Written by James Barron
For years, Jeffrey Epstein lived a luxurious life, socializing with celebrities, jetting off to Europe, California or the Caribbean, where he owned a private island.
In New York, where he lived in one of the largest private houses in Manhattan, his name turned up in gossip columns from time to time, linked to presidents and princes. But he largely stayed out of the spotlight, hardly ever talking to reporters.
He remained an enigma, a mysterious money manager who even managed to keep any client list private.
Now Epstein, 66, is at the center of a case involving sex-trafficking and conspiracy charges. He was charged Monday with bringing girls as young as 14 to his homes in Manhattan and Palm Beach, Florida, for sex. He is also accused of paying some of them to recruit other girls, also underage. Epstein pleaded not guilty.
He was indicted by a federal grand jury in New York more than a decade after the top federal prosecutor in Miami — Alexander Acosta, now President Donald Trump’s labor secretary — signed off on a plea deal involving similar allegations that was kept secret from his accusers until it had been finalized in court.
It spared Epstein from a trial and possible long sentence in federal prison. Instead, he served 13 months on state charges of soliciting prostitution in Florida. But he was allowed to leave the jail six days a week to go to an office and work.
Since then, The Miami Herald has run a series of articles about Epstein’s case, and the Justice Department has faced criticism of the plea deal as another instance of a well-connected man sidestepping a reckoning. The prosecutors in Manhattan who brought the new charges against Epstein made it clear that the 2008 deal in Florida did not apply.
“The agreement, by its terms, only binds the Southern District of Florida,” Geoffrey S. Berman, the U.S. attorney in Manhattan, said Monday.
The indictment marked the downfall of a man who had, until then, been dogged for years by allegations that he lured girls and young women into disturbing sexual encounters but seemed to have escaped serious consequences.
He was a noticeable presence at Manhattan parties and movie screenings: Where other men wore jackets and ties, he wore what he always wore — a polo-style shirt, open at the collar, and jeans.
People who have met Epstein describe him as charming, chatty, disarming and funny. New York magazine said in 2002 that he brought “a trophy-hunter’s zeal to his collection of scientists and politicians.”
In 2015, when the now-defunct site Gawker published what it said was his address book, there were entries for three Trumps (Donald, his ex-wife Ivana and their daughter Ivanka); Michael R. Bloomberg, the former mayor; actors Alec Baldwin and Dustin Hoffman; singer and songwriter Jimmy Buffett (whose name was misspelled); and Nobel Peace Prize winner Elie Wiesel, among many others.
He turned up in the gossip columns but lived “a life full of question marks,” as New York magazine put it in 2002. More than one writer likened Epstein to Jay Gatsby, the enduringly impenetrable F. Scott Fitzgerald character. He was said to look a little like designer Ralph Lauren, who was born in the Bronx.
But Epstein came from Brooklyn. His father was a city Parks Department employee. Epstein took classes in physics at The Cooper Union in the mid-1970s and later attended New York University but did not receive a degree from either school, New York magazine reported.
He began his career as a math teacher at the Dalton School, an elite private school in Manhattan whose alumni include cable-news anchor Anderson Cooper, comedian Chevy Chase and actress Claire Danes.
“By most accounts, he was something of a Robin Williams-in-“Dead Poets Society” type of figure, wowing his high-school classes with passionate mathematical riffs,” according to the New York magazine article.
From there he took his math skills to Bear Stearns, then a powerful Wall Street investment bank.
Both New York magazine and Vanity Fair magazine reported that he made connections at Dalton that led him to Alan C. Greenberg, then the dauntless chief executive of Wall Street firm Bear Stearns. Known as “Ace,” Greenberg was later the firm’s chairman and the chairman of its executive committee.
Under Greenberg and another top executive, James Cayne, Epstein “did well enough to become a limited partner — a rung beneath full partner,” Vanity Fair reported.
He left in the early 1980s, forming a consulting firm called the International Assets Group that he ran out of his apartment, according to Vanity Fair. Later he set up a money management firm called J. Epstein & Co. It eventually became the Financial Trust Co., based in the Virgin Islands.
But there were expensive footnotes about him and Bear Stearns. When two big Bear Stearns hedge funds collapsed in 2007 at the start of the financial crisis, Epstein’s firm was one of the bigger losers, out more than $50 million. Epstein’s firm also claimed in a lawsuit that he lost even more money when Bear Stearns itself collapsed in 2008.
Exactly what his money management operation did was cloaked in secrecy, as were most of the names of whomever he did it for. He claimed to work for a number of billionaires, but the only known major client was Leslie Wexner, the billionaire founder of several retail chains, including The Limited.
Wexner is the chief executive of L Brands, which now operates Victoria’s Secret and Bath & Body Works. Epstein also did work for Steven Hoffenberg, a financier who offered to rescue The New York Post in 1994, the year before he was charged with securities fraud.
Epstein’s town house was once owned by a company that he and Wexner both controlled. In 2011, it was transferred to a Virgin Island-based company called Maple Inc., of which Epstein is the president.
A spokeswoman for Wexner said the retail magnate had “severed ties” with Epstein about a decade ago. Calls to Financial Trust’s office in St. Thomas and to a lawyer for Epstein there have not been returned.
Over the weekend, investigators smashed the tall wooden front doors of Epstein’s $56 million Manhattan town house in a raid and said they found a safe with lewd photographs. In arguing that his wealth and private jets made him a flight risk, they said he had six residences.
They also emphasized his private island in describing his primary residence on Little St. James Island, in the Virgin Islands. They said he had a second home on the islands, along with places in New Mexico — a ranch he reportedly named “Zorro” — and Paris.
Private as Epstein was, he was apparently concerned about what the public thought of him. A mutual friend arranged for him to meet R. Couri Hay, a public relations consultant. Hay said Monday that their first meeting, at Epstein’s town house, took place three years ago.
Epstein was not ready to reemerge in the public eye — not then, anyway. Three months ago, Epstein called and invited him over to discuss damage control, Hay said.
“He hates every story starting with ‘billionaire pervert,’ ” Hay said. “Jeffrey had long stories about the difference between pedophilia with very young children and tweens and teens a little older.” He added, “It was his way of trying to talk his way around it.”
Hay said he ultimately declined to work for Epstein. He said he had misgivings about Epstein’s sincerity.
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