NEW YORK >> A week after being denied bail, Jeffrey E. Epstein was found unconscious with marks on his neck in his cell Tuesday at a federal jail in Manhattan, and prison officials were investigating the incident as a possible suicide attempt, a law enforcement official who had been briefed on the matter said.
Prison officials had not ruled out the possibility, however, that Epstein had been assaulted by another inmate or had staged the episode, a person with knowledge of the investigation said.
Epstein’s injuries were not serious, the law enforcement official said. A second law enforcement official confirmed that Epstein had been discovered in his cell with “bruising around the neck.” All three people spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not permitted to publicly discuss the investigation.
The Bureau of Prisons, in an email this morning, gave no details about the incident, citing “privacy and security reasons.” The bureau said Epstein, 66, was not in a hospital but still at the jail, the Metropolitan Correctional Center in lower Manhattan, where he has been held on sex trafficking and conspiracy charges.
Epstein’s lawyers did not respond to requests for comment. The person with knowledge of the investigation said Epstein had been meeting daily with his lawyers for hours at a time, which had kept him out of his cell for long stretches.
Epstein has been held at the Metropolitan Correctional Center since his arrest July 6 on federal charges that he sexually abused and trafficked underage girls in the early 2000s. Last week, Judge Richard M. Berman of U.S. District Court denied him bail, rejecting his request to be detained at his Upper East Side mansion as he awaited trial.
The former financier has been housed in a cell with Nicholas Tartaglione, a former police officer facing murder charges, one of the law enforcement officials said. Both men are in a special unit with strict security measures that is used to separate some inmates from the general population.
Tartaglione is awaiting trial on charges that he conspired to sell cocaine and took part in the 2016 killings of four men in Chester, New York, a small town about 60 miles north of Manhattan in the Hudson Valley.
On Wednesday night, WNBC-TV reported that Epstein had been discovered in a fetal position in his cell with neck injuries. The station also said Tartaglione had been questioned about the incident.
Tartaglione’s lawyer, Bruce Barket, said in an interview that Tartaglione had cooperated with the inquiry into Epstein’s injuries. Barket added that Epstein and his client “speak regularly and get along well.”
“Any insinuation that he had assaulted Mr. Epstein is a complete and utter fabrication,” Barket said.
Barket’s law partner, Aida Leisenring, said that on a visit Wednesday morning to meet with Tartaglione, she saw Epstein in passing, through a window, and saw no apparent injuries or evidence of a fight.
Epstein was taken into custody July 6 at Teterboro Airport in New Jersey after a flight from Paris. An indictment unsealed July 8 charged him with sex trafficking and conspiracy, saying that between 2002 and 2005, Epstein and his employees paid dozens of underage girls to engage in sex acts with him at his homes in Manhattan and Palm Beach, Florida.
Epstein has pleaded not guilty and faces up to 45 years in prison if he is convicted of sex trafficking and conspiracy charges.
In a bid to keep their client out of jail, Epstein’s lawyers had proposed allowing him to post a substantial bond and stay in his mansion guarded by 24-hour security, at his expense. Prosecutors opposed that proposal, arguing Epstein was seeking “special treatment” and trying to build his own private jail — a “gilded cage.”
For years, Epstein, a hedge fund manager, has socialized with famous and powerful people, including former President Bill Clinton, Prince Andrew of Britain and President Donald Trump.
An investigation into accusations against him was opened in Florida in 2005. But more than a decade ago, prosecutors in Miami made a secret deal that allowed Epstein to avoid federal prosecution. He pleaded guilty to two state prostitution charges and spent about a year in a Palm Beach jail, where he was allowed to leave six days a week for work.
The plea deal was overseen by R. Alexander Acosta, then a U.S. attorney in Florida. He was widely criticized as letting Epstein off the hook and has since resigned as Trump’s labor secretary.
When Berman denied Epstein’s bail on July 18, he cited concerns that if Epstein were released, he would continue to abuse girls. The judge also addressed Epstein’s “vast wealth” — prosecutors say they believe he is worth more than $500 million — which could help him flee the country.
He pointed to a safe authorities said they found in Epstein’s Manhattan home that contained cash, diamonds and an expired passport issued by a foreign country (later identified as Austria) that had Epstein’s photo but a different name.