When Jeffrey Epstein pleaded guilty to soliciting an underage girl for prostitution in 2008 and served a 13-month sentence under the cushiest of conditions, it was his bodyguard and driver, former UFC fighter Igor Zinoviev, who frequently picked him up at the Palm Beach jail and shuttled him between the office and various appointments. Zinoviev also trained Epstein in a regimen that included weight-lifting and some light fighting drills. And whenever Epstein jetted around to his various estates, Zinoviev accompanied him, riding along on the pretend billionaire’s Lolita Express.
The mysterious Russian MMA fighter drew some attention from the media after Epstein’s arrest and indictment by federal authorities last month — but he has not made it easy for reporters to find him. There have been — so far as we can determine — no published or broadcast interviews with Zinoviev about his relationship with Epstein.
I spoke on the record with Zinoviev for an unpublished interview in 2015, when I was on staff at the Daily Beast. After numerous attempts in recent weeks, I was able to reach him by phone on Monday, August 12. As before, we spoke on the record. He talked about his response to Epstein’s apparent suicide and his memories of working for the man. A good chunk of the half-hour conversation involved revisiting things he had told me four years ago. To be honest, I didn’t expect that he’d try to back away from the assertions he made in our original interview — but he did. He also seemed, it is safe to say, quite nervous about saying anything at all. Below is a transcript of our conversation this week, with minor cuts and edits for length and clarity. Please note that Zinoviev is not a native English speaker — in places we have left his words verbatim, even when his meaning is not entirely clear, as we have been unable to reach him again by phone to clarify any of his assertions.
Last time we talked, I didn’t realize you were an MMA fighter.
That’s okay. Oh, yeah.
You were Jeffrey Epstein’s driver? You weren’t just his bodyguard and trainer?
Just going back, how did he find you?
Well, it’s just going back. A friend of mine introduced me to him. Basically, as a friend, you know? After that, he asked me to work with him. But honestly I had a pretty good job, so I’m not looking at any jobs — then he called me and asked if I could [do] some stuff. Like do his driver, do like bodyguarding, and just train him and do other stuff. And I thought, Just time to change something! I said, “I could do that.”
What year was this?
I can’t remember, to be honest. I would have to look at the paper. I would have to look at the papers for that.
By this time, you had stopped competing as an MMA fighter?
Not really, actually.
You were still competing?
Yes, maybe I stop already. Maybe I stop already, yeah. I was in the Virgin Islands. In Palm Beach, it was, I started working in Palm Beach. I would see him only when, um — where the fuck it is? — um, when he has to go to big jail, actually.
That’s when he was at Palm Beach. The first time. I start before working with him in New York and the Virgin Islands.
You were in New York also?
You drove him in all three places?
In New York, I didn’t drive him. In New York, he had a driver, whatever his name was. He was like old family. I was just training with him in New York and travel with him. And I just drove him here in Palm Beach. Because other places he had different drivers. They’re just personnel, you know, who just drive him. Somebody drive him in New Mexico. Somebody drive him in Virgin Islands, actually. I just drove him here in Palm Beach.
You went with him to all the other properties? Did you go with him to New Mexico also?
You worked with him and traveled with him 24/7 — so that means you were on his plane with him, correct?
You lived in his guest house?
You lived alone in the guest house?
Of course. In Palm Beach — when we stay at Palm Beach, we have a guest house, and there’s a property manager who lived there. He was working there before me. It was a Polish guy, yeah.
Did he have bodyguard abilities like you?
You were introduced to Epstein by a middleman? So how was it when you first met him?
Pretty good. I never heard anything from him that, let’s say, was unproper or rude or something. He was always polite. Always a nice person, basically. He’s always smiling.
When you first talked to him, did he ask you anything about your skills? Or say what he wanted?
No, I think he already knows that. They probably have reserved people who just check my background and everything. He asked something, and I give him some simple questions: “How I do?” and “How I’m training?” and all other things.
What would you teach him?
Basic workout. Lift weights. And a little practicing some self-defense stuff.
Like boxing and kicking, knees.
