The Columbus Dispatch
Wexner’s former tie to Epstein leaves some puzzled
In the mid-1990s, two senior Victoria’s Secret executives discovered that a close adviser to Leslie H. Wexner was trying to pitch himself as a recruiter for the retailer’s models. The executives alerted Wexner.
It is unclear what if any action Wexner, the Columbus-based CEO and founder of L Brands, took in response. But the adviser — Jeffrey E. Epstein, a New York financier — had developed an unusually strong hold on Wexner.
Within years of meeting Epstein, Wexner handed him sweeping powers over his finances, philanthropy and private life, according to interviews, court documents and financial records.
Wexner authorized him to borrow money on his behalf, to sign his tax returns, to hire people and to make acquisitions. Over the years, Epstein obtained a New York mansion, a private plane and a luxury estate in New Albany — today valued at roughly $100 million altogether — previously owned by Wexner or his companies. At the same time, he drove a wedge between Wexner and longtime associates and friends.
Virtually from the moment in the 1980s that Epstein arrived in Columbus, Wexner’s friends were mystified as to why a renowned businessman would place such trust in an outsider with a thin resume and scant financial experience.
It is a mystery that has taken on new importance in the weeks since federal prosecutors in New York charged Epstein, 66, with sex trafficking involving girls as young as 14.
What is clear is that during the period in which he worked closely with Wexner, Epstein became extraordinarily rich.
Representatives of Wexner and L Brands refused to share even basic details of the work that Epstein performed for Wexner with The New York Times. A Wexner spokesperson declined to comment to The Dispatch on Friday as well.
In a letter this month to L Brands employees, Wexner, 81, said he was “NEVER aware of the illegal activity charged in the indictment.”
Epstein pleaded not guilty to charges that he and his employees paid dozens of underage girls to engage in sex acts. He is being held without bail as he awaits trial. His lawyer, Martin G. Weinberg, declined comment.
In the mid- to late1980s, Wexner and Epstein were introduced by a mutual acquaintance, an insurance executive named Robert Meister.
Epstein, a 30-something Coney Island, New York native, didn’t fit the mold of financial adviser to the super wealthy. A college dropout, he had briefly taught math at the Dalton School in Manhattan and then worked at Bear Stearns, the investment bank.
After Meister’s introduction, Epstein started spending more and more time around Wexner, leaving longtime colleagues of Wexner’s puzzled about why he was embracing this newcomer.
Robert Morosky, former vice chairman of The Limited, the original name of L Brands, who resigned in 1987, looked into Epstein’s background and was not impressed. “I tried to find out how did he get from a high school math teacher to a private investment adviser,” Morosky said. “There was just nothing there.”
Epstein’s formal role was to help manage Wexner’s fortune and to provide him with financial advice. It’s unclear whether there was any official agreement detailing Epstein’s role or compensation.
The clearest sign of Wexner’s nearly limitless comfort with Epstein came in July 1991. Wexner signed a three-page legal document, known as a power of attorney, that enabled Epstein to hire people, sign checks, buy and sell properties and borrow money — all on Wexner’s behalf.
For the next 16 years, that document gave Epstein unmatched authority over Wexner’s financial affairs — and it corresponded to a period in which Epstein came to control or own valuable assets that previously belonged to Wexner or his companies.
Soon, Epstein’s name appeared on numerous Securities and Exchange Commission filings, listing him as a trustee for several entities as well as trusts for Wexner’s children. Epstein had voting power over those interests, which came to own millions of dollars’ worth of Limited shares.
In the early 1990s, as Epstein was getting more involved in Wexner’s charitable pursuits, a dispute arose over a Wexner family foundation and the composition of the board of trustees. The foundation, with Epstein as a trustee, ended up suing Wexner’s mother, Bella, who had been temporarily replaced as a trustee while she was ill. Bella Wexner died in 2001.
As Epstein managed Wexner’s fortune, parts of that fortune ended up in Epstein’s hands.
Epstein also became deeply involved in Wexner’s upscale realestate development in New Albany. He set up shop in the same Downtown Columbus skyscraper as Jack Kessler, co-founder of the New Albany Co. and one of Wexner’s close friends. Kessler declined to comment.
Inside the New Albany development, a 23-room, 10,600-square-foot mansion with a pool and bathhouse was being built for Kessler and his wife, property records show. But Wexner legally controlled the property, and in 1992, Epstein acquired it for $3.5 million.
In 1998, another entity linked to Wexner bought the property back from Epstein for $8 million, more than doubling his investment.
Around the same time, Epstein, through a separate company, spent $7.95 million to buy Little St. James Island in the U.S. Virgin Islands.
Epstein also took sole possession in 1998 of Wexner’s stone mansion on East 71st Street in New York. A person with knowledge of Wexner’s finances said that Epstein paid $20 million.
About two years later, a business controlled by Epstein obtained a Boeing 727 previously owned by The Limited. A person with knowledge of Wexner’s finances said Epstein paid $10 million.
Through his proximity to Wexner and his Victoria’s Secret company, Epstein also gained unique access to young women.
Nearly a decade later, in early 2006, Florida authorities charged Epstein with multiple counts of molestation and unlawful sexual activity with a minor.
About 18 months later, Wexner cut ties with Epstein.
In 2008, Epstein pleaded guilty to state charges of solicitation of prostitution from a minor and was required to register as a sex offender.