One of the many mysteries surrounding Jeffrey Epstein is how he got so wealthy. His vast wealth — maybe Epstein isn’t the billionaire he’s often described as, but he’s at least worth hundreds of millions of dollars — seems wildly out of scale for a person who wasn’t born wealthy and did not leave a large footprint on Wall Street in terms of clients or counterparties. What did he do to get so rich?
The Wall Street Journal reported on a letter that solves at least a portion of the mystery. Leslie Wexner, the billionaire founder of Limited Brands who was Epstein’s only well-known client, told members of his foundation that Epstein “misappropriated” more than $46 million of his wealth. Wexner says he figured this out as he was cutting ties with Epstein in 2007, the first time Epstein got in legal trouble over his sexual abuse of minors.
The obvious question is: If Wexner figured out 12 years ago that Epstein had stolen a very large amount of money from him, why didn’t he do anything about it? He could have tried to get Epstein arrested and indicted for the theft. He also could have sued Epstein civilly. Didn’t he want his money back?
There are a couple of not-damning theories I can come up with about why Wexner didn’t act. Wexner’s astounding choice to grant Epstein power of attorney might have made it harder, but not impossible, to prove that whatever Epstein did with his money was improper. He could have sued Epstein for a breach of fiduciary duty, and since Epstein is wealthy and had means to pay a judgment or a settlement, it seems like it would have been worth a shot. After all, Epstein was paying settlements to some of the people that he allegedly sexually abused.
Another possibility is that Wexner was embarrassed. Victims of financial scams often are; he would have had to admit that his friends who were reportedly puzzled about the trust he put in Epstein were right to feel as they did. While $46 million is a lot of money (and according to the Journal, that’s just a portion of the unspecified total amount Wexner says Epstein “misappropriated”), Wexner is an extremely rich man who remains extremely rich after his unfortunate dealings with Epstein. Maybe he preferred to drop the matter rather than have a very unpleasant, very public conversation about how the pedophile he trusted with his money for decades fleeced him for tens of millions of dollars.
On the other hand, $46 million is really a lot of money, and you would think at some point during the decade-long national conversation about how outraged we are about what Epstein got away with — 2011? 2015? Eight weeks ago? — Wexner might have raised his hand and said, “By the way, that guy stole tens of millions of dollars from me,” and America would have been grateful for the opportunity to nail him to the wall for that. Federal imprisonment for robbery worked for O.J. Simpson; why not Epstein?
This feels like the sort of thing we’re probably going to learn more about in the coming months.