Was he a good athlete?
He’s in pretty good shape. It was how I remember. He’s not the best. But he did all right.
You told me last time we talked you would plan to have a workout but often he would fail to show up and that annoyed you.
He worked out, but sometimes probably a business meeting or something else. It was like I wasted a long time in the gym. He kept me waiting a couple hours — like four hours.
What were some of the places that you drove him to?
I mean, when I used to work here in Palm Beach? Just business meeting, basically. It was mostly downtown, near lawyer’s office. I drop him there and he go upstairs and I waiting in the car.
Ever talk about his case? Why he was in trouble?
No. He never talked about that stuff.
Never talked about any of that stuff?
In our conversation in 2015, you described his relationship with teenage girlfriends: “So many time I tried to stop him. I try to tell tell him my opinion about that. He don’t listen to me. That’s the reason why I’m not working for him no more. I make him do that — to let me go.” Do you remember saying that?
It’s not the teenage girls. I never see the teenage girls. I tell you I never see teenage girls.
Plenty of times when I work for him I never see anything unproper or teenage girls around him.
That’s what I say.
So now you say you only saw him with women? Older than 18? 20?
All what I say he has always been with girlfriends and there was a couple girls — I don’t remember their names. She was 25 and worked for him as assistant. Maybe 25 or 23 — whatever, I don’t know the age.
Okay. But you definitely told me that last time we talked.
No, no. It’s not that. He working like work-release on other stuff. And I just tell him, you know, he would order his girlfriends around, and I told him, “Calm down.” It’s not just teenage girls.
I never see teenage girls in my life at his house. That’s what it is. That’s a misunderstanding. Completely. That’s because — that’s what I’m saying. Most of the time with reporters they give me that kind of questions. “Who told you I see the teenage girls?” I never see the teenage girls in my life. And they said I was —
Here’s another thing you said last time about Epstein and the girls you saw at his house — specifically about moments when you were trying to offer him advice about his conduct: “Sometimes he tries to make a joke. He’d say, ‘Thank you, Grandma. I don’t need your opinion.’ So when you tried to do something good, he would try to make a joke in front of his girls. I never give anyone any questions. It’s one of my rules actually. I be honest with you. I never ask any of my clients what they do for a living or how they do whatever they do. I just do my job, and that’s it.” Do you remember saying that?
Yes, that’s what I say. I feel like the cops watching me whenever he’s on work release — I tell him, “Don’t do stupid stuff.” Like, “[Don’t] put your girlfriend in the car and drive together.
Don’t! Watch it out — all the extra attention.”
Epstein made fun of you in front of the girls, right?
Yeah. Yeah, that was his thing, yeah.
You said you never ask your employers questions.
Yeah. That’s normal answer. People like him just do whatever he wants to do. Because like people talking and just — they already have some release and I understand and just read some papers about his like, whatever, “teenage girls.” But that was [how] he answers. That’s it. So I don’t know.
Here’s another quote from our last interview: “He had a couple girlfriends. They have no idea the degree of what they are doing. But you can’t tell nothing to them. Because they support him kind of. For the while, this one girl can be more attached to him, he just fire her. Fire them and keep them away. For example, I give you some idea: You have private plane and you have three girlfriends and one girl can be more attached to him. And next week — he don’t take that girl. He takes another one, and he just switch them. He brings them on a couple trips and then get different girls. That’s what he doing.” Remember that?
Kind of not!
Wait a minute. Wait a minute.
I understand this is sensitive —
It’s not sensitive — it’s just — kind of a little uncorrect.
It’s exactly what you said. I can send it to you. Here’s something else you said: “It could be tricky you know. Normally he always checks his newspapers — ‘Nothing about me?’ I say, ‘No!’ He say, ‘They forget about me?’” And when I mentioned Epstein was being exposed for messing with teenage girls, you said: “I’m not surprised at all. I’m just surprised how low he can be outside the real world. Someday is going to call him and it will be real jail. He have so much money he can pay it off. Me personally, if I caught him with my daughter or something do that — I’m not going to go to police. I do something else. Much worse. That guy could try to sue me and manipulate the situation with his money. That’s the American way. I know he screwed up a lot of fashion girls also. That’s a different story. [Laughs.]” Do you remember saying that?
