Jeffrey Epstein: Man in the Middle

Following the money leads to some dark places.

MUCH LIKE the high crimes and misdemeanors of Donald John Trump, the illicit activity practiced by the late Jeffrey Epstein is so sweeping, so vast, and so heinous, it’s difficult to fully absorb. This piece is an attempt to sort out the mess.

I have read a great deal about Epstein, including Vicky Ward’s profile in Vanity Fair, where all talk of her subject’s dalliances with underage girls was excised by her editor—presumably under pressure from Epstein himself. Over the last two weeks, I watched “Epstein: Filthy Rich,” the remarkable Netflix documentary, which mostly concerns sex trafficking, and listened to “Merchant of Death,” Zev Shalev’s even-more-remarkable series of broadcasts on his Narativ channel about Epstein’s career as an arms dealer and money launderer.

“Filthy Rich” is interesting because it shows the places where Epstein lived, the shitty art on his walls, his crappy taste in clothes and furniture. And it’s one thing to read about him trafficking underage girls, and quite another to meet them and see pictures of what they looked like while he was abusing them. The man was a monster. “Merchant of Death,” meanwhile, delves into the under-reported, but possibly more critical, aspect of Epstein: his pocketbook. Who was this guy, and how’d he get so rich?

Shalev has an epiphany during his broadcast. Epstein, he explains, is really three things: First and foremost, an arms dealer; second, a money launderer and Ponzi schemer; third, a sex trafficker. When we think of Epstein in those terms, he becomes easier to understand.

A primary source of information on Epstein’s shadowy finances, one who participates in both the Netflix doc and the “Merchant of Death” broadcast, is Steven Hoffenberg. I’d never heard of him before, but his name is important to know. Hoffenberg was the CEO of Towers Financial, and as such presided over one of the largest Ponzi schemes in recent history. He was caught, indicted, convicted, and served 18 years in federal prison. Now, he is working to get the truth out about Epstein, whom he hired in the 1980s to help manage his criminal enterprise at Towers. So: Hoffenberg knew Epstein well, worked with him, was there; and he has zero incentive to lie about any of this. Indeed, his motive now is to see that Epstein’s rape victims—who in the 80s he did not know about—get restitution. Hoffenberg helps us connect the dots. And there are so many dots!

Like Bill Barr, Jeffrey Epstein occupies the center where a lot of circles on the Venn diagram overlap. Here is a breakdown:

Donald Barr / Dalton School

Barr, the doctrinaire headmaster of Dalton and former OSS operative, hired Epstein to teach mathematics at this esteemed Manhattan prep school, despite Epstein having only one year at Cooper Union, and no classroom experience at all. In “Filthy Rich,” we learn that Epstein lied about his education on his resumé, and was extraordinarily charming—in the “able to cast a magic spell” sense of the word. So the Epstein-Barr connection may be pure coincidence, although it bears mention that the most notorious sex criminal of the last century was given his first job by an old intelligence community hand who wrote sci-fi novels concerning sexual situations that were of a piece with Epstein’s later crimes. At Dalton, Epstein met the daughter of…

Ace Greenberg, CEO of Bear Stearns

“Filthy Rich” implies that the relationship between Epstein and Greenberg’s daughter was romantic in nature, although it does not say so explicitly. In the event, Epstein used the connection to wangle a gig at Bear Stearns, the investment bank, where he was, apparently, quite good at the job. Unfortunately, he played fast and loose with SEC regulations, and Greenberg had to let him go—with a parachute that, if not golden, was at least billon. Was Epstein the only one at the company violating regulations, or just the fall guy? We can’t say, but Bear Stearns acquired a reputation for recklessness, and would go bust in the financial collapse of 2008. At the investment firm, according to Steve Hoffenberg’s interview on the Narativ broadcast, Epstein’s primary big-money client was…

Edgar Bronfman, Sr.

Edgar was the son of Sam Bronfman, who had a monopoly on the illicit booze trade for the Eastern seaboard of the United States during Prohibition, and thus amassed a staggering fortune, which his grandchildren—especially Edgar Bronfman, Jr., an inept chief executive, and Sara and Clare Bronfman, who funneled millions of their inheritance to NXIVM cult leader Keith Raniere—took great pains to squander.

