A strange thing happened when Jeffrey Epstein came back to New York City after being branded a sex offender: His reputation appeared to rise.
In 2010, the year after he got out of a Florida prison, Katie Couric and George Stephanopoulos dined at his Manhattan mansion with a British royal. The next year, Mr. Epstein was photographed at a “billionaire’s dinner” attended by tech titans like Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk. A page popped up on Harvard University’s website lauding his accomplishments, and superlative-filled news releases described his lofty ambitions as he dedicated $10 million to charitable causes.
Powerful female friends served as social guarantors: Peggy Siegal, a gatekeeper for A-list events, included him in movie screenings, and Dr. Eva Andersson-Dubin, a champion of women’s health, maintained a friendship that some felt gave him credibility. Mr. Epstein put up a website showing Stephen Hawking and other luminaries at a science gathering he had organized.
“If you looked up Jeffrey Epstein online in 2012, you would see what we all saw,” Leon Botstein, the president of Bard College, said in an interview. He seemed “like an ex-con who had done well on Wall Street,” who was close to the Clintons and gave money to academic pursuits, Dr. Botstein said. That was why, he noted, Bard accepted an unsolicited $50,000 in 2011 for its high schools, followed later that year and in 2012 by another $75,000 in donations.
Over a decade ago, when Mr. Epstein was very publicly accused of sexually abusing girls as young as 14, he minimized the legal consequences with high-powered lawyers, monetary settlements that silenced complaints, and a plea deal that short-circuited an F.B.I. investigation and led to the resignation announcement on Friday of a Trump cabinet official who had overseen the case as a prosecutor. Socially, Mr. Epstein carried out a parallel effort, trying to preserve his reputation as a financier, philanthropist and thinker.
Some of the respect Mr. Epstein, 66, drew on was manufactured, the accomplishments recycled. The gathering with Dr. Hawking had taken place back in 2006. The positive online notices appeared to have been paid for by Mr. Epstein: A writer employed by his foundation churned out the news releases, and Drew Hendricks, the supposed author of a Forbes story calling Mr. Epstein “one of the largest backers of cutting edge science,” conceded in an interview that he was given $600 to post the pre-written article under his own name. (Forbes removed the piece after The New York Times published its article.)
Though some institutions and prominent people, including Donald J. Trump, said they shunned him, Mr. Epstein’s tactics largely worked. Over the past week, as the scope of his alleged offenses, involving dozens of victims in the early 2000s, became clearer after a new indictment in New York, the story of Mr. Epstein and his social circles shows how some people were willing to welcome back — or at least give a pass to — a handsome rich man who had been convicted of a crime involving a minor.
Mr. Epstein’s social strategy proceeded from his legal one. The lenient agreement he reached with prosecutors — his plea involved one girl, a 17-year-old, and the crime was prostitution, which made it look like the teenager was in part to blame — gave others a reason to dismiss his wrongdoing, decide he had already paid his penalty or not question what had happened.
At the top of New York society, plenty of people have “weird chitchat attached to their name,” said Candace Bushnell, the “Sex and the City” writer. She said in an interview that she looked into rumors about Mr. Epstein for The New York Observer in 1994 but stopped reporting after she was thrown out of his townhouse and threatened.
For years to come, people brushed such stories aside. “You’d think, ‘It couldn’t possibly be true,’” she said.
A Renaissance Man
In March 2006, a year after allegations of sexual misconduct were first reported to the police in Palm Beach, Fla., Mr. Epstein underwrote the kind of elite event he prized.Though Mr. Epstein never attended Harvard, it became a recurring theme in his self-styled image. He made donations and mingled with its faculty, including the law professor Alan Dershowitz, right.CreditRick Friedman/Corbis, via Getty Images
It was a five-day gathering in the Caribbean of some of the world’s top scientists, including Dr. Hawking, to share ideas about gravity and cosmology, with scuba and catamaran excursions on the side. One evening, the participants had dinner on the beach at Mr. Epstein’s private island.
