The day after he was taken off suicide watch, disgraced financier Jeffrey Epstein spent at least two hours locked up alone with a young woman, in a private room reserved for inmates and their attorneys, according to an attorney who was visiting the prison that day.
“The optics were startling. Because she was young. And pretty,” said the visiting attorney, who asked that his name not be used because he didn’t want to anger the prison administration. NBC News has reported that Epstein paid his lawyers to sit with him in a room for eight hours a day for attorney-client meetings, allowing him to avoid his cell.
The visiting attorney went to the Manhattan Correctional Center on July 30, a day after Epstein was reportedly taken off suicide watch and transferred into the Special Housing Unit (SHU). During the hours the visiting attorney was present, it wasn’t Epstein’s main lawyer, Reid Weingarten, or other named attorneys who visited him.
“If I was him, I would have hired… an old bald guy,” said the lawyer, who said the young woman was in there with Epstein for at least two hours when he was there. He also pointed out that the room is locked when prisoners go in, after their handcuffs are removed, and unlocked only when prisoners leave and handcuffs are put back on.
Weingarten and other attorneys representing Epstein have not responded to requests for comment by Forbes.
Epstein’s daily occupation of the room in the SHU was a sore point for attorneys trying to visit their clients. Instead of waiting 15 minutes for a room, the wait could stretch for two hours, as it was that day. “They wouldn’t move anybody until he got where he was going, which is what they used to do with El Chapo, too,” the visiting attorney said. There are 12 attorney visiting rooms at MCC, but only two are for attorneys visiting SHU clients. That means Epstein was monopolizing a scarce resource.
It was unusual because “you meet with your lawyers as needed,” the attorney said. He added that it would be difficult for any other lawyer to monopolize an interview room every day if the lawyer didn’t have eight hours of work to do with a client. And in the visiting attorney’s experience, based on the early stages of Epstein’s case, he definitely wouldn’t need that much time every day with his lawyers. MCC has not returned calls about Epstein’s apparent access to the interview room.
David Patton, executive director of the Federal Defenders of New York, a nonprofit that provides low-cost or free legal representation for people, said that spending eight hours a day in the MCC meeting rooms is unusual, and that attorneys typically couldn’t do that. “We don’t have the ability to spend that kind of time on a single visit,” Patton said. Mostly, “the waits can be very long and aggravating.”
As for Epstein’s companion, the visiting attorney noted that she didn’t seem to have any files with her. He speculated that she could have been a first-year associate, and that she was dressed casually. “It was slacks and a blouse. … Could have been jeans or another kind of pants,” he said. “But, like, Sunday brunch attire.”
The visiting attorney said the treatment reminded him of Epstein’s lifestyle in Florida when he served 13 months on a prostitution charge in a much-criticized plea deal with federal prosecutors. Then, Epstein would leave jail and go to his office on a work release program for up to 12 hours a day, six days a week. “It sounded to me like a replay of the Florida thing where he got to go to the office … and sit around rather than sit in the cell,” he said.
Using the interview room for so many hours would have a big impact on attorneys waiting to meet their clients, and a big impact on taxpayers, according to Patton. “Eighty percent of all federal defendants are represented by my office, or assigned private attorneys who are paid statutory amounts, and they are sitting there [waiting]. That’s just taxpayers dollars ticking off the clock.”
It’s understandable why Epstein would want to avoid his cell. Conditions inside MCC are legendarily bad—”miserable,” according to Patton—and Epstein had complained about rodents and bad food, according to multiple reports. At least the SHU meeting room would get him out of his cell. But the 1970s-era facility left a lot to be desired by both inmates and attorneys. Patton said the MCC isn’t as bad as more violent lockups, like Rikers Island. “But it’s one of the worst in different respects: Incredibly cramped—the only ‘outdoor’ recreation is on the rooftop under heavy fencing,” he said.
As for the SHU, where Epstein was kept, Patton said the conditions are even harsher. Inmates are housed in their cells 23 hours a day, and there’s only a tiny window letting in a sliver of natural light. “It’s a forbidding physical place to spend time. And it doesn’t certainly help in terms of mental health, or people improving their disposition, or getting them prepared to eventually reenter society and be more productive than when they went in,” he said.
Which is why any inmate would likely prefer to sit in a private room. Epstein, though, could afford to pay lawyers to sit there with him. As for the woman he saw sitting with Epstein, the attorney said, “I think she was there just to babysit him, and keep him out of his cell, and just keep him company for eight hours a day. Which is not supposed to be the way it works.”