A grand jury indictment made public Tuesday accused guards Toval Noel and Michael Thomas of neglecting their duties by failing to perform checks on Epstein every half hour, as required, and of fabricating log entries to show they had.
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.
The city’s medical examiner ruled Epstein’s death a suicide.
A message left with union officials representing the guards wasn’t immediately returned.
Epstein’s death while awaiting trial on charges he sexually abused underage girls was a major embarrassment for the U.S. Bureau of Prisons.
The cell where he died was in a high-security unit, famous for having held terrorists and drug cartel kingpins. Epstein’s death, though, 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.
Attorney General William Barr has 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 July 23 on the floor of his cell with a bruised neck. Multiple people familiar with operations at the jail say Epstein was taken off the watch after about a week, meaning he was less closely monitored but still supposed to be checked on every 30 minutes.
Investigators believe those checks weren’t done for several hours before Epstein was discovered in his cell with a bedsheet around his neck, another person familiar with the matter told AP. That person likewise spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the investigation.
Prosecutors had wanted the guards to admit they falsified the prison records as part of a plea offer that 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 some staff members failed to perform required rounds and inmate counts but logged that they had done so anyway. A copy of the memo was obtained by the AP.
Epstein’s death ended the possibility of a trial that would have involved prominent figures and sparked widespread anger that he wouldn’t have to answer for the allegations.
He had pleaded not guilty and was preparing to argue that he could not be charged because of a 2008 deal he made to avoid federal prosecution on similar allegations.
Epstein’s death prompted a whirl of conspiracy theories from people, including members of Epstein’s family and some of his alleged victims, who questioned whether it was possible that he’d killed himself in such a high-security setting.
Officials have said there is no basis for those suspicions.