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Thursday, August 15, 2019



The Epstein Tapes: Unearthed Recordings From His Private Island
A 2003 interview provides a rare glimpse of the figure in his own voice.

A building stands on top of a hill on Little St. James Island.

Photographer: Marco Bello/Bloomberg

August 14, 2019, 2:58 PM EDT
There are questions Jeffrey Epstein will never answer now. 

But a lifetime ago—long before his dark journey ended in an apparent suicide in a Manhattan jail cell—Epstein settled into a sling-back chair on his private Caribbean island and began talking.

Over the course of more than five hours, in an interview with journalist David Bank, Epstein held forth on subjects from the dangers of having too much money to the beauty of mathematics, the importance of prenuptial agreements to the exquisite convenience of owning private jets.

That 2003 interview, captured in a previously unpublished cache of recordings, provides a rare glimpse of the enigmatic figure in his own words.

Epstein drew the rich and powerful into his orbit over three decades, even after he registered as a sex offender in 2009. His opulent retreat of Little St. James, fringed by high palms, only added to his mystique.

But why speak here, in a gazebo steps from the crystal-blue sea, rather than up in the grand main house?

“Too many girls,” Epstein said. And with that, the tape began to roll.

I realize what I am. I’m very comfortable in my own skin. I’m not a helicopter pilot. What I’m really free to do is I feel free to follow my own personality. As we discussed yesterday, I can’t be totally wacko in what I do. It affects lots of other people who will get angry with what I do because then it affects me again. But on my own island or on my own ranch, I can think the thoughts I want to think. I can do the work I want to do and I’m free to explore as I see fit.

relates to The Epstein Tapes: Unearthed Recordings From His Private Island
Epstein in 2004.
Photographer: Rick Friedman/Corbis via Getty Images
The recordings were made by Bank, now head of the digital media company ImpactAlpha and then a Wall Street Journal reporter whose beat was philanthropy. Epstein was soon to donate $6.5 million to Harvard University to support research into evolutionary dynamics, the largest known contribution he made over the years as he tried to cultivate a reputation as a moneyed patron. The Journal didn’t publish a story based on the interview on Little St. James.

After Epstein’s arrest on July 6, Bank dug out the tapes and listened to them. The financier was, Bank recalled, friendly and gracious, eager to pontificate about many things but cagey about exactly what he did in his role as financial adviser to Leslie Wexner, the billionaire he met in Palm Beach in the 1980s and who opened doors for him in business and finance and beyond.

Epstein wouldn’t name any of his other clients, nor say how many there were. “Less than 10. More than four.”

He did, though, touch a bit on the control he had over the finances of the Victoria’s Secret mogul. “I don’t tell him what sweaters to buy, he doesn’t tell me when to buy or sell stock.”


People would always call me and say, could you come look at my problems? Could you come see my situation and tell me what you think. And I started J. Epstein & Co. I think in 1982 or 1983. And I said I would only take you if you had a billion dollars or more.

Born in 1953 in Brooklyn — on the tapes he still has the accent — Epstein went to what he called “rough schools” and took college courses but never earned a degree. The Dalton School, an elite institution on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, hired him as a teacher anyway.

“It attracted me because I thought it would be a different class of students I hadn’t come across before,” he said. For him, “this was going to be the flip side” to his early years on blue-collar Coney Island.

The parents of the kids in his math and physics classes were not only well-to-do but, more importantly, connected, people like, as he recalled, the actor Joel Grey and venture capitalist Fred Adler. He paid attention.

I saw lots of people doing lots of hard work and hard work didn’t translate into success either. It wasn’t what you knew or how hard you worked. In fact, the people who were doing construction on Telegraph Avenue at that time were, I remember seeing some people, you know, coming in at seven o’clock in the morning and spending 12 hours working and look they still were neither happy or successful. So it’s not about what you know. And what I learned from Dalton later, lots of it in fact turns out to, not necessarily who you knew, but who you came in contact with.

Jeff Epstein’s career as a fixer, for lack of a better description, was about to be launched. Through a Dalton School parent, he met Bear Stearns Cos.’ Alan “Ace” Greenberg. Greenberg summoned the young man to his office, barked out a few questions and hired him on the spot.

I started at Bear Stearns in 1976. Bear Stearns never had any training program. There was no course to begin. Alan Greenberg said he wanted me to learn each area of the business. So he thought the best place for me to start would be on the floor of the American Stock Exchange and then later move up to the trading desk and learn all the different areas of the firm including the margin department. He was amazing.

Alan C. Greenberg
Bear, Stearns & Co. CEO Alan Greenberg.
Photographer: Kimberly Butler/The LIFE Images Collection
Epstein said it was his ability to comprehend the pricing of options — then the cutting edge of finance — that allowed him to rise swiftly to limited partner. He applied what he called a scientific approach to his trades. Success was heady.

The way I saw it was physics, which was in fact based on a fixed number of rules and you did experiments in physics that couldn’t violate those rules and if your experiment worked you hit the target. Finance seemed to be a different metaphor for the same processes but when you hit your target, you were able to fly first class to Paris.