Some of the scientists noticed that Mr. Epstein “was always followed by a group of something like three or four young women,” as Alan Guth, a physicist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, put it in an email to The Times, but they did not probe further.
Over a decade later, after Mr. Epstein was released from the Palm Beach County jail, he employed a similar strategy. He surrounded himself with prestige and counted on others to look past what he had done.
“I’m not a sexual predator, I’m an ‘offender,’ Mr. Epstein told The New York Post in 2011. “It’s the difference between a murderer and a person who steals a bagel.”
Ms. Siegal recalled, “He said he’d served his time and assured me that he changed his ways.”
For someone purported to have vast resources at his disposal, Mr. Epstein’s early endeavors to improve his image were oddly unpolished. In 2010 he created the first of at least a half-dozen websites, with names like JeffreyEpsteinScience.com and JeffreyEpsteinEducation.com, dedicated to extolling his philanthropy and fashioning himself a patron of technology and medicine.
The websites looked amateurish, the photos of him meeting with top scientists dated to years before his time in prison, and the name of the Harvard professor who led a research center Mr. Epstein had funded, Martin A. Nowak, was often misspelled.
At the same time, Mr. Epstein launched a public-relations campaign composed of a blizzard of news releases, along with canned write-ups designed to resemble news stories. For the most part, the announcements, which circulated from 2012 to 2014, were recycled accounts of donations he had made in the early 2000s and did not reflect new charitable giving. The earliest releases listed Mr. Epstein’s personal contact information, though later ones had the name of a media consultant. Some of the ersatz news stories found their way onto sites like Forbes and The Huffington Post.
Of all the names Mr. Epstein dropped, perhaps the most frequent was Harvard’s.
Though Mr. Epstein never attended Harvard or even got a college degree, the university has been a recurring theme in his self-styled image as a Renaissance man of finance and science. He found Harvard’s doors open to him once he opened his wallet, with donations starting in the early 1990s that eventually totaled at least $7.5 million.
He took to wearing Harvard sweatshirts, gravitated to mingling with celebrity scientists like Stephen Jay Gould and Steven Pinker, and developed friendships with the former Harvard president Lawrence H. Summers and the law professor Alan Dershowitz, who later helped defend him. (In civil suits, Mr. Dershowitz has been accused of having sex with two of Mr. Epstein’s accusers; he has denied the allegations and accused their lawyers of malfeasance.) Mr. Epstein, a former math teacher, even popped up for lunchtime discussions among scientists at a Harvard cafeteria, Dr. Pinker said in an interview, adding, “He weighted his own opinions as much as scholarly literature.”
By 2014, a page appeared on the website for Harvard’s Program for Evolutionary Dynamics, the initiative Mr. Epstein had financed 11 years earlier with a $6.5 million donation (and a pledge of $23.5 million more that never came), featuring a studio portrait, his résumé and links to his websites. “He is one of the largest supporters of individual scientists, including theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking, Marvin Minsky, Seth Lloyd and Nobel Laureates Gerard ’t Hooft, David Gross and Frank Wilczek,” the Harvard bio said, in what appears to be an exaggerated claim.
A Harvard spokesman said he did not know who was responsible for the page, which has since been removed
That same year, Mr. Epstein resurfaced at a prestigious science conference. Dr. Pinker, who sat at the same table as Mr. Epstein, said he was treated as an important donor to be wooed.
A Brand-New Start of It
Although he was often described as a billionaire, Mr. Epstein did not come close in his philanthropy to other superrich people. His charitable foundations rarely gave away more than $1 million a year during the 2000s, according to tax records, and much of it was money others had given him.
In 2015, a new foundation Mr. Epstein created, Gratitude America, received a $10 million infusion and started making donations. The source of the money is something of a mystery. Like his earlier giving, which was financed largely by $21 million in donations to his foundation from a close friend and business associate, the retail magnate Leslie H. Wexner, the 2015 money did not appear to have come from Mr. Epstein.
