NEW YORK — Before he died by suicide, Jeffrey Epstein got an early taste of hell.
The multimillionaire sex offender was extorted by inmates and ignored by staff as he became increasingly suicidal, Metropolitan Correctional Center inmates told the Daily News in exclusive interviews.
“He was saying he’s going to kill himself because the government is trying to kill him anyway,” one inmate recalled.
Shocking details about Epstein’s one-month stay behind bars in lower Manhattan were corroborated by the niece of Efrain “Stone” Reyes, who was the last inmate to share a cell with the multimillionaire sex offender.
“Epstein was very depressed and he mentioned to my uncle that he didn’t want to live anymore and my uncle was telling him, ‘Don’t do any of this while I’m in the room,’ ” Angelique Lopez told The News. “My uncle just wanted to do his time and get out.”
Staffers at the federal lockup “were treating him like crap. They were making him sleep on the floor. They wouldn’t let him sleep on a cot,” Lopez added.
Reyes wasn’t out of jail for long. He cooperated with FBI agents investigating Epstein’s suicide, was released from custody in the summer after catching coronavirus and died last month at his mother’s Bronx apartment. The cause has yet to be determined, but Lopez said Reyes suffered many health problems, including diabetes and heart trouble.
The interviews reveal that it was common knowledge inside the jail that one of the most high-profile inmates in the federal jail system was suicidal. Nevertheless, Epstein found himself alone in his cell after Reyes was transferred to another facility at 8 a.m. on Aug. 9, 2019.
The next day, Epstein was found hanging in his cell — a suicide chalked up to bureaucratic bungling and staff neglect.
Two Metropolitan Correctional Center inmates and one former incarcerated person shared details about Epstein’s hellish final days under the condition they not be identified due to fear of retribution by the Bureau of Prisons. All three were outraged by conditions at the 700-bed jail, which they said have deteriorated further since the headline-grabbing suicide highlighted longstanding budget and staff woes.
Epstein, 66, arrived at the jail terrified after his arrest July 6, 2019. He’d just returned from Paris, where he had a luxury apartment near the Arc de Triomphe. The multimillionaire who’d palled around with the rich and powerful had a new home: a jail known for mold, rodents and cockroaches. A judge denied Epstein’s bid for bail, raising the prospect of him spending the rest of his life behind bars.
“If your information is correct it is horrifying that such conditions are generally tolerated in a federal prison within the shadows of the federal courthouse, the U.S. attorney’s office and the FBI,” Epstein attorney Reid Weingarten said.
Old, rich and awaiting trial for the worst crime in jail culture — sex trafficking of minors — Epstein was in the crosshairs of inmates eager to lighten his wallet or rough him up, inmates said. He paid around $4,000 to inmates for contraband cellphones, some of which were never provided, the sources told The News.
“A normal inmate will come in there and they automatically assume you have money because you’ve just been arrested. They’re trying to sell you everything — phones, electronics, a better cell,” the former inmate said. “When he got in there everyone was fighting over who would get him. … He was getting ripped off left and right.”
A former inmate added that Epstein paid for protection.
“He was giving thousands of dollars. Wiring it Western Union to inmates’ families, or just meeting family outside the jail to pay,” the ex-inmate said.
Jack Donson, a retired Bureau of Prisons employee now working as a correctional consultant, said extortion and protection rackets are common in prison culture.
“It’s not this thing where Epstein is being singled out — this goes on everywhere,” he said.
After four days, Epstein was moved to the Special Housing Unit, separated from the general population. His cellmate during that period was Nick Tartaglione, a former Briarcliff Manor, Westchester County, cop facing the death penalty on charges of killing four men in a botched drug deal involving a Mexican cartel.
An inmate said he heard Tartaglione tell Epstein not to kill himself in his presence.
“Listen, don’t do that (expletive) in here. I’m going to legal, do it on your own,” the inmate heard Tartaglione tell Epstein. “Legal” refers to visits with lawyers in private rooms at the jail.
On July 23, Epstein attempted to hang himself using a strip of bedsheet. Tartaglione alerted correctional officers and possibly saved Epstein’s life — a claim that prosecutors did not dispute.
Shortly after the episode, Tartaglione was stunned to receive word of Epstein’s gratitude, inmates said. The shady multimillionaire financier wanted to do Tartaglione a big favor.
“Nick comes back: ‘Holy (expletive) this guy Epstein told me he read my whole indictment. Told me thank you for saving his life, he’s going to add me to his will now for $2 million,” the inmate said.
There’s no evidence Epstein made such a deal. An attorney for Epstein and his estate did not respond to an inquiry. Bruce Barket, a lawyer for Tartaglione, said it was “preposterous” to think his client was in Epstein’s will.
“I don’t have any idea what Epstein was telling people to make sure he felt safe,” Barket said. “I can’t speak to what Nick said or didn’t say to some inmate. But I have no indication at all Nick’s in this guy’s will. Zero. I would be stunned beyond all imagination if it were true.”
An inmate in the unit where Epstein was held said he never put his face to the window of his door to chat with other inmates.
Epstein hanged himself less than 24 hours after Reyes was transferred to a Queens jail for cooperating witnesses. Jail administrators failed to follow directions from Metropolitan Correctional Center psychological staff that the accused sex trafficker have a cellmate.