Manhattan MCC, Where Jeffrey Epstein Died, Such A Sh*thole, Even John Gotti Complained

John Gotti was only “invited to the roof of the MCC at 7:45 a.m. in freezing temperatures and in snow." —Bruce Cutler

Jeffrey Epstein—the billionaire sex-trafficking pedophile who magically metamorphosed into the most reviled/wanted man in America after he was arrested, although his crimes were laid bare for years -- hung himself at Manhattan’s Metropolitan Correctional Center (MCC).

Jeffrey Epstein mugshot
 Jeffrey Epstein's last mugshot.

The very notion that the most high-profile inmate in modern American history could hang himself while in federal custody is patently ludicrous. That he could do it only weeks after an earlier, failed attempt truly carries us off the map. The conspiracy theories surfacing in this case almost seem warranted, and not just regarding Epstein's suicide.

Epstein was charged with sex trafficking in July and was at the MCC awaiting trial. (An investigation into his crimes continues to break news.) If found guilty, he faced up to 45 years in federal prison. Epstein had been on suicide watch after being found unconscious with marks on his neck in late July, not long after he learned that the judge had denied him parole. He was removed from suicide watch on July 29 and returned to the special housing unit, a segregated area of the prison with extra security. Epstein hanged himself and was found at around 6:30 a.m. Saturday, August 10. An MCC official said that guards failed to check on him every 30 minutes, as protocol requires, and only one of Epstein’s two guards was actually a trained correctional officer.

Epstein’s self-destruction could not have REMOTELY surprised anyone who knows anything about the MCC, which for decades, has been uniquely decried for its filthy, horrendous conditions—which include vermin infestations, substandard medical care, violence, and abuse by guards. Not only the inmates and their attorneys complain. A United Nations human rights expert condemned the MCC for exposing its inmates to conditions akin to torture.

The rust-colored MCC—a 12-story building in Lower Manhattan that sits beside the federal courthouses and NYPD headquarters—is a federal facility that houses drug lords, Mafia bosses, and billionaire pedophiles, though most of its 800 inmates are there because they don’t have enough scratch to meet bail or hire an attorney.

The MCC is the Southern District of New York’s trophy room, where all the prized catches are displayed, meaning they are put there before and during trial. (The MCC is a jail, not a prison) Some big-name MCC residents include former Gambino boss John Gotti, financial fraudster Bernie Madoff, drug lord Joaquin (El Chapo) Guzman, and Epstein, the latest.

The fate of Rikers Island—another notorious New York City jail that’s been widely reviled—has been debated recently, with New York’s elected leaders and the mayor calling for the jail to be closed. One plan includes shuttering Rikers and shipping its inmates to four other jails in the City.

We wonder if the MCC is one of the four....

Inmates generally go from Rikers to the MCC when their trial begins. And once they visit their new MCC digs, they want to go back to Rikers. “When we first meet (our inmate clients), they’ll ask us if there is any way they can go back to Rikers because as terrible as the conditions are there, it can be worse at the MCC,” David Patton, head of the Federal Defenders of New York, a nonprofit that represents several hundred of the MCC’s roughly 800 prisoners, told NPR in a recent interview.

At around 7 pm on December 12, 1990, more than a dozen FBI agents and NYPD detectives arrived at the Ravenite Social Club in Little Italy and arrested Gotti, underboss Frank (Frankie Lock) Locascio, consiglieri Salvatore (Sammy the Bull) Gravano, and Thomas Gambino, Carlo 's son and the captain who ran the Garment District.

The four were taken to the MCC.

FBI spokesman Joseph Valiquette would say that Gotti "appeared to be surprised" when the authorities arrived at the social club. The arrests culminated a five-year investigation that was the fourth time since 1985 that Gotti had been arrested or indicted on Federal or state charges of racketeering and assault. The key charge was that Gotti ordered the execution of Gambino boss Paul Castellano, Carlo Gambino's brother-in-law, who was gunned down outside Sparks Steakhouse an East 46th Street near Third Avenue on Dec. 16, 1985. Initially, Philip Leonetti, the admitted underboss of the crime family in Philadelphia, was hyped as being The key witness for The government. Leonetti, who became a Government informer, told prosecutors that Gotti had boasted to Philadelphia mob leaders that he had ordered Castellano's execution to gain control of the Gambino family.

