Jeffrey Epstein Conspiracy Theories Are Nonsense, And Here’s Why

Michael Levin
4 min readAug 18, 2019


Everybody is going crazy with conspiracy theories about how Jeffrey Epstein was permitted to commit suicide in his jail cell in New York last week.

Who was responsible? Was it the Trumps? The Clintons? And what about his mysterious ex-girlfriend Ghislaine Maxwell?

It’s not surprising that the case has attracted so much attention, operating as it does at the intersection of sex, money, celebrity, and crime.

But I’m here to tell you that all of the conspiracy theories regarding Epstein’s death are complete nonsense, and here’s why.

When I was at Columbia Law School in the early 1980s, I became friends with a New York City criminal court judge.

Since the story I’m about to tell is still very painful to him, I won’t use his name or the name of the defendant.

One day after classes, I went to visit my friend, whom we’ll call Judge Smith, in his courtroom.

He had been hearing the case of a young Dominican defendant charged with selling drugs.

Judge Smith noted that the defendant, whom we will call Castillo, was slender and even effeminate in appearance.

He feared if Castillo were placed in the general population at the Rikers Island jail, he would become the victim of a sexual assault.

So he ordered a suicide watch for Castillo, similar to the order initially placed on Jeffrey Epstein at the Manhattan Correctional Center, or MCC.

In Castillo’s case, the officials at Rikers Island denied the suicide watch and stuck him in general population.

Sure enough, Castillo was back in court, with his attorneys, a few days later — the day I went to visit –arguing that he had been sexually assaulted.

Judge Smith went ballistic. That night, he did the unthinkable for a judge.

He got a car and he went to Rikers Island, a city-operation jail complex on a small spit of land just beyond LaGuardia Airport.

The judge went bananas on the jail officials and demanded to know why his suicide watch order had been brushed aside.

He didn’t get a satisfactory answer, and the story made the newspapers.

The judge announced that if he didn’t get satisfaction from the jail system, he would let Castillo go.

Word filtered back to the judge that if he released Castillo, his own career would be in jeopardy.

Or to quote the classic film Network, “You are meddling with the forces of nature, Mr. Beale.”

I came back to the courtroom and watched Richard Emery, a compelling attorney with the New York Civil Liberties Union, argue eloquently on Castillo’ behalf.

Emery made the case that being subjected to sexual assault far outweighed the crime of which Castillo had been accused.

I remember walking with Judge Smith back to his chambers after the hearing.

“I’m going to get in trouble with the system,” he said, shaking his head, “because I picked a public fight with the jail commissioner, but I’ve got to let the guy go.”

And he did.

Judgment was swift — within weeks, Judge Smith was transferred — exiled, really — to a truly crappy courtroom in the Bronx.

The courtyard was located near Yankee Stadium, and back in the early 1980s, that was the last place on earth you wanted to be, especially after dark.

The judge was given the most unpleasant and low-level cases to decide.

It was true punishment, and two years passed before Judge Smith was returned to Manhattan.

He put in a few more years behind the bench, and then, disgusted with a system that had punished him for doing what he thought was the right thing, gave up his robes and entered private practice.

I mention all of this because we all seem to have this idea that the prison system runs like a top.


It’s coming out that the MCC, where Epstein was held, is radically understaffed, that employees have to work double shifts day after day or risk losing their jobs, and that other routine orders and procedures are routinely ignored.

So that’s why I say, put away your conspiracy theories.

The simplest answer is usually the correct answer.

The prison system is a mess.

I’ve seen this first-hand dozens of times, because I go into jails and prisons in a variety of states, over the years to do counseling work for inmates.

The guards I’ve encountered are uniformly hardworking, decent people.

But they just don’t have the management, budget or in some cases the tools to do their job properly.

Jeffery Epstein had all the time in the world how to figure out how to kill himself.

He didn’t need any help from the Trumps or the Clintons or anyone else in Fantasyland.

The system broke down, because that’s what that system does.

The real lesson of the Jeffrey Epstein suicide is that the government isn’t always as good as we wish it were at the tasks we assign it.

It’s not just prisons and jails. It’s mass transit, it’s the railroads, it’s a whole lot of things.

Of course, some people think that the government should also manage healthcare, in addition to everything else it does.

As you can imagine, I’m not one of those people. Let’s see if the government can first handle prisons and jails, mass transit, and other current obligations before we burden it with anything else.



Michael Levin

New York Times bestselling author, Michael has written, planned or edited more than 700 business books, business fables, and memoirs over the past 25 years.