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Guards slept, surfed net when Epstein died

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This March 28, 2017, file photo, provided by the New York State Sex Offender Registry, shows Jeffrey Epstein. (New York State Sex Offender Registry via AP, File)

Two prison officers responsible for guarding Jeffrey Epstein on the night he killed himself have been charged with falsifying prison records.

A grand jury indictment made public in New York on Tuesday accused guards Tova Noel and Michael Thomas of failing to perform checks on Epstein every half hour, as required, and of fabricating log entries to show they had.

Prosecutors allege that instead of making their required rounds, the two guards sat at their desks, browsed the internet and walked around the unit's common area.

During one two-hour period, the indictment said, both appeared to have been asleep.

The charges against the officers are the first in connection with the wealthy financier's death in August at the Metropolitan Correctional Centre in New York, where he had been awaiting trial on sex trafficking charges.

The city's medical examiner ruled Epstein's death a suicide. Prosecutors said surveillance cameras confirmed that no one else entered the area in which he was housed.

"As alleged, the defendants had a duty to ensure the safety and security of federal inmates in their care at the Metropolitan Correctional Centre.

"Instead, they repeatedly failed to conduct mandated checks on inmates, and lied on official forms to hide their dereliction," US Attorney Geoffrey S. Berman said.

A lawyer for Thomas, Montell Figgins, said both guards are being "scapegoated".

"We feel this a rush to judgment by the US Attorney's office," he said. "They're going after the low man on the totem pole here."

Both correctional officers were in federal custody pending an expected court appearance.

Noel's lawyer did not immediately return a phone message.

© AP 2019