At the MCC Gotti was put in isolation in a tiny, dark cell under conditions that were described as both “unconstitutional and inhuman,” as his attorneys argued.

The lawyers wouldn't have breathed a single word not approved by John Gotti.

During a hearing at the Brooklyn federal courthouse, attorneys charged that prison officials had failed to give an adequate reason for keeping the reputed mobsters segregated from other inmates in a ninth-floor block. (Gotti and his three cohorts were not present in Brooklyn court, they were at the MCC).

Gerald Shargel, who then represented Gravano, told U.S. District Court Judge I. Leo Glasser that the alleged Gambino leaders were being deprived “of basic human rights.”

The government argued that Gotti and his associates were treated no differently than any other inmate accused of such crimes, and that they had been isolated out of fear that they might intimidate other prisoners.

Shargel and Bruce Cutler -- neither would ultimately be allowed to represent anyone at the Gotti trial– also alleged that the reputed mobsters had been locked in a small cell with inadequate lighting for 23 hours a day; had been denied any access to newspapers, radio or television; had been kept away from exercise equipment -- and were only “invited to the roof of the MCC at 7:45 a.m. in freezing temperatures and in snow;” and their ability to help lawyers put together their defense was too limited, kept to one 10- minute phone call a day.

The then-Assistant U.S. Attorney, Patrick Cotter, denied any improprieties in the jailing, however, telling Glasser prison officials had every right to fear the reputed head of the Gambino crime family.

“There are hundreds of cases” involving Gambino mobsters, some involving prisoners at the MCC who might be vulnerable to intimidation, Cotter argued.

Cutler, who "won" three court victories for Gotti, was disqualified in June 1991 from representing him. In a ruling then considered stunning by the New York legal community, Cutler and two other well-known lawyers -- Gerald Shargel and John L. Pollok -- were barred from appearing for the defense in Gotti's racketeering trial in Federal District Court in Brooklyn.

The prosecution had sought the disqualifications because the lawyers appeared on secretly taped conversations that were slated for potential use as evidence about Gambino crime family operations, which could have required the three to testify in the trial. The conversations should be protected by the lawyer-client privilege, the defense argument said, but prosecutors winningly contended that the discussions, taped two floors above the Ravenite Social Club in Little Italy, went beyond typical communications between lawyers and clients. Basically, Gotti's lawyers had acted as "house counsel" for the Gambino crime family, prosecutors contended. They also noted that Gotti had referred to the lawyers on the tapes as "high-priced errand boys" and also pontificated on the need to have lawyers protect the interests of the family. ("Where does it end? The Gambino crime family? This is the Shargel-Cutler-and-who-do-you-call-it crime family.")

At a news conference, Cutler argued: "The Federal Government doesn't want a fair fight. They can't win a jury trial. So the only thing they can do is break up this team."

The disqualifications were part of a pretrial ruling that couldn't be appealed ... until after the convictions...

On April 2, 1992, Gotti and Locascio were convicted by a jury in federal court. Gravano flipped and testified, trumping Leonetti, and Gotti was hit with 13 counts, including a racketeering charge that cited five murders, and related charges of murder, conspiracy, gambling, obstruction of justice and tax fraud.The same day he was sentenced,Gotti was put aboard a plane and flown to the maximum-security federal prison in Marion, Ill.

About 10 years later John Gotti died at the federal prison hospital at Springfield, Mo., at age 61. The cause was cancer.

Mafia MCC Triva
  • In April 1988, Nino Gaggi, a former Gambino capo, died in the MCC of a heart attack; since then, many have claimed he could have lived, if only he had gotten better care. 
  • In February 2018, John (Porky) Zancocchio, alleged former Bonanno crime family consigliere, was returned to the MCC for violating his $1 million bail conditions.