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Search for gun at NYC jail where Epstein died uncovered ‘ton of contraband’

Among the finds were cell phones, opioids, marijuana, synthetic weed and homemade weapons; the gun was not found during the search

Stephen Rex Brown
New York Daily News

MANHATTAN, N.Y. — Staffers responding to an alarming tip that a gun had been smuggled into the jail where Jeffrey Epstein hanged himself searched the facility and uncovered “a ton of contraband,” a source said on the sixth day of lockdown.

The new details about the reasons for the ban on attorney and family visits at the hellish Metropolitan Correctional Center emerged Tuesday, along with disturbing accounts of inmates being confined to their cells around the clock, denied showers and served only cold food.

Administrators of Manhattan Federal Court, meanwhile, scrambled to accommodate a small number of inmates whose need to visit with attorneys was deemed high-priority. New York Reps. Nydia Velazquez and Jerrold Nadler wrote a letter to the correctional center warden “to express grave concern” and demanding answers.

One source said the lockdown was due to an inmate’s claim that a correctional officer smuggled the gun into the jail. But Tyrone Covington, the president of Council of Prisons Local 3148, said that the tip did not specify how the gun got into the jail.

Jail staff “started shaking down the entire institution” after the tip came in on Thursday, the source said. Employees from other Bureau of Prisons facilities were brought in to help with the search of the 12-story jail in lower Manhattan that holds more than 700 inmates.

“They found a ton of contraband,” the source said. Among the finds were cell phones, opioids, marijuana, synthetic weed and homemade weapons, a second source said.

“They have recovered a lot of contraband in the facility,” said Covington, who declined to go into detail about what staffers found.

“Unfortunately it’s not surprising in this day and age. It’s something the federal prison system is plagued with.”

The gun, if it is in the jail, has still not been found.

“The contraband you’re describing is a constant presence at the MCC and just about any other jail. It’s certainly an important issue, but it’s no excuse for a total shutdown for six days,” said David Patton, attorney in chief of the Federal Defenders of New York. “If that were a valid excuse, the jail would never be open.”

He shared accounts from a few inmates selected for visits with attorneys at the courthouse, rather than at the jail.

“He said they’d been locked in their cells 24 hours per day since Thursday. No showers. No calls. No email. Cold food through the door. He also said it was cold in the cells at night,” one inmate told his lawyer, according to Patton.

Covington said it wasn’t true that inmates were being denied showers and hot meals. The lockdown had forced staff to take on new responsibilities, and Covington had helped cook a hot meal of pork, rice and corn for inmates earlier in the day, he said.

It was unclear when the lockdown would be lifted. A correctional officer told attorney Jenna Dabbs of Kaplan Hecker & Fink on Monday that “it’s going to be a while,” according to a letter she filed in the 2nd Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals.

“MCC has not communicated any timetable for reopening the facility,” Nadler (D-Manhattan, Brooklyn) and Velazquez (Brooklyn, Queens, Manhattan) wrote.

Chief Judge Colleen McMahon had made special accommodations for five inmates to have legal visits in the courthouse, but that was insufficient, the Federal Defenders said. They argued that hundreds of inmates’ constitutional right to an attorney and a fair, speedy trial were being violated by the lockdown.

“Given that there are approximately 700 inmates at the MCC, allowing five legal visits per day, and without the ability to review discovery, is hardly a solution to the acute Sixth Amendment harms occurring with each passing day,” Dabbs wrote.