NEW YORK – A hulking ex-cop facing the death penalty on federal murder and drug charges was reportedly Jeffrey Epstein’s cellmate at Manhattan’s Metropolitan Correctional Center — but an official says Epstein feared the former police officer, who was questioned after the disgraced financier’s apparent suicide attempt last month and who was transferred out of Epstein’s cell shortly before the 66-year-old died early Saturday.
Nicholas Tartaglione, who’d been a Briarcliffe Manor cop in Westchester County, N.Y., was charged in 2016 with the deaths of four men stemming from an alleged cocaine drug conspiracy. The 51-year-old was reportedly housed at the MCC federal lockup with Epstein after the accused sex trafficker’s July arrest.
Tartaglione was transferred out of Epstein’s cell in the facility’s Special Housing Unit — a heavily secured part of the MCC that separates high-profile inmates from the general population — at some point before Epstein’s death, The Washington Post reported. It was not clear why Tartaglione was transferred, or precisely when. The most recent inmate assigned to Epstein’s cell was transferred on Friday, just hours before his death, but it wasn’t immediately known if that inmate was Tartaglione.
Nevertheless, multiple reports suggest apparent friction between Epstein and Tartaglione in the short time the two men lived together, Fox News reported.
A little more than two weeks before his death, Epstein was placed on suicide watch and required to have daily psychiatric evaluations after being discovered in his cell semi-conscious with bruising on his neck. At the end of July, after a week of the evaluations, Epstein was reportedly taken off suicide watch.
Though a suicide attempt was suspected of causing the injuries, sources at the time told WNBC that authorities hadn’t ruled out an assault on Epstein, and an inmate, identified as Tartaglione, was questioned about the incident.
However, Tartaglione reportedly told officials he didn’t see anything related to the apparent suicide attempt and maintained he didn’t touch Epstein.
Bruce Barket, an attorney for the ex-cop, said the two men were “in the same unit and doing well.” Moreover, he said rumors that Tartaglione attacked Epstein are “absolutely not true.”
“Any suggestion that Mr. Tartaglione assaulted anyone is a complete fabrication,” Barket said in a statement, according to the Journal News. “This story is being leaked to retaliate against Mr. Tartaglione for complaining to the court about the deplorable conditions at the MCC.”
Barket suggested someone “trying to embarrass Epstein and cast some shade on Nick” may have leaked the allegations about his client
But regardless of the reason, Epstein indeed might have been trying to get away from Tartaglione, E.O. Young, the national president of the Council of Prison Locals C-33, told the Post.
Tartaglione is awaiting trial after investigators said he was involved in the kidnapping and killing of four men in 2016. In February 2018, while being held at MCC, Tartaglione himself was assaulted, the Journal News reported.
In the 2018 attack, Barket said the hulking ex-cop required reconstructive surgery after an eye socket bone was fractured. The attorney said at the time that, in the Special Housing Unit at MCC, where Epstein later was also housed, Tartaglione was “quite literally in a box staring at walls…Not surprisingly his mental health has declined.”
Federal prosecutors reportedly plan to seek the death penalty against Tartaglione.
Another behemoth strongman and former NYPD cop, Gerald Benderoth, 48, committed suicide in front of FBI agents in March 2017 as they were about to arrest him as part of the quadruple homicide and cocaine conspiracy tied to Tartaglione, reported The New York Post.
“If this guy put a bullet in his head rather than go and talk to them, he must have been in deep,” a law enforcement source told The Post at the time.
Epstein was being held on child sex trafficking and conspiracy charges after his July arrest. He was denied bail. Prosecutors said he sexually abused dozens of young girls in his New York and Florida residences between 2002 and 2005. Epstein pleaded not guilty and faced up to 45 years in prison if convicted.
Famous, high-profile and notorious prisoners — as well as those accused of sex crimes against children — are often given extra protection against attacks from other prisoners. But it was not immediately clear what specific precautions, if any, were taken in Epstein’s case.