Jeffrey Epstein’s apartment in Paris.
Photographer: Jacques Demarthon/AFP via Getty Images
What the interview on Little St. James didn’t reveal was the answer to the most intriguing question: How exactly did Epstein get so rich? At the time of his arrest on federal charges that he molested and exploited dozens of teenage girls, he was worth more than $500 million, according to a financial disclosure his lawyers filed in an unsuccessful request for bail.

Making money is my priority for how I think about things. Money itself and how  people make money and how money is made in different ways. So takeovers were a way to make money. Commodity trading, was a way to make money. To me the new one is currencies.

At Dalton, he said, he earned less than $20,000 a year. He made a “comfortable living,” during his five years at Bear Stearns. He set up J Epstein & Co. in New York in the early 1980s, later changing the name to Financial Trust Co. and moving its headquarters to the U.S. Virgin Islands. He bought Little St. James for $7.95 million in 1998 and nearby Great St. James in 2016 for $22.5 million. Just the property taxes on his homes in New York, New Mexico and Florida came to more than $600,000 last year.

As a money manager, Epstein earned fees for investment advice, tax services and estate planning. He bragged about how his decision to charge flat fees freed him from the pressure of incessant trading and differentiated him from stock brokers in an era when trading was commission based. 

He had some breaks along the way, when, for instance, he advised clients to exit the market before 1987’s Black Monday crash. “It was more luck than anything,” Epstein said—he’d given the advice because he was going on vacation around that time and didn’t want to be disturbed. He also helped clients with more esoteric matters, advising them about purchasing private islands and how best to decorate private jets. “I might get involved with how to operate a plane, how to charter the plane or the boat or do the interiors, the engines, the propulsion systems.”

The perks of wealth were important to him — “Having personal staff is the first great luxury,” he said — but wealth was also a worry, a weight. He talked about the very rich being easy targets for fraudsters, about the care he took when he started making philanthropic donations and the risk of blackmail. 

“My concern is that people can make spurious allegations all the time,” he said. “The idea is if nothing else he’ll buy me off. I’ll attack his reputation and he’ll buy me off.”

One of the biggest issues is if you have too much money most likely you won’t miss it if some is taken from you. That’s very important, which is in fact security concerns—and this is the reason I’ve always been private and wisely so—is as you become known as a philanthropist or in giving away money then you become the perfect victim of frauds and identity theft.

Jeffrey Epstein's Private Island In The Caribbean Has Gone Quiet
Sheets cover furniture in a gazebo on Little St. James Island.
Photographer: Marco Bello/Bloomberg
He returned often to the cheating-the-rich theme, which is a curiosity considering Wexner’s recent accusation that Epstein swindled him and his family out of “vast sums of money” during their long association.

What about the clues in the tapes as to what made Epstein tick? They aren’t easy to suss out; he touched on so many topics, often seemingly randomly. He did frequently return to his love of music — he said he played the piano since he was 5 — mathematics and the sciences, expounding for minutes on end about the workings of the brain and evolutionary dynamics.

Epstein: I was always very good at mathematics.
Reporter: What made you interested in it?
Epstein: It was solving puzzles. It’s a strange feeling when you get the right answer to a puzzle. That leads to a later discussion about why people are so excited about puzzle solving and why is the brain itself both a predictor of things and an inherent puzzle solver. In fact, I hate to sort of jump again to more brain things but the idea of people receive pleasure when they get the right answer to a puzzle and the question is when you say pleasure, does that mean there’s a bit of dopamine released in the brain? What are the real mechanics? What’s going on in someone’s head when they have what Duchamp 

referred to as the Aha! moment.

His financial strategy included one iron-clad rule: He’d sell if any investment ever lost 10%. “If I lose $10 million of a $100 million I’m out. Under no circumstances am I going to lose more than 10% of my investments,” he said. “I always want to have enough money to stay in the game.” There was a book I read when I first started on Wall Street which was called “Sell is a Four Letter Word,” which meant that people get attached to things. They refuse to sell, or they refuse to resign, and they make up lots of reasons why that they’re sticking around. Whether it be in relationships with other people, or with stocks. People have stocks that go down and they tell themselves I know I should have sold then, but I can’t sell now. The financial institutions that dealt with Epstein, including Deutsche Bank AG and JPMorgan Chase & Co., have worked to distance themselves from his taint ever since his arrest on the federal charges. But more than 15 years ago, Epstein was — in his telling — a highly valued client for JPMorgan. JPMorgan is probably the best private bankers in the world. The head of private banking you should talk to—Jes Staley. They know they can call up and ask me, you know, there’s an opportunity here and might take a very large sum of money, $100 million or more, whatever the number may be. And I can give them an answer by the end of the telephone call. By 2006 — the year he was first arrested, in Palm Beach — Epstein had a 10,000-acre spread he called Zorro Ranch in New Mexico, a waterside home in Palm Beach, a luxury apartment on Avenue Foch in Paris, the 70-acre island in the Caribbean and a Manhattan mansion across the street from the Frick Collection museum. “Is it appropriate to have your own personal island and a 727 with its own bedroom?” Epstein said. “Why not?”

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