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Guards at Jeffrey Epstein’s jail mistakenly let another inmate go free; blunder came just days before accused perv’s suicide

2019-08-15

Michael Matthews (inset) was mistakenly released from Manhattan Correctional Center (main) on Aug. 7. (Luiz C. Ribeiro/for New York Daily News)

The call that serial bank robber Michael Matthews wasn’t expecting came on Aug. 7 as he sat in his cell at Metropolitan Correctional Center — the same facility where accused pedophile Jeffrey Epstein was awaiting trial on charges of sexually abusing teenage girls.

Come down to my office, the counselor told Matthews, his family said. Once there, the career crook – whose robbery rap sheet goes back a quarter of a century – was handed a single-fare MetroCard and paperwork for him to sign off on his release.

Matthews, 58, who had served about eight years of a nine-year sentence on multiple bank robbery charges, didn’t ask questions – and MCC jail staff didn’t realize they just made a big mistake.

The seasoned convict had been in arrested in January after failing to report to a Brooklyn halfway house in September 2018, where he was sent to finish out his sentence, Brooklyn Federal Court documents show. He was also hit with charges for allegedly committing three more bank robberies while on the lam, prosecutors said — meaning he should never have walked out of MCC a free man.

A letter from Dora L. Irizarry from the United States District Court Eastern District of New York admitting that Michael matthews was mistakenly released from the Metropolitan Correction Center (MCC), where he was incarcerated pursuant to a permanent order of detention and was awaiting sentencing.
A letter from Dora L. Irizarry from the United States District Court Eastern District of New York admitting that Michael matthews was mistakenly released from the Metropolitan Correction Center (MCC), where he was incarcerated pursuant to a permanent order of detention and was awaiting sentencing. (United States District Court Eastern District of New York)

“The government is currently seeking additional information about the circumstances prompting the defendant’s pre-sentencing release, and sets forth below those facts that the government has confirmed to date,” reads an Aug. 13 letter from prosecutors to Judge Dora L. Irizarry regarding the events that led to the mishap.

The embarrassing blunder came just days before Epstein, 66, hanged himself in his MCC cell — and officials admitted he was taken off suicide watch by guards despite suspicions he’d already once tried to end his life in jail as the criminal case against him heated up.

Lawmakers launched furious demands for an investigation as conspiracy theories about his shocking demise flooded social media. Officials put two MCC staffers on leave and transferred the warden overseeing the high-profile inmate, amid reports that guards slept on the job and then falsified log entries to make it seem like they were frequently checking on inmates — raising the question of what else may have been bungled behind jail walls.

Michael Matthews was mistakenly released from Manhattan Correctional Center Aug. 7. His release date was still listed as Aug. 7, 2019 on bop.gov as of Tuesday.
Michael Matthews was mistakenly released from Manhattan Correctional Center Aug. 7. His release date was still listed as Aug. 7, 2019 on bop.gov as of Tuesday.

According to prosecutors’ Aug. 13 letter, Matthews was released from the Federal Correctional Institution in Fairton, N.J., in September 2018 and transferred to a residential reentry center in Brooklyn to complete his nine-year prison term. He never showed up at the halfway house, becoming an “escapee,” the letter said. He then robbed three banks the next month, officials said. Authorities picked him up Jan. 15.

On May 2, Matthews pleaded guilty to two of the bank robberies. He was in MCC waiting to be sentenced Sept. 20 when officials there erroneously let him go.

Matthews’s sister, Susan Matthews, told the Daily News she was stunned to learn her brother was facing new charges.

“I didn’t know anything about this,” said Susan, 60, of Middle Village, Queens. “I thought he did everything he was supposed to do. I can’t believe it.”

The Metropolitan Correctional Center in lower Manhattan is pictured on Monday.
The Metropolitan Correctional Center in lower Manhattan is pictured on Monday. (Luiz C. Ribeiro/for New York Daily News)

Matthews’s attorney, Mildred Whalen, of Brooklyn Federal Defenders, said her client didn’t try to run when told the bad news.

“When we advised him that the release was in error, he agreed to surrender and did so,” Whalen said. “Mr. Matthews is facing a significant new sentence, and I believe his surrender demonstrates his remorse for his offense and his commitment to rehabilitation. He showed a great deal of courage and responsibility in his decision.”

The Bureau of Prisons, which oversees MCC, didn’t respond to multiple requests for comment from The News about Matthews’ mix-up. As of this week, the agency’s inmate-lookup system still listed him as being released Aug. 7.

The Metropolitan Correctional Center has been scrutinized for a number of problems within the last week.
The Metropolitan Correctional Center has been scrutinized for a number of problems within the last week. (Luiz C. Ribeiro/for New York Daily News)

On the day of his mistaken release, Susan said she received an excited phone call from her brother just moments after he stepped out of MCC.

“You’re not going to believe this, but they let me out. I guess I did my time,” he told her last week.

His family had gleefully embraced his early release, feasting on Chinese takeout the first night of his homecoming at a relative’s place in Astoria. On Aug. 8, the family played flag football and had a picnic to serve Matthews one of his favorite meals: a ham-and-cheese sandwich with lettuce, tomato and mayonnaise. His 24-year old son and 18-year-old daughter – who abandoned her summer vacation in the Poconos when she heard of her father’s return – also spent time with their dad.

Then on Aug. 9, after a shrimp and baked potato lunch at a Long Horn Steakhouse, Matthews called his lawyer to find out his next step.

“He called his lawyer that Friday because he was told he had to report to his parole officer within 72 hours (of his release),” Susan said. “She said to him, ‘What? What do you mean report to your parole officer? Where are you?’ He said, ‘They released me.’ [His lawyer] said, ‘No, they didn’t. They made a mistake — a big mistake.’”

“He was hysterical crying, we were hysterical crying,” she said. “I don’t understand how this could even happen. I don’t know what’s going on in that facility.”