Jeffrey Epstein has had a long list of friends from high places, including the likes of Stephen Hawking, Bill Clinton and President Trump. But did Epstein leverage these connections? We explain.
Just the FAQs, USA TODAY
Who is Jeffrey Epstein? It turns out that the descriptor most used to identify him over the past decades – billionaire – may not even apply.
But Epstein, who this week was charged with sex trafficking and sex trafficking conspiracy by federal prosecutors and has been linked to high-powered executives, politicians, and royalty, does have at least multi-millions tied up in real property.
Assessing his total wealth and how he acquired it is elusive, however.
The most definitive view came late on Friday, when federal prosecutors in New York said records obtained from a financial institution they did not identify showed that Epstein is worth more than $500 million and makes an estimated $10 million a year.
However, that estimate falls short of making Epstein, a college drop-out and former math and physics teacher at an elite private school in New York, a billionaire.
Messages to Epstein’s lawyers were not immediately returned. However, they filed a motion in Manhattan federal court Thursday that successfully sought permission to file a financial disclosure under seal for bail purposes.
Epstein’s bail hearing is scheduled for Monday morning.
Here’s what we know about Epstein’s wealth, and what remains a mystery.
What we know
One of the easier ways to gauge some of Epstein’s net worth is through his real estate holdings and other possessions, which were listed in a July 8 court filing by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York.
A court filing from the government and a filing by Epstein’s defense team both stated he owns six properties, along with other personal property. He appears to own the holdings through several shell companies named after trees – Maple Inc., Laurel Inc. and Cypress Inc. – according to online records.
9 East 71st Street, New York, New York: Epstein’s Maple Inc. bought the 1930 luxury townhouse in 2011 for the nominal sum of $10, according to the deed filed with the Office of the City Register. The seller was a corporation linked to both Epstein and Leslie Wexner, the chairman and CEO of L Brands, the corporation with flagship brands Victoria’s Secret and Bath & Body Works.
Federal prosecutors estimated the value of the mansion in Manhattan’s Upper East Side neighborhood at $77 million. The New York City Department of Finance said the property’s estimated market value was $75 million in 2018-19, and then dropped it to $55.9 million for 2019-20.
But the city’s estimates are known to be “very haphazard,” says Jonathan Miller, CEO of Miller Samuel Inc., a New York appraisal firm. For a better comparison, Miller pointed to a similar Upper East Side townhouse owned by financier Philip Falcone that sold for $77.1 million in June.
Epstein’s place is uniquely wide at 50 feet, Miller says. “That is unusually rare and a premium for street frontage,” he says.
358 El Brillo Way, Palm Beach, Florida: In 2018, the Palm Beach County property appraiser estimated the market value of the five-bedroom, seven-bathroom property on 0.77 acres at nearly $12.5 million.
49 Zorro Ranch Road in Stanley, New Mexico: The property sits on 7,599 acres and includes several structures, including a main dwelling of 33,339 square feet, according to online records at the Santa Fe County Assessor’s office. The 2019 appraised value was $18.1 million, according to Gus Martinez, the county’s assessor.
Little Saint James, U.S. Virgin Islands: Spanning about 72 acres, based on Google Earth’s measuring tool, the island is valued around $20 million, according to an estimate from Farhad Vladi, founder of the real estate brokerage Vladi Private Islands that specializes in listing private islands for sale worldwide. Vladi based his estimate on comparable sales in similar areas but has not been to the island itself.
Paris, France: Federal prosecutors also named a property in Paris that Epstein owned, but didn’t provide any additional details such as an address or type of property. Other media outlets report the property is located on the famed Avenue Foch, where current properties are listed for sale between $1.6 million and $5.4 million, according to Sotheby’s International Realty.
Epstein owns at least 15 vehicles, according to the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services, which provides information on registered sex offenders and their assets so that the public can track their whereabouts.
Those include a Bentley, a Cadillac Escalade, seven Chevrolet Suburban SUVs, a Chevrolet Express cargo van, a Hummer, two GMCs and a Land Rover Range Rover.
The 2017 Bentley Mulsanne is easily worth the most, with an estimated sticker price of about $224,827 in good condition from a used car dealer, according to Kelley Blue Book. The rest of the vehicles would have a collective trade-in value of more than $225,000, based on Kelley Blue Book values for used cars in good condition.
Federal prosecutors also said Epstein owned two planes, with at least one capable of international travel. In a court filing, defense lawyers said this week that Epstein sold one of the private jets in June and would ground the other as part of a bail settlement.
How did he earn his money?
Early years: Epstein got a job in his early 20s teaching math and physics at The Dalton School, a college prep school on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. According to at 2003 Vanity Fair report, Epstein tutored the son of Alan “Ace” Greenberg, the legendary chairman of Bear Stearns, then a New York-based investment bank, securities trading and brokerage firm.
