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New York warden reassigned after Jeffrey Epstein’s death; two staffers placed on leave

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Jeffrey Epstein pleaded not guilty to charges of drug trafficking and allegedly sexually abusing dozens of underage girls in New York and Florida.
USA TODAY

Correction and clarification: An earlier version of the article misidentified the warden who was transferred.   

WASHINGTON – Attorney General William Barr on Tuesday reassigned the warden at the New York federal detention center where accused sex trafficker Jeffrey Epstein died of an apparent suicide. The U.S. Bureau of Prisons placed two other staffers on administrative leave.

The personnel moves, announced by the Justice Department, suggest the inquiry into the financier’s death is moving rapidly. Three days ago, Epstein’s death set off a wave of recriminations from his accusers, lawmakers and the attorney general who referred this week to the discovery of “serious irregularities” at the Metropolitan Correctional Center.

Justice spokeswoman Kerri Kupec said Barr appointed James Petrucci, the warden at the Federal Correctional Institution in Otisville, New York, as acting warden at MCC, pending the outcome of investigations launched by the FBI and Justice’s inspector general.

The MCC warden, Lamine N’Diaye, was temporarily assigned to the Northeast Regional Office.

The two staffers were not identified, except to indicate that they had been assigned to Epstein’s unit.

“Additional actions may be taken as the circumstances warrant,” Kupec said.

Eric Young, national president of the federal prison workers’ union, said the reassignments are “typical to protect the integrity of the investigations.”

“BOP commonly uses this practice pending the outcome of investigations and any recommendations after action has been completed,” Young said.

Monday, Barr vowed a thorough investigation of Epstein’s demise and the continuation of the federal investigation into his activities. 

The attorney general said Epstein’s accusers deserve justice, and any co-conspirators involved in sex trafficking operations “should not rest easy.”

“We will get to the bottom of what happened, and there will be accountability,” Barr told a police conference Monday in New Orleans. “Let me assure you that this case will continue on against anyone who was complicit with Epstein.”

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Epstein, 66, was awaiting trial after his indictment last month on charges of sex trafficking and sex trafficking conspiracy. The indictment alleged that Epstein “sexually exploited and abused dozens of minor girls at his homes” in Manhattan and Palm Beach, Florida, and at other locations from 2002-2005. 

He was found “unresponsive in his cell” at around 6:39 a.m. Saturday and transported to nearby New York Presbyterian-Lower Manhattan Hospital, where he was pronounced dead, according to a statement by the MCC.

The center referred to his death as an apparent suicide. Barbara Sampson, the chief medical examiner in New York City, said an autopsy on Epstein was performed Sunday, and a ruling on the cause of death is pending.

Sampson said that at the request of Epstein’s representatives, she allowed Michael Baden, a private pathologist, to observe the autopsy.

The death of such a high-profile inmate cast a spotlight on persistent troubles within the federal prison system and at the MCC.

Serene Gregg, president of the MCC’s prison workers’ union, said union officials raised concerns about staffing shortages at the facility with prison leaders as recently as last week.

“Every day,” the staffing vacancies force prison officials to assign teachers, counselors and cooks to cover officer shifts throughout the facility, Gregg said earlier this week. The guards, she said, work three to four overtime shifts per week.

Gregg said the workers who discovered Epstein had not been routinely assigned to that area of the detention center.  

“You have people working who are extremely exhausted and others who are not trained to do the work,” Gregg said. “They have been playing a dangerous game for a long time. And it’s not just at MCC, it’s going on across the country.”

On Tuesday, Gregg declined to describe the duties of the staffers placed on leave. 

Cameron Lindsay, a former warden at three federal prisons, characterized Barr’s personnel action as “extraordinary.”

“I have never seen a warden reassigned following the suicide of an inmate,” Lindsay said. “It just underscores the intense scrutiny that is being given to this case.”

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