WASHINGTON — The warden who ran the beleaguered federal jail when disgraced financier Jeffrey Epstein killed himself has been put in charge of another prison despite an ongoing federal investigation and in direct contradiction of a public pronouncement from the Bureau of Prisons that it would delay any move until the inquiry was finished.
Lamine N’Diaye was placed into the position of acting warden at FCI Fort Dix, a low-security prison in Burlington County, New Jersey, earlier this month, according to four people familiar with the matter. They were not authorized to discuss the matter publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.
The bureau had attempted to place N’Diaye in the job at Fort Dix about a year ago, but the move was stopped by then-Attorney General William Barr after The Associated Press reported the transfer. The bureau said at the time that it would defer any transfer until the investigations surrounding Epstein’s 2019 death had concluded.
The Justice Department’s inspector general has not completed an investigation into lapses that allowed Epstein to end his life. Officials have said they would not conclude the criminal case against two officers who were supposed to be guarding Epstein before the watchdog's review could finish. Those officers are awaiting trial on charges they lied on prison records because they were sleeping and browsing the internet instead of doing their jobs.
The department also is conducting an internal review into the circumstances that led to Epstein’s death, including why he wasn’t given a cellmate.
The bureau refused to answer questions about why it was once again transferring N’Diaye despite the continuing investigation, whether senior agency officials had sought approval from the top levels of the Justice Department or who authorized the transfer.
The warden's reassignment points to further dysfunction inside an agency already under fire on a number of fronts: chronic violence and staffing issues at its facilities, the high-profile deaths of Epstein and Whitey Bulger, a coronavirus outbreak at federal prisons that sickened thousands of inmates and led to 220 inmate deaths, and an unprecedented number of executions in the span of just a few months after a 17-year hiatus.
Barr ordered N’Diaye be reassigned to a desk post at the bureau's regional office in Pennsylvania after Epstein’s death as the FBI and the inspector general investigated. Epstein took his own life in August 2019 at the Metropolitan Correctional Center in New York City while awaiting trial on charges he sexually abused girls as young as 14 and young women in New York and Florida in the early 2000s.
His suicide cast a spotlight on the federal prison agency, which has been plagued for years by a staffing shortage and violence, and on safety lapses inside one of the most secure jails in America. In recent months, the bureau has struggled to address the exploding number of coronavirus cases amid criticism that it didn’t do enough to stop the spread of the virus.
N’Diaye is being placed at a prison where more than 61% of the inmates have tested positive for the virus. As of Monday, the bureau said 1,610 of them had recovered. Thirty-six staff members at the prison also have current positive test results for the virus and one inmate died.
Shortly before N’Diaye’s move, the former warden at Fort Dix was reassigned to the agency’s regional office weeks after members of Congress from New Jersey raised questions about the number of coronavirus cases at the prison and concerns about the transfer of federal inmates. The letter, signed by Democratic Sens. Robert Menendez and Cory Booker and 10 House Democrats, said it was “clear that BOP does not have an effective plan to ensure COVID-19 positive incarcerated individuals are not transferred between facilities.”
Last month, the agency named Eric Williams as the interim warden at the Metropolitan Correctional Center — the jail where Epstein died — after he served in at least five federal executions at the end of the Trump administration. The prior warden, Marti Licon-Vitale, abruptly stepped down after a yearlong tenure marred by the rampant spread of the coronavirus, inmates’ complaints about squalid conditions, a gun smuggled into the jail and at least one inmate’s death.
Sisak reported from New York.
Michael Balsamo And Michael R. Sisak, The Associated Press