By Brendan Pierson
NEWYORK (Reuters) – Two correctional officers accused of covering up their failure to check on financier Jeffrey Epstein before he hanged himself will face an April 20 trial date.
U.S. District Judge Analisa Torres scheduled the trial for Tova Noel and Michael Thomas at a hearing in Manhattan federal court on Monday. Both defendants have pleaded not guilty.
Epstein’s suicide on Aug. 10, at age 66, came a little over a month after the well-connected money manager was arrested and charged with trafficking dozens of underage girls as young as 14 from at least 2002 to 2005. He had pleaded not guilty.
Prosecutors say that Noel and Thomas, the only correctional officers on duty in Epstein’s unit the night before he was found dead, failed to carry out checks on Epstein and falsely recorded that they had.
Epstein had been taken off suicide watch shortly before his death.
Thomas’s lawyer, Montel Figgins, said at Monday’s hearing that he would seek more information about the U.S. Department of Justice’s ongoing internal investigation into the circumstances surrounding Epstein’s death, saying that problems throughout the prison system could be important to the case.
After the hearing, he told reporters his client was a scapegoat.
“There’s only two people charged, but for this to happen, the whole system had to fail,” he said.
Jason Foy, a lawyer for Noel, declined to speak to reporters outside the courtroom.
Noel, 31, was charged with five counts of falsifying records, while Thomas, 41, was charged with three counts. Both were charged with conspiracy.
Epstein’s friends once included U.S. President Donald Trump, former President Bill Clinton and Britain’s Prince Andrew. He previously avoided federal prosecution for sex crimes in a 2007 plea deal that has been widely criticized as too lenient.
His $577 million estate is now the target of civil lawsuits by more than a dozen women who say he sexually abused them in his homes in New York, Florida and elsewhere.
(Reporting By Brendan Pierson in New York; Editing by Noeleen Walder and Steve Orlofsky)