Jeffrey Epstein: the sordid downfall of a plutocrat

Jeffrey Epstein was a financier who rubbed shoulders with the rich and powerful. Allegations of sexual abuse have brought him down. But just how did he make his money? 

Jeffrey Epstein © Rick Friedman/Corbis via Getty Images

(Image credit: Jeffrey Epstein © Rick Friedman/Corbis via Getty Images)

When US federal prosecutors recently unsealed their indictment against Jeffrey Epstein a New York financier with a jet-setting lifestyle and a host of famous friends in business and politics it revealed "sordid details" of sex trafficking allegations dating back to 2002-2005, says The New York Times. Briefly put, Epstein and employees "brought dozens of vulnerable girls, some as young as 14, to his mansions in Manhattan and Florida" where he molested them for cash and bribed them to recruit others to ensure "a steady supply". Prosecutors said that "a vast trove of lewd photos" hidden in a safe showed that Epstein who had dodged federal charges in 2008 after reaching a notably lenient plea deal with South Florida prosecutors was "unrepentant". His lawyers counter that the new case is just "ancient stuff". But, a decade on, it's striking how many questions still hang over Epstein. How much is he actually worth? Where did he get his money? And who exactly are his "billionaire clients"?

Who is Jeffrey Epstein?

So who is Jeffrey Epstein? He had a humble start, says the FT. "A Coney Island native and college dropout," his father worked for the Brooklyn parks department. Epstein had a restless intelligence and charm and "gained access to a different world" when he began teaching maths at Manhattan's elite Dalton School in the 1970s. One parent was Alan "Ace" Greenberg, the Bear Stearns chairman and Wall Street legend, who offered him a job. Epstein left after five years to set up his own money management firm, vowing only to serve billionaires.

A murky past

"It's very murky," Thomas Volscho a US sociology professor who is writing a book about Epstein told New York magazine. Volscho claims to have found "little bits of evidence" that "Epstein is a fraudster": for a start, he embellished his educational background. He speculates that Epstein may have been embezzling funds from the charities he supported, and was possibly involved in money laundering. There's also evidence of "blackmail", which would be in keeping with "the way Epstein operates".

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Whatever the truth, the days of Epstein's pomp are almost certainly over, says the FT. He faces 45 years in prison if convicted. The whispers percolating through the Hamptons this August concern who he might take with him.

Jane writes profiles for MoneyWeek and is city editor of The Week. A former British Society of Magazine Editors editor of the year, she cut her teeth in journalism editing The Daily Telegraph’s Letters page and writing gossip for the London Evening Standard – while contributing to a kaleidoscopic range of business magazines including Personnel Today, Edge, Microscope, Computing, PC Business World, and Business & Finance.

She has edited corporate publications for accountants BDO, business psychologists YSC Consulting, and the law firm Stephenson Harwood – also enjoying a stint as a researcher for the due diligence department of a global risk advisory firm.

Her sole book to date, Stay or Go? (2016), rehearsed the arguments on both sides of the EU referendum.

She lives in north London, has a degree in modern history from Trinity College, Oxford, and is currently learning to play the drums.