The Lingering Mystery of Jeffrey Epstein’s Money

Like many news junkies, I’ve been fixated on Jeffrey Epstein all week. But for some reason, I’m stuck on the least lurid and, arguably, least interesting part of the story: the source of Epstein’s money.

For a long time, I considered Jeffrey Epstein an evil genius. After all, he’s a sex predator with the resources of a James Bond villain, from jets to a private island. He palled around with powerful elites like British royalty, the Clintons, Trump and billionaires, including his primary backer, Victoria’s Secrets owner Les Wexner. I assumed the one percent cozied up to him for his unique financial acumen. I was wrong. Yes, he’s evil. But he’s no genius.

Epstein funded his sex crime super-villainy through a cutthroat play in a dirty game and was richly rewarded for it. The rest was marketing. Or maybe pimping.

In 2002, Vicky Ward, then a reporter for Vanity Fair, wrote a reported feature profile of Epstein. Ward uncovered evidence of Epstein’s sex crimes but, Ward revealed in a 2015 post mortem that Vanity Fair editor Graydon Carter cut them from the story. The result reads like a stock Vanity Fair feature: a gossipy portrait of a vaguely sinister social figure with connections to the global elite. 

Epstein began his finance career as an analyst at Bear Sterns, where he specialized in tax avoidance for wealthy clients. When he was on the cusp of becoming a partner at Bear Sterns, he was charged with an SEC violation, possibly for insider trading, and fired. 

Following Epstein’s money trail led Ward to the jail cell of disgraced billionaire Steve Hoffenberg, who became Epstein’s mentor after Bear Sterns dumped him. Hoffenberg bilked investors of more than $450 million in a nominal collection agency that, in truth, functioned as a Ponzi scheme. In 1997, the New York Times reported that victims of the fraud included retirees forced to go back to work, a woman who worried about paying for her husband’s nursing home and a single mother who lost her children’s college fund.

After Hoffenberg, Epstein went solo and promoted himself with canny myth creation. positioned himself as a money manager for the ultra wealthy. Through his association with Wexler, Ward reported, Epstein weaseled his way into the upper crust. He marketed himself as a financial advisor who exclusively worked for billionaires—he claimed to refuse employment offers from people who only had meager assets in the hundreds of millions—and gullible rich idiots ate it up. Or, perhaps, gullible media ate it up; Wexler may be Epstein’s only client. Epstein might only pose as a money manager for the ultra-rich to cover up the real source of his income.

So we’re moving into murkier sources of information: the blind item gossip site Crazy Days and Nights. This is information that hasn’t gone through fact checkers or lawyers, so I can’t 100 percent vouch for it. Anyway. CDAN alleges that Epstein got rich swindling poor people—an allegation that tracks with the Times’ coverage of Hoffenberg’s Ponzi scheme. Epstein allegedly made sure a single victim, who CDAN identified as Wexler on its podcast, got his money back.

Wexler allegedly returned the favor by gifting Epstein his $77 million Manhattan mansion and over time paying him enough money to fund a global sex crime network. CDAN also alleges that Epstein solidified the relationship by facilitating a sex crime but I’m not endorsing or dwelling on that particular allegation. I’m more interested in the money. Being a monster is expensive and somebody had to pay for it.