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The Justice Department investigated Jeffrey Epstein's death. Then it went silent.

Published: March 27, 2023 | Print Friendly and PDF

On October 28, 2019, two months after his brother's death, Mark Epstein was summoned to the US Attorney's office in downtown Manhattan.

Jeffrey Epstein died in the custody of a federal jail just one building over, and officials at the Justice Department said they had an update for Mark on their investigation into his death. 

Mark showed up with a lawyer and Michael Baden, a forensic pathologist he hired to examine Jeffrey's body. Baden believed Jeffrey Epstein died by homicide.  

The group was met with a "nice little panel" of Justice Department officials, Mark Epstein recalled.

The officials said Jeffrey Epstein died by suicide. Pressed for more detail, they just repeated themselves.

"They didn't give me any information other than 'After a thorough investigation, we determined it was a suicide,'" Mark Epstein said. "It was like I was talking to a fucking robot."

The meeting was the only time Mark got any answers from the DOJ about his brother's death. Three years later, he still doesn't know exactly how Epstein died and why it's taken the government that long to share its answer to that question.

Mark Epstein told Insider that even though he's Jeffrey's next of kin, he hasn't been able to obtain certain medical records, including the care reports filled out by EMTs who evaluated his brother's corpse.

The public hasn't gotten answers either. Epstein flew at the heights of power, consorting with presidents and princes while at the same time abusing scores of girls. His death in the custody of the Bureau of Prisons represents one of the most shocking failures of federal law enforcement in history. How could the Justice Department let him just slip away?

The Justice Department's Office of Inspector General launched an investigation after he was found dead. But more than three years later, the office still hasn't released its report into the circumstances of Epstein's death.

In the information vacuum, conspiracy theories have proliferated about whether Epstein was killed to cover up for his powerful friends — Bill Clinton, Donald Trump, and Prince Andrew among them.

Epstein's victims and at least one US senator are still demanding answers from the DOJ.  

"For many people, the death was suspicious, to say the least," said Gloria Allred, an attorney who represents 20 of Epstein's victims. "Others have their own conclusions about what happened to Mr. Epstein. But the speculation needs to be replaced by facts and evidence."

Mark Epstein remains puzzled by the holdup. He's convinced his brother didn't kill himself and stands by the conclusions of Baden, who personally observed the four-hour autopsy of Jeffrey Epstein's body.

"We all took it by surprise," Mark Epstein told Insider. "Nobody thought he was gonna kill himself. Nobody."

After 3 years, it's not clear what's holding up DOJ's report

When Jeffrey Epstein was found dead in his cell, on August 10, 2019, then-Attorney General Bill Barr's first reaction was disbelief, he later wrote in his memoir.

"No one's gonna believe it was a suicide," Barr recalled saying. "There'll be conspiracy theories all over the place."

Epstein had been arrested two months earlier on charges that he trafficked girls for sex. He was investigated by Manhattan federal prosecutors following a series of articles by the Miami Herald journalist Julie K. Brown, who detailed how he secured a secret, lenient plea deal with Florida prosecutors in 2007, even after law enforcement concluded he sexually abused more than 30 girls. A compensation program his estate formed after his death concluded he sexually abused at least 136 people overall.

Until his arrest in 2019, Epstein continued living a lavish lifestyle, splitting time between his Palm Beach home, his Manhattan mansion, an island in the US Virgin Islands, and an apartment in Paris.

After losing all that, it was possible he found the prospect of life behind bars unappealing, Mark Epstein said. 

"When I first heard that my brother was dead, and found dead from suicide, I just figured, 'OK, he decided to take himself out,'" he told Insider.

Barr tasked the Justice Department's inspector general, Michael Horowitz, and the FBI with investigating "​​the circumstances of Mr. Epstein's death."

There were two major unanswered questions: How, exactly, did he die? And — whether it was a suicide or homicide — how did the Bureau of Prisons allow it to happen?

Within those questions are a number of smaller mysteries, still unresolved. Why was Epstein's body moved after his death, in violation of jail protocol? If his body was found hours after he already died, why did paramedics try to push air into his lungs? If he hanged himself, why does Baden believe the bone fractures in his neck were more consistent with strangling? Why would he tear strips of bedsheets to make a noose instead of using the cord of his sleep-apnea machine? Why weren't the cameras watching his cellblock working the day he died? Who else was incarcerated in the same block, and did they see anything?

Epstein claimed he had dirt on powerful people and, after his 2007 guilty plea, still appeared to consort with the likes of Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi ArabiaElon Musk, and Steve Bannon. Were any of Epstein's acquaintances capable of planning an assassination

An Insider poll taken later that fall found nearly half of Americans believed Epstein was murdered.

The Justice Department's Office of the Inspector General is uniquely suited to answer these questions. Equipped with subpoena power and statutory independence, the office is one of the rare institutions in Washington, DC, carefully designed to stand apart from partisan forces and political winds.

It also had a significant measure of independence from Barr, whose own father may have given Epstein a job that he leveraged into a career in finance.

More than three years later, it's not clear why the inspector general's investigation is taking so long.

Horowitz's other high-profile investigations concluded far more quickly. An investigation into the flow of US arms to Mexican drug cartels took a year. A 568-page report about how the Justice Department dealt with Hillary Clinton's email server and a 478-page report about the "Crossfire Hurricane" investigation into Trump's links with Russia were each released about a year and a half after they were initiated.

Glenn Fine, who served as the Justice Department's inspector general between 2000 and 2011, told Insider the office is likely taking extraordinary care to make sure it gets all the details right.

"The OIG is probably taking the position: We want to make sure we get it right, and we want to make sure we are thorough and that the report is so convincing that the people who think that Epstein was murdered will be persuaded by all the evidence once it's out there," Fine said.

There are four possible reasons the report hasn't yet been released, Fine said. The inspector general's office could still be investigating; it's holding a report so as not to interfere with any pending criminal cases; it's writing the report; or it's waiting for feedback from the Bureau of Prisons.

A representative for the Bureau of Prisons said it was cooperating with the Justice Department and referred Insider to the Office of Inspector General for further questions. A spokesperson for the inspector general's office declined to comment on this story.



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