That 2003 interview, captured in a previously unpublished cache of recordings, provides a rare glimpse of the enigmatic figure in his own words.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