/How Did Jeffrey Epstein Make His Fortune?

How Did Jeffrey Epstein Make His Fortune?

Jeffrey Epstein circa 2003.
Photo: Neil Rasmus/Patrick McMullan via Getty Image

Billionaire is a word that’s often thrown around when discussing Jeffrey Epstein, and unlike some of his other common modifiers — convicted sex offender, pedophile — there’s scant proof of the financier’s reputation in that regard. The bulk of Epstein’s wealth is believed to come from his money management firm for 10-figure investors, although his only known client is Victoria’s Secret founder Les Wexner, who reportedly ditched Epstein over a decade ago.

After sex trafficking charges were handed down on Monday, executive-suite financiers discussed how absent Epstein was from the field: “He’s supposed to run an enormous FX [foreign exchange] trading firm,” said Enrique Diaz-Alvarez, Chief Risk Officer at Ebury. “But I never once heard of him or his firm or anyone who worked or traded with him.” And as Forbes wrote in a 2010 blog with a very direct title — Sex Offender Jeffrey Epstein Is Not A Billionaire — his money-mangagement firm based out of the U.S. Virgin Islands “generates no public records, nor has his client list ever been released.”

According to a 2002 profile in New York — the one with the Trump quote — Epstein dropped out of Cooper Union and NYU’s Courant Institute of Mathematical Sciences before finding a job teaching calculus and physics at the Dalton School in the mid-1970s. Epstein was hired at the prestigious Manhattan college-prep institution by the father of Attorney General William Barr, and his students included the son of Bear Stearns Chairman Alan Greenberg. In 1976, Epstein joined Bear as a floor trader’s assistant, making partner in a scant four years. By 1981, he was out, setting up the J. Epstein & Co. money management business the next year. New York described his business strategy in 2002:

He would take total control of the billion dollars, charge a flat fee, and assume power of attorney to do whatever he thought was necessary to advance his client’s financial cause. And he remained true to the $1 billion entry fee. According to people who know him, if you were worth $700 million and felt the need for the services of Epstein and Co., you would receive a not-so-polite no-thank-you from Epstein.

In Vicky Ward’s recent process piece on her reporting of an Epstein profile for Vanity Fair in 2003, she lays out some of her thoughts on the matter of a possible benefactor. In addition to a claim from a Ponzi schemer that Epstein was kicked out of Bear Stearns in 1981 for “getting into trouble,” Ward suggests that Les Wexner may have helped bankroll the financier. Ward writes: “While Epstein’s friends speculated that retailer Les Wexner was the real source of Epstein’s wealth, Wexner (who called him ‘my friend Jeffrey’) never commented on this, though he did send me an email praising Epstein’s ‘ability to see patterns in politics and financial markets.’”

Not really. According to his lawyers, around the time of his notorious plea deal in Florida in 2008 Epstein’s net worth was over nine figures. The figure was “a bone of contention with Epstein’s lawyers,” Spencer Kuvin, an attorney representing three of Epstein’s alleged victims, told the Palm Beach Post in 2008. “In the litigation itself we were never able to get him to produce verified financial information. The ‘nine figures’ came by negotiation. It kept going up and up and up. They started at zero — they wouldn’t tell us at all.”

As Bloomberg states, “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.” According to a document submitted in advance of Epstein’s bail hearing, his Manhattan townhouse is estimated to be worth aron $77 million. Then there’s the properties in New Mexico, Paris, the U.S. Virgin Islands, his private jet, a fleet of 15 cars, and a Palm Beach compound estimated at $12 million.

But even the real estate holdings have an air of mystery to them. Epstein purchased, or received, the Manhattan townhouse from his alleged benefactor Les Wexner around 1998. But there were no property records on the mansion’s transfer until 2011, when the company Wexner used to buy the place transferred it to an Epstein-owned company for $0. Epstein signed the document for both sides.

Because so little is known about Epstein’s wealth and his ambiguous-to-the-point-of-suspicious Financial Trust Company, pretty much any revelation would help shed light into the financial black hole. But because the SDNY’s Public Corruption Unit is handling the case, the likelihood of a financial or tax-related charge is much higher than if another arm of the mother court were in charge. Gene Rossi, a trial analyst for Law&Crime, suggested that the PCU could provide more flexibility on charges, including money laundering, corruption, or tax-related crimes: “The sky’s the limit.”