Tax records show the $10 million donation came from a limited liability company located at a 22-story building on Park Avenue in Manhattan that also houses the family foundation of Leon Black, a billionaire investor and chairman of the Museum of Modern Art. He has known Mr. Epstein for years. In 1999, Mr. Black gave $166,000 to another of Mr. Epstein’s charities, and Mr. Epstein once served on the board of Mr. Black’s own foundation. The two men also appear in photos at a 2007 meeting with scientists at Harvard.
It could not be determined whether Mr. Black was responsible for the $10 million donation. His representatives did not respond to requests for comment.
Dr. Eva Andersson-Dubin, founder of the Dubin Breast Center at Mount Sinai, gave Mr. Epstein another form of currency.
The physician, who served for many years as an in-house doctor of NBC, is a breast cancer survivor who used her experience as inspiration for a holistic treatment approach. A former model and Miss Sweden, she is the wife of Glenn Dubin, a founder of Highbridge Capital Management who is No. 1168 on the Forbes billionaires list. The two are known for their philanthropy, and in 2006 they bought Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis’s former apartment at 1040 Fifth Avenue, a symbol of their standing in the city.
Dr. Andersson-Dubin also has a long history with Mr. Epstein, and has remained loyal to him since the 1980s.
At that time, she was putting herself through medical school. She became his girlfriend and, with his encouragement, put modeling aside to focus on her studies. They remained close after she married in 1994. After Mr. Epstein’s release from jail, she continued to socialize with him; those in her circle were aware of their continued friendship.
Despite longstanding news reports about Mr. Epstein’s behavior, Dr. Andersson-Dubin said through a spokeswoman that she was shocked by the recent news. “She’s a very loyal friend and didn’t abandon him after 2008, but the frequency of their contact was less,” the spokeswoman said. The new allegations “are completely counter to the person she is familiar with.”
Their relationship went a long way toward dispersing the cloud around him, according to some observers. If Mr. Epstein had Dr. Andersson-Dubin’s friendship, it suggested to others that perhaps he should be given the benefit of the doubt.The publicist Peggy Siegal, left, and Dr. Eva Andersson-Dubin supported Mr. Epstein after his release from prison. Leon Black, the chairman of MoMA, donated to his foundation in 1999.CreditPresley Ann Slack/Patrick McMullan; Rob Kim/FilmMagic; Dimitrios Kambouris/Museum of Modern Art via Getty Images
Ms. Siegal, perhaps the city’s most prominent professional hostess, took a more active role, using her gate-keeping powers to usher Mr. Epstein, a friend, into screenings and events.
In an interview, she said that her relationship with Mr. Epstein was not a paid one: They had developed a rapport over the years, with him often quizzing her about films and other topics. “I was a kind of plugged-in girl around town who knew a lot of people,” she said. “And I think that’s what he wanted from me, a kind of social goings-on about New York.”
After he left prison, she had no trouble continuing the friendship. She knew other people who had served time and then resurrected their lives, she said. “The culture before #MeToo was — ‘You’ve done your time, now you’re forgiven.’”
At screenings, Mr. Epstein would shuffle in at the last minute, sit in the back, speak to no one and leave before the party, Ms. Siegal said. He had no ambitions for New York’s party circuit, she and others said, and preferred to entertain people in his own space.
But her invitations helped. In 2010, just after Mr. Epstein left prison, he attended a screening of “Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps.” Soon a flattering blind item appeared in The New York Post about how he was “greeted warmly by guests.”
“It was the first time he has been out in two years, but nobody blinked he was there,” an anonymous source told the newspaper.
A few months later, Ms. Siegal threw the dinner party at Mr. Epstein’s Upper East Side mansion for Prince Andrew, giving Ms. Couric, Mr. Stephanopoulos, Chelsea Handler and others a chance to speak to a member of the royal family a few months before the much-anticipated wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton.
