NEW YORK (Reuters) - Wealthy American financier Jeffrey Epstein, charged with sex trafficking in underage girls, is now confined to a cell in a fortress-like concrete tower jail that has been criticized by inmates and lawyers for harsh conditions.
After his arrest on Saturday at New Jersey’s Teterboro Airport on arrival from Paris in his private plane, Epstein was likely put in solitary confinement at the Metropolitan Correctional Center (MCC) in lower Manhattan, according to defense lawyers and others familiar with the jail.
“When you have someone that’s allegedly a sexual predator like Jeffrey Epstein, he’ll need to be in protective custody,” Andrew Laufer, a lawyer who has represented MCC inmates in civil lawsuits against prison officials, said in an interview.
Epstein pleaded not guilty here in the nearby federal court on Monday to one count of sex trafficking and one count of sex trafficking conspiracy. He will remain in jail at least until a bail hearing on July 15. Federal prosecutors have said he is a flight risk because of his wealth and international ties.
In the past, Epstein, 66, was known for socializing with politicians and royalty, with friends who have included U.S. President Donald Trump, former president Bill Clinton and, according to court papers, Britain’s Prince Andrew. None of those people was mentioned in the indictment and prosecutors declined to comment on anyone said to be associated with Epstein.
The indictment said Epstein made young girls perform nude “massages” and other sex acts, and paid some girls to recruit others, from at least 2002 to 2005 at his mansion in New York and estate in Florida.
Marc Fernich, a lawyer for Epstein, declined to comment on Epstein’s current conditions.
The Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) said it does not release information on an inmate’s conditions of confinement for safety and security reasons.
The MCC houses about 800 inmates, most of whom are awaiting trial and have not been convicted. Prominent inmates have included New York Mafia bosses, the fraudster Bernie Madoff and the Mexican drug lord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman.
Inmates and defense lawyers have complained of rat and cockroach infestations and uncomfortable extremes of heat and cold or problems with the water supply.
The jail’s harshest unit, known colloquially as “10 South”, has been compared unfavorably to the U.S. prison camp Guantanamo Bay. In 2011, rights group Amnesty International said the unit, which has also been used to house people accused of terrorism, flouts “international standards for humane treatment.”
One defense lawyer, who asked to remain anonymous, said that Epstein is likely in “9 South,” a separate special housing unit.
Inmates in protective custody are allowed out of their cell for recreation only one hour a day, according to BOP guidelines and interviews with lawyers.
Laufer and other lawyers said they believed that high-profile defendants such as Epstein enjoyed better protections than most, in part because prison officials are mindful of the embarrassment that harm to a well-known inmate could bring.
If Epstein is moved into a general population unit, he would have access to a shared common space with a television used by other inmates in the unit.
There, however, he would likely be a target for other inmates both because of his wealth and because he is a registered sex offender following his 2008 conviction for soliciting a girl for prostitution in Florida.
“The sex offenders have a hard time,” Jack Donson, a former BOP employee who now works as a federal prison consultant in New York, said in an interview. “He’s definitely going to get ostracized.”
There are fewer activities and diversions for inmates at the MCC compared to some other jails, Donson said.
“It’s pretty confining, pretty boring, not dangerous, but still no picnic,” Donson said. “Especially if you’re a man of wealth: one minute you’re on your yacht or in a helicopter; next minute you’re sitting at a table playing cards with the boys.”
Reporting by Brendan Pierson and Jonathan Allen in New York; Editing by Noeleen Walder and Grant McCool