Jeffrey Epstein’s former business partner and alleged accomplice in trafficking and sexually abusing girls, Jean-Luc Brunel, was found dead Saturday in his French jail cell, according to French authorities.
The death of Brunel, once a fixture in Miami Beach’s modeling industry, resembles Epstein’s death by hanging in a New York prison cell in August 2019 that was ruled a suicide. The two men once collaborated in forming a local modeling agency, MC2, that some models said was a pretext for luring girls and young women into Epstein’s orbit.
Brunel, 76, had been arrested in December 2020 and was under investigation on rape and sex trafficking charges.
And just like Epstein, Brunel had also attempted suicide earlier, the Herald and the French daily newspaper 20 Minutes have learned.
Jailed since his 2020 arrest, Jean-Luc Brunel had tried to kill himself several times, according to a source with direct knowledge of the matter who spoke on condition of anonymity. One of Brunel’s, lawyers, Mathias Chichportich, confirmed to the Herald and 20 Minutes that his client committed “several suicide attempts“ over 14 months.
Yet, the modeling agent was not under active suicide watch, known in France as “emergency protection.” These types of cells, with rounded corners, paper clothes and tearable bed sheets, are very rare and only meant to be used for an “imminent risk” for up to 24 hours, until an inmate can be transferred to a psychiatric facility.
Brunel was, however, held in the “vulnerable people area,” nicknamed “VIP quarters,” for people deemed at risk of facing violence, which is common for sexual assault charges or famous detainees. In these areas, guards generally check on inmates four to six times per night.
After a new appeal from his lawyers, Brunel was briefly released following a suicide attempt last Christmas.
“The custody judge ruled his detention was no longer justified given the status of the prosecution,” said Chichportich.
But the decision was overruled, and Brunel went back to jail a few days later.
Prosecutors in Paris confirmed Brunel was found hanging in his cell in La Sante, in south Paris, in the early hours of Saturday morning.
“I can confirm that Mr. Brunel was discovered at 1:30 a.m. last night dead in his cell. He was alone in the cell. According to the first findings, it is a suicide by hanging. An investigation in search of the causes of death is however opened,” said Antoine Pesme, a spokesperson for the Paris public prosecutor’s office.
British and French media reported that no cameras recorded the alleged suicide at the jail, one of the toughest facilities in France, which has both high security and VIP wings that have housed some of the country’s most infamous prisoners.
Brunel’s death also comes as a judge in New York is weighing the release and unsealing of documents that could shed more light on Epstein’s trafficking operation and who was involved. Several people, labeled as “John Does,” have been fighting for years to keep their names redacted from the documents.
Brunel was being held for investigation into allegations that he and others sexually abused and trafficked young women in France over several decades. He was considered a key part of the case, and had reportedly been cooperating with authorities. He had also been speaking to U.S. authorities.
“It almost seems like the entire ring of people who were doing this that their conscience is getting the better of them now that they are being held accountable for their actions,” said Spencer Kuvin, an attorney who has represented several of Epstein’s victims. “Of course, the alternative conspiracy theory is that it’s like someone is trying to clean up shop.”
Since Brunel’s arrest, many women came forward to French authorities to report abuse, including Thysia Huisman, a Dutch former model who said she was raped by Brunel as a teen.
“It makes me angry, because I’ve been fighting for years,” Huisman told the Associated Press. “For me, the end of this was to be in court. And now that whole ending — which would help form closure — is taken away from me.”
One of Epstein’s main recruiters
More than a decade ago, Epstein gave Brunel a $1 million line of credit to start the Miami Beach modeling agency MC2. Brunel, a legendary modeling scout who had worked for decades in New York and Paris, has long been rumored to have aided and participated in Epstein’s abuse of girls.
Prior to MC2, Brunel had run the New York office of the famed modeling agency Karin Models for much of the 1990s.
Brunel claimed to have an uncanny eye for talent and took credit for discovering a number of super models, including Christy Turlington, Jerry Hall, Rebecca Romijn and Milla Jovovich — though other agents have also taken credit for discovering them.
One of Epstein and Maxwell’s accusers, Virginia Giuffre, said Brunel was one of Epstein’s main recruiters of girls he would often lure from other countries by obtaining work visas for them for “modeling.”
“Jeffrey Epstein has told me that he has slept with over 1,000 of Brunel’s girls,’’ Giuffre wrote in a court affidavit filed in 2015. “Epstein, Maxwell and Brunel loved orgies with kids — that is having sexual interactions with many young teenagers at the same time. Sometimes as many as 10 underage girls would participate in a single orgy with them. I personally observed dozens of these orgies.”
Maritza Vasquez, Brunel’s former bookkeeper in Miami Beach, told the Miami Herald in 2019 that MC2 wasn’t really a functioning modeling agency, but was more a vehicle for steering young women recruited to the agency to parties at Epstein’s mansion in Palm Beach and New York, and wasn’t a successful business.
“The only reason Mr. Epstein was involved was because of the girls, I think, because it was not a profitable business,” Vasquez told the Herald.
Brunel’s death comes days after Prince Andrew settled a lawsuit with Epstein victim Virginia Giuffre, who said Prince Andrew had sexually abused her when she was underage at multiple homes owned by Epstein.
And it comes two months after Ghislaine Maxwell, Epstein’s former girlfriend and co-conspirator, was found guilty on five of six charges related to the sex trafficking of minors. She is appealing her conviction, but her sentencing is scheduled for June.
Epstein was found dead in his cell at the Metropolitan Correctional Center in Manhattan, where he was awaiting trial on charges of sex trafficking underage girls, mainly in Palm Beach, where he owned a mansion. He was accused, along with Maxwell, of building a sexual pyramid scheme involving middle and high school girls in the 2000s.
The New York medical examiner ruled his death a suicide by hanging, but his brother, his lawyers and a noted forensic pathologist hired by his estate said they believe he was killed.
Dr. Michael Baden, an expert in prison deaths, told the Herald that various bones in Epstein’s neck were broken, including one near the Adam’s apple called the hyoid bone. Though damage to that particular bone is more common in cases of strangulation, medical experts have also said the bone could be damaged under different circumstances in an older person. Epstein was 66.
His death led to a spate of conspiracy theories about whether Epstein was killed because of information he had on other prominent people involved in trafficking. He died one day after a federal court unsealed nearly 2,000 pages of documents that offered sordid details of the alleged trafficking of girls by the financier and his ex-girlfriend, Maxwell.
It is not known whether Maxwell has offered to cooperate with authorities who are investigating other possible co-conspirators.
Kuvin said that the timing of Brunel’s death is “a hell of coincidence. It’s almost like it’s someone is trying to send a message to Ghislaine to shut up.”
On Twitter Saturday, Giuffre said she was disappointed she wasn’t able to see Brunel face justice.
“The suicide of Jean-Luc Brunel, who abused me and countless other girls and young women, ends another chapter. I’m disappointed that I wasn’t able to face him in a final trial and to hold him accountable, but gratified that I was able to testify in person last year to keep him in prison.”
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