Prosecutors told a federal judge Thursday that prison authorities inadvertently deleted surveillance video of the area outside the Manhattan jail cell of accused child sex trafficker Jeffrey Epstein during his first suicide attempt.
The disclosure was made in a letter to U.S. District Judge Kenneth Karas as part of a separate case involving Epstein's former cellmate, Nicholas Tartaglione. His attorneys claimed he had intervened in Epstein's unsuccessful suicide attempt in July.
Less than a month later, the disgraced financier was found dead, hanging from a bed-sheet at Manhattan's Metropolitan Correctional Center where he was awaiting trial.
Prosecutors told Karas authorities had mistakenly preserved video from a different part of the detention facility instead of the area where Epstein and Tartaglione were housed in July.
"As a result, video from outside the defendant’s cell ... no longer exists," the letter states. The video was not preserved on a backup system, either, prosecutors wrote.
The disclosure is likely to revive conspiracy theories suggesting Epstein was murdered to keep him from discussing his activities with a constellation of influential friends.
Last year, New York's chief medical examiner ruled the death a suicide.
The mistake raises additional questions about the operations of the federal Bureau of Prisons. In the wake of Epstein's death, two federal prison officers were charged with falsifying records for stating they checked on Epstein in the hours before he hanged himself.
Prosecutors alleged that the guards assigned to Epstein's special housing unit "browsed the Internet," lingered in an office common area and appeared to sleep for two hours when they should have conducted inmate checks.
The guards later signed logs attesting they had made their required rounds, according to court records.
No inmate checks were made from 10:30 p.m. Aug. 9 to 6:30 a.m. the following morning, when the officers discovered Epstein's body, prosecutors allege. During that time, the officers should have conducted five inmate counts in the high-security unit.
The death of such a high-profile prisoner prompted a leadership shakeup at the Bureau of Prisons. Attorney General William Barr appointed Kathleen Hawk Sawyer to lead the agency, long troubled by violence and staffing shortages.
Prison union representatives continue to warn that understaffing and frequent mandatory overtime shifts have taken their toll on officers and compromised security at the Manhattan facility.
At the time of Epstein's suicide, there were more than 30 staff vacancies at the facility, according to staffing logs. Civilian staffers were regularly assigned to work guard duty to plug unfilled officer positions.
Ten of the 18 staffers who reported for duty on the midnight-to-8 a.m. shift, the one on which Epstein was found dead, were working overtime, according to federal prison records. On the previous shift, 4 p.m. to midnight, six of the 20 staffers were working overtime.