NEW YORK — Financier Jeffrey Epstein died by suicide while awaiting trial on sex-trafficking charges in New York, a former law enforcement official said Saturday.
He was found in his cell at the Manhattan Correctional Center Saturday morning, according to the official, who was briefed on the matter but spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to discuss it publicly.
The Fire Department said it received a call at 6:39 a.m. Saturday that Epstein was in cardiac arrest, and he was pronounced dead at New York Presbyterian-Lower Manhattan Hospital.
The medical examiner’s office in Manhattan confirmed Epstein’s death.
Epstein’s arrest last month launched separate investigations into how authorities handled his case initially when similar charges were first brought against him in Florida more than a decade ago. U.S. Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta resigned last month after coming under fire for overseeing that deal when he was U.S. attorney in Miami.
Epstein, 66, had pleaded not guilty and was facing up to 45 years in prison if convicted.
A little over two weeks ago, Epstein was found on the floor of his jail cell with bruises on his neck, according to a person familiar with the matter who spoke on condition of anonymity. At the time, it was not clear whether the injuries were self-inflicted or from an assault.
Epstein’s death is likely to raise questions about how the Bureau of Prisons ensures the welfare of high-profile inmates. In October, Boston gangster James “Whitey” Bulger was killed in a federal prison in West Virginia where had just been transferred.
The Justice Department and the federal Bureau of Prisons did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Saturday.
Cameron Lindsay, a former warden who ran three federal lockups, said the death represents “an unfortunate and shocking failure, if proven to be a suicide.”
”Unequivocally, he should have been on active suicide watch and therefore under direct and constant supervision,” Lindsay said. “When you have an inmate as high profile as Epstein, it’s absolutely imperative the warden set the tone with his or her leadership to ensure these kinds of incidents don’t happen.”
Epstein’s arrest drew national attention, particularly focusing on a deal that allowed Epstein to plead guilty in 2008 to soliciting a minor for prostitution in Florida and avoid more serious federal charges.
Federal prosecutors in New York reopened the probe after investigative reporting by The Miami Herald stirred outrage over that plea bargain.
But his lawyers maintained that the new charges brought by federal prosecutors in New York were covered by the deal and were improper.
They said he hasn’t had any illicit contact with underage girls since serving his 13-month sentence in Florida.
Before his legal troubles, Epstein led a life of extraordinary luxury that drew powerful people into his orbit.
He socialized with princes and presidents and lived on a 100-acre private island in the Caribbean and one of the biggest mansions in New York. A college dropout, he became a sought-after benefactor of professors and scientists, donating millions of dollars in donations to Harvard University and other causes.
Still, it was never entirely clear how the middle-class Brooklyn math whiz became a Wall Street master of high finance.
The somewhat reclusive Epstein splashed into the news in 2002 after a New York tabloid reported he had lent his Boeing 727 to ferry former President Bill Clinton and other notables on an AIDS relief mission to Africa.
Magazine profiles followed and established Epstein’s reputation as a stealthy yet exorbitantly successful money man with a gilded social circle and as somewhat ascetic streak.
Vanity Fair in 2003 described him entertaining real estate tycoons, business executives and the scions of some of America’s wealthiest families at his New York mansion — while also spending 75 minutes a day practicing yoga with a personal instructor and eschewing email, alcohol, tobacco and drugs.
His friends over the years have included Donald Trump, Britain’s Prince Andrew and former Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz.
But Epstein also enjoyed surrounding himself with women much younger than he, including Russian models who attended his cocktail parties and beautiful women he flew aboard his plane, according to the Vanity Fair profile.
Associated Press writer Michael R. Sisak contributed to this report. An earlier version of this story was written by Sun-Times reporters Emmanuel Camarillo and Sam Kelly.