I remember one thing: I say like, “If I be the father and somebody screw up my daughter, I don’t give shit with how much money he have. I definitely do some bad thing.” That’s what I said. Before that stuff, I don’t know. I’m just really like —
Igor, I’m not making stuff up. I was very careful.
I’m really careful, too.
It was four years ago. You may not remember what you told me. I kept very good notes of what you and I said. It must come across as very harsh. But it’s the truth. I’m happy to understand a little better. He’s not alive. You don’t have anything to be afraid of anymore.
I’m not afraid. Beyond that just he is dead. I don’t want anything to be uncorrect. There’s too much shit in here, you know, already. He’s dead and just like, freaking people, just leave him alone.
Hold on. When did you find out he died?
Saturday or Sunday or whenever.
What did you think when you found that out?
What did I think?
Are you sure you want to hear what I am going to think?
Somebody helped him to do that.
You think somebody helped him kill himself?
Listen, you know, that’s going a little too deep.
I mean, I’m just trying to understand that maybe you’d be happy he was dead or you would be upset. I don’t know. Are you even feeling anything?
I’m not sad. I mean, I didn’t have anything against him, like a bad thing, you know? I don’t care about his life completely. I don’t give a, let’s say, like, crap about how he die, how he live, or how he’s managed.
How many years did you live at his house?
Five or six years. In Palm Beach.
That’s a long time.
You don’t have any emotion after learning he’s dead?
Did you think that would happen to him?
It’s unexpectable. Well —
I realize others tried to talk to you. Did he ever offer money? Did anybody ever try to silence you?
Epstein never tried to get people to give you money — I wonder what he was capable of doing since he settled a lot of lawsuits —
Nobody ever wanted to offer me money. I don’t care about money. I want everybody to just leave me alone. Just one thing: When somebody from newspapers write, and from everywhere call you, me, “Red Army fucking commando.” What that mean exactly?
If it’s untrue, that would be over-the-top.
That’s terrible. So after that, they call me “mobster”!
Okay. I didn’t know that.
I’m standing with girls. The girls just looking at me, and the girls get scared. So I don’t know if you want to get me to say something and I don’t want to — I want to deal with no one.
I get that. But you and I have a history at this point. One thing you told me, for instance — okay, one thing you told me is he got a heads up when the authorities were going to come to his house the night before.
Listen, what you say is between you and me —
You told me he would get phone calls the night before and eight o’clock the police are going to come. He would get a heads up from local police.
You told me that, Igor. Want me to read the quote?
Well, you can read whatever you want right now. Don’t just — you can put yourself in big trouble.
You said: “He always do something wrong. There was some nights in question. There was at home arrest and police, before they come to the house, they call him and tell him they coming in at eight o’clock in the morning. It’s all corruption you know. It’s all bullshit.”
Listen, don’t put yourself in trouble. Seriously.
We talked about this.
I understand we got this.
I’m telling you to give you a chance to remember because we talked about this stuff. I know it’s hard. I don’t know what you mean about “put myself in trouble.”
Let that go. Seriously. Let that go.
Why is it so important? Are you worried about the local cops?
Listen, you’re really smart and I’m not going to offer that over the phone right now, okay? You’re really smart. You have no idea. Please!
What do you mean by that?
I can’t explain you. I can’t explain you over the phone any of this.
You said that last time. And we didn’t talk for years. You can tell the world who this guy was. You were with him for a long time. You know what I mean?
I totally understand that you think he could have had help committing suicide.
First of all, I have to go right now. I have another client.
Still training people?
Yes. But just be careful. I’m not kidding.
What’s your email so I can send you —
Don’t do any kind of that stuff. Just don’t play it. Seriously.
Can you tell me why?
I can’t. I can’t.
May I ask you one more question?
Have you been talking to anyone in the government, the FBI? Have they come to you?
[Long pause] Um. Great talking to you. Seriously. We talk later.