Two prison officers who were assigned to guard Jeffrey Epstein on the night he was found dead in his cell of an apparent suicide have been indicted on criminal charges, federal prosecutors in New York announced Tuesday.

Authorities have charged Michael Thomas and Tova Noel with making false records and conspiracy. The two worked as prison guards at the Metropolitan Correctional Center, a federal jail in Manhattan that's mostly used for defendants awaiting trial.

Prosecutors say Thomas and Noel neglected to check on Epstein every half-hour, as they were required to, then falsified prison logs to make it appear as if they were keeping an eye on him.

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

According to the indictment, Thomas and Noel "sat at their desks, browsed the Internet, and moved around the common area" of the prison instead of monitoring Epstein in his cell in the Special Housing Unit.

Epstein, 66, the wealthy financier who faced sex-trafficking charges at the time of his death, was awaiting trial in a case that, if he was convicted, could have resulted in a decades-long prison sentence.

The New York City medical examiner said in August that an autopsy showed that Epstein had hung himself in his cell, a conclusion that has been rejected by both conspiracy theorists and members of Epstein's own family, who have claimed his death was a homicide and hired a private forensic pathologist to probe the incident.

There were warning signs that Epstein was a high-risk inmate. In July, guards found Epstein unconscious and with bruises on his neck. After that, Epstein was placed on suicide watch for about a week but then was taken off and returned to special detention unit where inmates receive extra supervision, including being checked in on once every 30 minutes. Less than two weeks later, Epstein was found dead.

Before his death, Epstein had pleaded not guilty in a case in which authorities said he "enticed and recruited" young girls to visit his mansion in Manhattan and his estate in Palm Beach in order to sexually abuse them.

Prosecutors said he paid the girls hundreds of dollars in cash for their silence and coaxed them into finding him other victims. The girls, as young as 14 years old, were brought to his properties ostensibly to provide Epstein massages, but he would escalate the encounters by making unwanted physical contact that would ultimately end in sexual abuse, prosecutors wrote in a federal indictment filed in July that involved allegations stretching back to the early 2000s.

Attorney General Bill Barr said shortly after Epstein's death that he was "appalled" that such a high-profile defendant was not properly guarded in a federal facility. Barr said the Justice Department, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and other authorities have launched inquiries to get to the bottom of what led to Epstein's dying in a jail cell.

The union that represents Federal Bureau of Prisons officials has said that since the facility Epstein was housed in was not operating with a full staff, officers like the two charged on Tuesday had to work mandatory overtime. Some correctional officers, the union said, work up to 80 hours a week.

"Years of severe staff shortages, mandatory overtime, and a serious lack of resources created this unfortunate situation," said Eric Young, the president of the prison workers' union.

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