(NEW YORK) — Leslie Wexner, the billionaire founder of the L Brands retail empire, who in 2019 accused disgraced financier Jeffrey Epstein of misappropriating “vast sums” of his personal fortune more than a decade earlier, has so far refused to reveal the full scope of that alleged multimillion-dollar theft.
In a letter sent to his foundation in August after Epstein was arrested in New York City on sex trafficking charges, Wexner disclosed that a $46 million donation in 2008 from Epstein, who served as Wexner’s personal financial advisor for more than 15 years, to a foundation run by Wexner’s wife Abigail represented only “a portion” of the funds that he recovered from Epstein.
In response to a series of questions from ABC News, however, a spokesperson for Wexner not only declined to specify the amount of money Epstein is believed to have misappropriated but also declined to comment on whether that alleged misappropriation was ever reported to the authorities.
“The foundation letter is the extent of our comments on this subject,” the spokesperson told ABC News.
The relationship between Wexner and Epstein, who died in prison last year after being indicted on sex trafficking charges, is the subject of the latest episode of ABC News’ “Truth and Lies: Jeffrey Epstein,” an eight-part podcast focusing on Epstein and the women who survived his crimes.
Wexner, 82, built some of the most recognizable clothing brands in the world, including the lingerie giant Victoria’s Secret, and he became fabulously wealthy in the process, with Forbes listing his current net worth as about $4.5 billion.
He met Epstein in the mid-1980s, according to the aforementioned letter to his foundation, through “friends who vouched for and recommended him as a knowledgeable financial professional,” and Epstein ultimately “took over managing [Wexner’s] personal finances.”
“Epstein created his own mythology that he only wanted to work with billionaires,” said Bob Fitrakis, who has covered Wexner for many years as the editor of the independent newspaper Columbus Free Press. “And here was an actual billionaire.”
Wexner trusted Epstein so completely that, in July 1991, Wexner gave Epstein power of attorney over his personal fortune, which as Wexner acknowledged in his letter, gave Epstein “wide latitude” to act on behalf of one of the richest men in the world.
In the ensuing years, Epstein became increasingly involved in Wexner’s personal ventures. Epstein’s signature appears on real estate documents, tax filings and corporation records for Wexner’s personal holdings throughout the next decade.
And as Wexner’s empire grew, so too did Epstein’s. He began to purchase luxury property all over the world, including a ten-thousand square foot house adjacent to Wexner’s estate in New Albany, Ohio, for about $3.5 million.
Epstein soon added one of New York City’s largest private residences to his portfolio, though his path to ownership was a somewhat strange and circuitous one that also ran through Wexner.
According to property records, Wexner purchased the property — a palatial mansion located at 9 East 71st St. on Manhattan’s Upper East Side — through a company he owned in 1989. But Epstein told The New York Times in 1996 that “Les never spent more than two months there” and boasted that he had acquired the property. According to a spokesperson, however, Wexner “never resided at the residence” and didn’t sell his stake in the company that owned the property to a company controlled by Epstein until 1998.
“I mean, regardless of who owns this remarkable property … to the naked eye, it’s Epstein who is benefiting from living there, who’s hosting people, throwing parties, not shy about letting people know that he owns it,” said Roddy Boyd, founder of the Southern Investigative Reporting Foundation and an ABC News contributor. “So it’s obvious that he accrued all the benefits of the property from this relationship.”
But perhaps the most mysterious financial entanglement between Wexner and Epstein is scattered across thousands of pages of S.E.C. filings and other records identified by criminologist and ABC News contributor Tom Volscho and reviewed by financial investigative journalist and ABC News contributor Boyd.
Volscho and Boyd found nearly a dozen trusts — with names like Health and Science Interests, Arts Interests and Community Interests — connected to Wexner that listed Epstein as trustee and received large gifts of stock in Wexner’s company, The Limited. These trusts may help explain how Epstein’s wealth grew so quickly.
Records show that between 1991 and 2006, Epstein oversaw the sale, mostly through the New York Stock Exchange, of more than $1.3 billion of company stock held by these trusts, representing a vast pool of cash largely controlled by Epstein.
Much of the money was certainly used for charitable purposes, but according to Volscho and Boyd, a potential pattern appears to emerge, one in which Epstein liquidates large amount of stock on behalf of these trusts and then, shortly after, makes large purchases for himself, including homes, planes, even a private island.
“With power of attorney, I believe that Epstein probably converted some of Mr. Wexner’s assets into his own uses,” Volscho said. “So we can say that the timing is there. And it’s unclear exactly, without having access to a private bank statement, how that happens.”
Wexner claims to have cut ties with Epstein after learning about the missing money in 2007 amid the first federal investigation into Epstein’s sexual crimes. Wexner maintains that he had no knowledge of Epstein’s sexual predation prior to that investigation. According to CNBC, Wexner turned over documents to authorities following Epstein’s arrest last year.
Epstein certainly used his connection to Wexner to enrich himself, but at least two women have said he also used it to facilitate attempts at abuse.
A pair of aspiring models have both publicly described disturbing encounters with Epstein, having being lured into a private meeting with him after he portrayed himself as a talent scout for Wexner’s flagship brand, Victoria’s Secret.
In an interview with ABC News, Alicia Arden said she met Epstein at a hotel in Santa Monica, California, in 1997, believing that Epstein could help get her photo in the Victoria’s Secret catalog. When she arrived at his hotel room, Arden said, Epstein groped her.
“He was putting his hands on my hips and my buttocks and saying, ‘Let me manhandle you,” Arden told ABC News. “So I got extremely terrified of that.”
Arden left the hotel room and later filed a report of sexual battery with the Santa Monica Police Department, one of the earliest known reports against Epstein for abusive behavior. The police, however, do not appear to have pursued the matter.
ABC News reached out to the Santa Monica Police Department about Arden’s case, but did not receive a response.
Elisabetta Tai told a similar story to New York Post last year. In 2004, she said, her booking agent set up a meeting with Epstein at his Upper East Side mansion, and she visited Epstein’s home under the impression that he was in “charge of Victoria’s Secret” and could get her into the company’s catalog.
While at Epstein’s home, Tai told the Post, Epstein stripped naked and handed her a vibrator. She threw it at his head, she said, and then left.
L Brands has since told Business Insider that it hired an outside law firm to review Epstein’s relationship with the company, but they do not believe he was ever an employee or authorized representative of the company.
But when ABC News reached out to L Brands, asking whether Epstein ever served as talent scout for Victoria’s Secret, the company did not respond to a request for comment.
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