Wall Street debut: That connected helped Epstein to join Bear Stearns, where he was mentored by both Greenberg and then-CEO James Cayne, according to the report. Epstein rose to the rank of limited partner, one step below full partner. But he left the company abruptly in 1981 under a cloud of controversy.
Epstein at the time said he wanted to run his own business, Vanity Fair reported, but there were rumors of technical infringement that Cayne and Epstein denied. Greenberg says he can’t recall, according to the report.
On his own: In August 1981, Epstein formed his own company, Intercontinental Assets Group Inc., listed at his apartment on Manhattan’s E. 66th Street, New York incorporation records show.
Six years later, he founded J. Epstein & Co., a money management firm based in New York, online financial records show. He later changed the company’s name to The Financial Trust Co. and shifted its headquarters to the U.S. Virgin Islands, chiefly for tax purposes, according to Fortune magazine and other published reports.
And, in 1993, Epstein founded Financial Strategy Group Inc., a company based at his Palm Beach home, online financial records show.
Friends in high places
As his business career advanced, Epstein met two more men who would impact his financial fortunes.
Leslie Wexner: The first was Wexner, his partner in the Manhattan townhouse and chairman and CEO of L Brands. Epstein and Wexner hit it off from the start, according to Vanity Fair.
They teamed up on plans and construction of a model town in New Albany, Ohio. An online business record for The New Albany Company LLC showed Epstein at one point was the business’ president and Wexner was the chief executive officer. The New Albany Company LLC website doesn’t mention Epstein.
Wexner also has been the only client of Epstein’s money management firm to be publicly identified, according to a 2010 Forbes report. No other public records have been found. Wexner representatives have said the L Brands executive severed ties with Epstein many years ago.
Steven Jude Hoffenberg: During the 1980s, Epstein met Hoffenberg, who ran Towers Financial Corp., a company that the Vanity Fair report identified as a collection agency that was supposed to buy debts people owed to hospitals, banks, and phone companies.
Making Epstein his protégé, Hoffenberg set him up an office at the Villard Houses, a historic landmark on Madison Avenue, with a $25,000 monthly payment as a consultant, the report said.
The two men launched what proved to be unsuccessful efforts to take over Pan America World Airways in 1987 and Emery Air Freight in 1988, the report said.
Hoffenberg in 1995 pleaded guilty to federal charges stemming from a $460 million Ponzi scheme. The scam involved selling fraudulent notes and bonds, using money from later investors to pay interest that was owed to earlier investors.
Hoffenberg, who was sentenced to 20 years in prison, later accused Epstein and his firm The Financial Trust Co. of being “co-conspirators” in the Ponzi scheme Hoffenberg had pleaded guilty to. In the 2016 lawsuit, Hoffenberg alleged that Epstein’s firm was a “fifty billion dollar hedge fund.”
Hoffenberg later withdrew the lawsuit. A similar lawsuit was filed last summer by Tower Financial note and bondholders but was dismissed.
Another indication of Epstein’s wealth could be his charitable donations over the years. Harvard received a $6.5 million contribution from him in 2003. Other donations went to a building at the Ivy League school as well as research to a history professor and a Harvard psychologist.
Press releases for the Jeffrey Epstein VI Foundation claim other contributions, but it’s unclear how many of the charities actually received the advertised donations, according to an NBC News report.
Another foundation linked to Epstein, U.S. Virgin Islands-based Gratitude America, Ltd. made a $150,000 donation to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a $375,000 contribution to the International Peace Institute in 2017, the organization’s IRS tax return shows.
His largest contribution may have come from a previous Epstein charity called the C.O.U.Q. Foundation and the financier’s Financial Trust Co. The two organizations in 2008 gave a $46.7 million combined contribution of stock and other assets to a Wexner family nonprofit called the YLK Charitable Fund, the fund’s tax return shows.
The massive donation came as the relationship between the Epstein and Wexner was fraying, according to a report from CNBC.
Why is Epstein called a billionaire?
It seems the billionaire status may have come from a lawsuit filed by Epstein’s alleged victims who were suing him for emotional pain he caused when they were teenage girls, according to a May 14, 2010 article in The Palm Beach Post. Epstein’s lawyers said he was worth “more than nine figures,” but it appears they never provided any financial documentation backing the assertion up.
There seems to be no good reason to characterize Epstein as a billionaire, according to Forbes magazine in 2010 when explaining his absence from its ranking of the country’s and world’s richest individuals.
“The guy … is NOT A BILLIONAIRE. We repeat: not a billionaire,” Forbes wrote then about its findings. “More likely he is worth a fraction of that. Because of so much uncertainty around his numbers, he’s never been included in the Forbes 400 list of the richest Americans.”
USA TODAY reporter Nathan Bomey contributed to this report.
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