NEW YORK (Reuters) - A lawyer for one of the Manhattan jail guards on duty when the financier and registered sex offender Jeffrey Epstein killed himself said his client may seek to dismiss the criminal case against him because he was wrongly targeted for prosecution.
At a hearing on Thursday in federal court in Manhattan, Michael Thomas’ lawyer said it was “highly likely” he would soon seek a dismissal because his client was singled out for conduct for which other guards go unpunished.
The lawyer, Montell Figgins, said Thomas and co-defendant Tova Noel were “selectively” prosecuted “to cover for all of the inadequacies” of the Federal Bureau of Prisons.
“The death of a billionaire in the correctional system brings a lot of heat from people in high positions,” Figgins told reporters after the hearing. “They’ve scapegoated, they want to make an example of these two people.”
Epstein’s estate has been estimated at $577.7 million.
Noel and Thomas have pleaded not guilty to charges they falsely certified to have conducted inmate counts during Epstein’s final hours.
U.S. District Judge Analisa Torres delayed their trial to June 22 from April 20, after both defense lawyers said they needed more time to prepare.
She had a fiery exchange with Noel’s lawyer, who ignored several of her demands that he sit down after he said the new trial date conflicted with family plans.
Epstein died at age 66 on Aug. 10, 2019, when he was found in his cell at the Metropolitan Correctional Center in downtown Manhattan.
He had been jailed after pleading not guilty to abusing and trafficking in women and girls in Manhattan and Florida from 2002 to 2005.
New York City’s top medical examiner called Epstein’s death a suicide.
According to a Nov. 19 indictment, Noel and Thomas both appeared to have fallen asleep for about two hours during their shifts, while Noel also shopped online for furniture and Thomas surfed the internet for sports news and motorcycle sales.
Figgins said “many, many other federal officers on a daily basis” engaged in similar conduct, and a report on Epstein’s death from the Department of Justice’s Office of the Inspector General would likely detail a “smorgasbord” of such conduct.
The death of Epstein angered U.S. Attorney General William Barr, and management at the MCC has been overhauled.
Epstein’s estate is being sued by more than 20 accusers and by the U.S. Virgin Islands, which said he raped and trafficked in dozens of young women and girls on his private island there.
Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; editing by Jonathan Oatis