“It was just one of those strange nights,” Ms. Handler said in an interview. Ms. Siegal had not emphasized who was hosting, several guests recalled. “The invitation was positioned as, ‘Do you want to have dinner with Prince Andrew?’” Ms. Siegal said. Mr. Epstein did not speak much. Dr. Andersson-Dubin was there, but others said they barely knew who Mr. Epstein was or what he had been convicted of.
Two of the other guests have also been accused of sexual misconduct, then or since: the television host Charlie Rose and Woody Allen, who attended along with his wife, Soon-Yi Previn. (“So how did the two of you meet?” Ms. Handler recalled asking the couple.) Soon after, outraged headlines appeared about Prince Andrew’s associating with Mr. Epstein, a sex offender.
In a recent email, Mr. Stephanopoulos said he regretted attending. “That dinner was the first and last time I’ve seen him,” he said, referring to Mr. Epstein. “I should have done more due diligence. It was a mistake to go.”
After the #MeToo era dawned in 2017, others were starting to feel less comfortable with Mr. Epstein. The Miami Herald published an investigation that spurred new interest in the case. Ms. Siegal began to distance herself. It was obvious that he was going to face renewed scrutiny, she said, but “he was in complete denial.”
Others echoed that description. Just three months ago, as federal prosecutors were closing in with new charges, Mr. Epstein had a conversation with R. Couri Hay, a publicist, about continuing to improve his reputation. Mr. Epstein asserted that what he was convicted of did not constitute pedophilia, said Mr. Hay, who declined to represent him.
The girls he had sex with were “tweens and teens,” Mr. Epstein told him.
Uber was the most valuable private company in history, but the public market has not been as enthusiastic. The reason explains a lot about how the tech industry works.
But some of it should go to Silicon Valley’s cultural divergence from the business reality. Investors loved the company not as an operating unit, but as an idea about how the world should be. Uber’s CEO was brash and would do whatever it took. His company’s attitude toward the government was dismissive and defiant. And its model of how society should work, especially how labor supply should meet consumer demand, valorized the individual, as if Milton Friedman’s dreams coalesced into a company. “It’s almost the perfect tech company, insofar as it allocates resources in the physical world and corrects some real inefficiencies,” the Uber investor Naval Ravikant told San Francisco magazine in 2014.
My five-day journey into the heart of cold arms.
As a heterosexual woman over 30, I have been haunted by this photo of Jeff Bezos looking surprisingly swole since it appeared during the Sun Valley Conference last summer. I don’t want to get into it, and neither do you, but let’s all agree that his vest and aviators are definitely a LOOK.
Bezos’s vest showing off his sun-dappled biceps is perhaps the perfect example of what I’m calling the “Power Vest” — fleece or quilted vests that are favored by all kinds of bros:
- tech bros of Silicon Valley,
- finance bros of New York,
- sales bros and
- finance bros all over the country
(I have no evidence that this is an international trend, and presumably this doesn’t apply to warmer parts of the US).I should clarify here I am speaking about vests worn by men. Yes, people of all genders people wear vests of all kinds. But this is a particular slice of bro culture. Women’s business attire has a whole different set of rules, even in these same industries. The Power Vest flaunts a very cruel male privilege: being comfortable.
Clothes send a message. The vests are not just a convenient warmth layer. There is meaning there. There are layers to this layer. The adoption of the vest by men who work in industries like tech and finance says something about this garment.
The vest means power. And as a lowly woman, I would like some power. Or at least to FEEL powerful — like a master of the universe, able to make snap decisions and be feared and respected by all I come in contact with. Which is why I decided I would wear a vest to the office for a week.
My first order of business was to decide what kind of vest to wear: fleece or quilted. I talked to my editors who are based in San Francisco, and they both emphatically said quilted, specifically Patagonia Nano Puff. But I was imagining a more dressed-up bro look — a fleece vest over a crisp white shirt and maybe even slacks and brown leather shoes.
I think here is the divide: West Coast tech bros always wear quilted vests, and East Coast finance bros still wear fleece.
