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The mystery around Jeffrey Epstein’s fortune and how he made it

Jeffrey Epstein Appears In Manhattan Federal Court On Sex Trafficking Charges
A residence belonging to Jeffrey Epstein at East 71st Street on the Upper East Side of Manhattan.
(Kevin Hagen / Getty Images)
Bloomberg

In a neighborhood of millionaires and billionaires, close to New York’s famous Museum Mile, two initials discreetly adorn the entrance of one of the city’s most opulent mansions: J.E.

The letters stand for Jeffrey Epstein, the self-described “collector” of rich and powerful men, who has been accused of sexually assaulting girls inside the luxurious Manhattan home.

On Monday, as federal prosecutors unsealed new charges saying Epstein ran a sex-trafficking ring that lured dozens of young women to the house, its heavy wood doors bore crowbar marks — evidence of how authorities forced their way in over the sultry Fourth of July weekend. Prosecutors say they discovered hundreds, possibly thousands, of suggestive photographs, including those of what appeared to be underage girls.

The latest turn in the long, lurid saga of Jeffrey Epstein comes more than a decade after a secretive plea deal enabled him to avoid similar charges in Florida. Now, familiar questions are swirling again about his possible links to a who’s who of prominent political and business figures.

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Epstein’s early career is better documented. He was born in 1953 and raised in Brooklyn. Epstein dropped out of Cooper Union and New York University’s Courant Institute. He taught calculus and physics at Manhattan’s exclusive Dalton School from 1973 to 1975, according to a 2002 New York magazine profile. His students at Dalton included the son of Bear Stearns Chairman Alan Greenberg.

United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York Geoffrey Berman on Epstein arrest, USA - 08 Jul 2019
United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York Geoffrey Berman speaks during a New York news conference about the arrest of financier Jeffrey Epstein.
(Jason Szenes / EPA-EFE / REX)

For all his infamy, there are scant details of how he made his money. Although he’s frequently been called a billionaire, his net worth is hard to ascertain. He ran a money management firm catering to the ultra-rich, primarily for Victoria’s Secret founder Les Wexner, but its assets were never made public and few on Wall Street have dealt with him as a financier or money manager.

According to his lawyers more than a decade ago, he had a net worth in excess of nine figures. Today, so little is known about Epstein’s current business or clients that the only things that can be valued with any certainty are his properties. The Manhattan mansion is estimated to be worth at least $77 million, according to a federal document submitted in advance of Epstein’s bail hearing.

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He also has properties in New Mexico, Paris and the U.S. Virgin Islands, where he has a private island, and a Palm Beach estate with an assessed value of more than $12 million. He shuttles between them by private jet and has at least 15 cars, including seven Chevrolet Suburbans, according to federal authorities.

He joined Bear Stearns in 1976 as a lowly junior assistant to a floor trader. In a swift rise, trading options, he made partner four years later, with former Chief Executive Jimmy Cayne praising his skills. He left in 1981 to set up J. Epstein & Co., but one bank executive said he remained close to Cayne and Greenberg and was a client until Bear Stearns’ demise.

Epstein’s money management business had an exclusive focus: It would serve only billionaires. Epstein reportedly made all the investment calls.

Since the 1990s, the company has been incorporated in the U.S. Virgin Islands and is now called Financial Trust Co. A person answering the phone at the St. Thomas company hung up after a request for comment was made.

The main client was Wexner, the founder of underwear maker L Brands. Epstein started managing his money in the 1980s and a 2003 Vanity Fair profile noted the pair had a close relationship, close enough for Epstein to acquire the Manhattan mansion from Wexner.

It’s unclear how much Epstein paid and when he actually took ownership.

The Upper East Side mansion of US financier Jeffrey Epstein, New York, USA - 08 Jul 2019
A damaged front door at the Upper East Side, New York, mansion of Jeffrey Epstein. Prosecutors are attempting to seize the Manhattan townhouse through forfeiture proceedings, on the grounds that the spacious property was used for sex trafficking.
(Jason Szenes / EPA-EFE / REX)

Wexner had purchased the property from the Birch Wathen School, a Manhattan prep school in 1989, according to city records. He sold it in 1998 to a Virgin Islands entity called NES, according to a person familiar with the matter. Epstein is affiliated with NES, public records show.

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There are no New York property records documenting a transfer until 2011, when the company that Wexner used to purchase the townhouse transferred it to Epstein’s Virgin Islands-based Maple Inc. for $0. Epstein signed for both sides of the transaction.

“People have said it’s like we have one brain between two of us: each has a side,” Epstein said in the 2003 profile.

Wexner, who has a $6.7-billion fortune on the Bloomberg Billionaires Index, declined to comment. He cut ties with Epstein more than a decade ago as suspicions about Epstein swirled, with his accusers saying Epstein used his employees to bring teenage girls to his Florida mansion for sex and paid them to recruit new victims. The girls were as young as 13.

None of Epstein’s other clients have been identified.

Prosecutors are attempting to seize the Manhattan townhouse through forfeiture proceedings, on the grounds that his spacious property was used for sex trafficking. The townhouse was built in 1932 for Herbert Straus, whose parents owned R.H. Macy & Co. and is said to be one of the largest in Manhattan.

Epstein’s future address could be far less comfortable. The charges he faces carry a maximum 45-year prison term.


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