PARIS — A French modeling agent linked to convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein was found dead in his prison cell on Saturday, the Paris prosecutor’s office told NBC News.
It appeared that Jean-Luc Brunel, 75, “died by suicide because he was discovered dead from hanging himself with his sheets,” they said in a telephone call.
A police investigation has been opened to determine the exact cause of death as would be the case in all deaths in prison, they added.
Brunel, who headed several modeling agencies including the famous Karin Models Agency, was charged with sexual harassment and the rape of at least one minor over the age of 15 in December 2020. Earlier that month he was detained at Charles de Gaulle Airport as he was preparing to take a flight to Senegal.
At the time he was charged, the prosecutors office declined to specify how many alleged victims of rape there were over that age.
A frequent companion of Epstein, Brunel denied wrongdoing and said via his lawyer that he was willing to talk to investigators. Brunel’s legal team had repeatedly complained about the conditions of his detention and sought to have him released pending trial.
His death comes less than three years after Epstein was found dead in his prison cell in New York while he was awaiting trial on federal sex trafficking charges. His death has since been ruled as a suicide.
Epstein’s close confidant, former British socialite Ghislaine Maxwell, was found guilty on five counts of sex trafficking last December for her role in grooming young girls to be abused by Epstein. She is set to be sentenced in June.
One of Epstein’s most prominent accusers, Virginia Giuffre, had testified against him at closed-door testimony in a Paris court last June.
She told NBC’s “Dateline” in 2019 that the former financier once told her he had slept with “over a thousand women that Brunel brought in.”
Britain’s Prince Andrew recently agreed to settle a case in which Giuffre accused him of sexual abuse when she was 17. Giuffre, who lives in Australia, alleged that Epstein and Maxwell forced her in the 1990s to have sex with Andrew when she was underage.
Both the royal and Maxwell have repeatedly denied this accusation. The settlement, in which Andrew agreed to make a substantial donation to Giuffre’s charity, avoids a trial.
Giuffre was one of multiple women who identified themselves as victims that have spoken to the police and at times expressed frustration with the slow pace of the investigation.
One of them, Thysia Huisman, said the news of Brunel’s death sent her into “shock.”
“It makes me angry because I’ve been fighting for years,” Huisman, a Dutch former model who told police she was raped by Brunel as a teen, 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.”
A lawyer representing Huisman and other victims, Anne-Claire Lejeune, said other women involved in the case feel the same.
“Great disappointment, great frustration that (the victims) won’t get justice,” she told The AP.
She added that she hoped Brunel’s death would not discourage women from continuing to speak out about abuse. The investigation, along with a growing reckoning about sexual misconduct in France, has “freed up women to talk about it,” she said. “It’s a difficult step that requires a lot of courage and strength,” she said.
Brunel’s attorneys told NBC News in a statement that their client had “never stopped claiming his innocence and had made many efforts to prove it” they said. “His decision was not driven by guilt but by a deep sense of injustice.”
If you or someone you know is in crisis, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255, text HOME to 741741 or visit SpeakingOfSuicide.com/resources for additional resources.
Nancy Ing reported from Paris and Rhoda Kwan from Melbourne, Australia.