PARIS — A French modeling agent linked to convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein was found dead in his jail cell on Saturday, the Paris prosecutor’s office told NBC News.
It emerged that Jean-Luc Brunel, 75, “died by suicide because he was found dead after hanging himself with his sheets”, they said in a phone call.
A police investigation was opened to determine the exact cause of death as would be the case for all deaths in prison, they added.
Brunel, who ran several modeling agencies including the famous Karin modeling 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 about to take a flight to Senegal.
At the time he was charged, the prosecutor’s office declined to say how many alleged rape victims there were over that age.
A frequent companion of Epstein, Brunel has denied any wrongdoing and said through his lawyer that he was open to speaking to investigators. Brunel’s legal team had repeatedly complained about his conditions of detention and called for his release pending trial.
His death comes less than three years after Epstein was found dead in his New York jail cell while awaiting trial on federal sex trafficking charges. His death has since been ruled a suicide.
Epstein’s close confidante, former British socialite Ghislaine Maxwell, was convicted of five counts of sex trafficking last December for her role in grooming young girls to be abused by Epstein. She is expected to be sentenced in June.
One of Epstein’s most high-profile accusers, Virginia Giuffre, testified against him in 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 had brought.”
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 in the 1990s forced her to have sex with Andrew when she was underage.
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 lawsuit.
Giuffre was one of several women who identified as victims who spoke to police and sometimes expressed frustration at the slow pace of the investigation.
One, Thysia Huisman, said the news of Brunel’s death had “shocked” her.
“It makes me angry, because I’ve been fighting for years,” Huisman, a former Dutch model who told police she was raped by Brunel as a teenager, told The Associated Press. “For me, the end of it all was to be in court. And now that whole ending – which would help with closure – is taken away from me.
A lawyer representing Huisman and other victims, Anne-Claire Lejeune, said other women involved in the case felt the same way.
“Big disappointment, big 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 report abuse. The survey, along with a growing focus on sexual misconduct in France, has “liberated women to talk about it”, she said. “It’s a difficult step that requires a lot of courage and strength,” she says.
Brunel’s attorneys told NBC News in a statement that their client had “never ceased to maintain his innocence and had gone to great lengths to prove it,” they said. “His decision was not motivated 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 at 741741 or visit SpeakingOfSuicide.com/resources for additional resources.
Nancy Ing reported from Paris and Rhoda Kwan from Melbourne, Australia.