Wexner’s for­mer tie to Ep­stein leaves some puz­zled

The Columbus Dispatch - - Nation&world - By Emily Steel, Steve Eder, Sapna Ma­hesh­wari and Matthew Gold­stein The New York Times

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.


L Brands founder and CEO Les­lie H. Wexner, seen here at the head­quar­ters in New Al­bany in 2017, gave Jef­frey Ep­stein power of at­tor­ney in 1991, al­low­ing Ep­stein to hire peo­ple, sign checks, buy and sell prop­er­ties and bor­row money on Wexner’s be­half.

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