It was clear I needed an impartial person who thinks really hard about different types of Power Vests and what they mean. It would be useless to ask the bros themselves, because everyone knows bros can’t be asked for opinions, at least not for articulate ones about fashion. So I reached out to possibly THE perfect expert for this: Eric Daman, the costume designer for the TV show Billions, which is about people who work at a hedge fund, but also about the depravity of toxic masculinity amplified by the excesses of money. Which is to say, a show loaded with Power Vests.
Not all Billions characters wear vests: The main character, Bobby Axelrod, never wears them (Daman explains his look is more of perfectly fitting Tom Ford tee) — and his lieutenant “Wags” sticks to suits, a kind of throwback to the precrash era. But one character on Billions, “Dollar” Bill, has been my fleece business vest inspo. “Dollar Bill always wears his Axe Capital [the name of the fictional hedge fund] fleece,” Daman said. He’s older, less hip, and notoriously cheap, hence wearing the free company swag. It’s also a statement of his character’s willingness to do anything for his boss. “I think out of devotion and honor that he chooses to only wear the fleece,” explained Daman. “It’s kind of like how the Scottish clans have their own tartan.”
Two other vest-wearing characters are also carefully chosen. One analyst, Ben Kim, who is younger, wears an Arc’teryx brand vest, made of a thin performance fabric, which is hipper and more youthful than a stodgy fleece or puffer. Another character, Everett, who was poached from another fund and therefore already has his own money, wears a Burberry vest to signal his higher financial status.
Indeed, I learned that vests can get quite expensive. That Jeff Bezos vest? It appears to be a $995 Ralph Lauren. You didn’t think Bezdaddy was going to slum around in a Patagonia, did you?
My vest budget was more limited. My editor informed me that BuzzFeed News was certainly not going to expense a $150 Nanopuff, so I decided to stick with something more modest: an L.L.Bean fleece vest I got as a teen in 1995 and was still at my parents’ house.
I was pretty into my first outfit: loose black jeans, off-white vintage button-down with a weird scene of a pond and ducks on the front, and of course, my vest. A jaunty masculine look. Looking in the mirror at home I saw a savvy businessperson. The Power Vest was working!
I got to the office and my deskmate, Joe, looked at me and said, “Nice vest. You know what you look like?”
“What?” I asked.
At midmorning I experienced a moment of extreme powerlessness. I noticed our floor was out of milk for coffee, so I went to grab a gallon from another floor. The BuzzFeed office has several floors, broken up by department. I sit on the news floor. I see these people every day, I know them, I don’t feel ashamed of wearing a relatively ugly vest around them. The next floor up, where I was getting milk, is where the fashion and lifestyle team sits.
All of a sudden I felt a deep sting of shame, aware of how utterly uncool I looked in front of these people who were dressed much more fashionably. It was that burning shame feeling of when you walk into a room of strangers and realize you’re extremely over- or underdressed. I wanted to scream “It’s for an article!” as a disclaimer, but that would’ve been very weird since no one was asking.
It was harder to figure out what kind of outfit to wear for day 2. I settled on a black button-down blouse with white piping and black jeans again. I don’t really think it worked quite as well — it seemed mismatched to have a casual vest over this dressier top. I didn’t feel powerful.
You don’t like meetings before 10 am. You like to get 8 hours of sleep.
As a senior executive, you get paid to make a few big decisions regarding future quarters 2 or 3 years in advance. If I make 3 good decisions today that’s good enough.
If Amazon was a startup, that would be different.
Sep.19 — Jeff Bezos, Amazon Founder, entrepreneur and owner of the Washington Post, talks to David Rubenstein about his background, how he came up with the idea for Amazon, building the company, some of the key businesses including Prime and Whole Foods, the space race and philanthropy. The world’s richest man says his most important decisions are made not with quantitative analysis but “with instinct, intuition, taste, heart.” Bezos speaks in the latest episode of “The David Rubenstein Show: Peer-to-Peer Conversations.” The interview was taped on September 13 in Washington.