealing more than $46 million of his fortune.