Sir Douglas Leese

Google is eerily silent about Leese, who was a major arms dealer with ties to MI6—and a knight, besides. After leaving Bear Stearns, Epstein went to work for Leese, where he busied himself facilitating and managing various shady arms deals. It was through these arms deals that Epstein began to acquire his fortune. “Merchant of Death” goes into great detail about Epstein’s role, which mainly concerned the movement of money from Point A to Point B. According to Hoffenberg, Epstein was Leese’s right hand man—and it was Leese who introduced Epstein to Hoffenberg. Leese was also a principal in Towers Financial, Hoffenberg’s crooked investment firm, along with Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos and…

Adnan Khashoggi

The Saudi arms dealer was in the middle of all kinds of shit in the 80s and 90s, including deals with the Saudis and Leese in 1984, 1986, and 1991, Shalev tells me. He was tied to Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos, whose fortune he tried to safeguard after the disgraced couple fled the Philippines. He’s the uncle of Jamal Khashoggi, and once sold a yacht on the cheap to Donald John Trump. And, again, per Hoffenberg, he was involved with the crooked Towers Financial. Speaking of arms deals…

Iran-Contra

…was the biggest arms deal of all: the CIA using organized crime to help ship arms to Iran and money to Nicaragua. According to former Israeli Military Intelligence spy Ari Ben-Menashe, in his book Profits of War, the CIA set up a slush fund—$800 million from the U.S., $800 million from Israel—to run the arms. When the operation was shut down, the Agency parked its leftover cash in Iran, fearing that bringing it back to the U.S. would raise a red flag. Somehow, Hoffenberg says, Epstein got a hold of a big chunk of that money: the actual source of his fortune.

Prince Andrew

The Duke of York did more than avail himself of trafficked underage girls (assuming we believe Virginia Roberts Guiffre, and the telecom guy on Little St. James from “Filthy Rich,” and that incriminating photo snapped by Epstein at Ghislaine Maxwell’s flat that Randy Andy claimed never to have set foot in, rather than Prince Andrew’s hollow “I do not recall” denial). He was also, Shalev says, rumored to be involved in some of the arms deals.

British Intelligence

Douglas Leese was allegedly connected with British intelligence. So too was an even plumier feather in Epstein’s cap…

Robert Maxwell

Maxwell, born Jan Hoch in 1923 in rural Czechoslovakia, is the ultimate “Man in the Middle.” After the war, in which most of his family died in the Holocaust, he rose in power in his adopted country of Great Britain, amassing a fortune, becoming active in politics both in the UK and in the fledgling state of Israel. For decades, he plied his dark trade, facilitating deals between intelligence agencies, liaising with mobsters (Semion Mogilevich, head of the Russian mafiya, was allegedly a partner), moving around money, gobbling up media properties, and bilking investors. Dealing arms was his cash cow, Shalev says. According to Hoffenberg, Epstein spent years at Maxwell’s feet, learning the ins and outs of the business—a claim confirmed by Ari Ben-Menashe. Epstein took over Maxwell’s operation completely when Maxwell died under mysterious circumstances on his yacht off the coast of Grand Canary Island in 1991. Ben-Menashe claims Maxwell was killed by the Israelis; another individual who insisted that Maxwell was murdered was…

Ghislaine Maxwell

The youngest daughter of Robert Maxwell, Ghislaine (pronounced “zhee-LEN” by Europeans and “Jill N” by flat-accented Americans, and not “Jizz Lane” as I originally believed), was Epstein’s girlfriend, sex crime partner, pimp, and enforcer. She is not in prison right now, or under indictment, because the plea deal negotiated by Epstein in 2008 granted her immunity. From what I hear, she is a charming person in real life, although painfully insecure, and thus constantly seeking to name-drop and otherwise impress anyone she comes in contact with by basking in her larger-than-life father’s reflective glow; if she were American, she’d be on The View. Reports claim she first met Epstein after the death of her father in 1991, but if Hoffenberg and Ben-Menashe are right about Epstein’s apprenticeship with Robert Maxwell, she must have known him prior to that. It was Ghislaine, reportedly, who hooked Epstein up with…

Israeli Intelligence

According to Ari Ben-Menashe, Epstein worked in some capacity for Israeli Military Intelligence, or Aman.

Steven Hoffenberg

As discussed, Hoffenberg was the CEO of Towers Financial, and as such ran one of the largest Ponzi schemes in recent history. Epstein was referred to him, he said on the Narativ broadcast, by Douglas Leese, who said that Epstein was brilliant, but “too hot” for London. Further, Leese told Hoffenberg that Epstein’s “moral compass was broken,” and thus would have no objection to working for a criminal enterprise. Epstein enriched himself working for Towers, but avoided prosecution because, when Hoffenberg took the fall, he did not implicate him. Hoffenberg served 18 years in federal prison, and is now trying to make good by telling the truth about his former employee—who, he says, was the real mastermind behind the Towers Ponzi scheme—and helping Epstein’s rape victims.

Les Wexner / Victoria’s Secret

“Filthy Rich” implies that Epstein straight-up seduced Wexner, the billionaire owner of The Limited, Victoria’s Secret, Abercrombie & Finch, and other fashion concerns. For his part, Wexner provided Epstein with 1) cash—he famously gifted him the fancy Manhattan townhouse; 2) an alibi for where his fortune came from; 3) an “in” with teenage girls who wanted to be models. (It’s unclear if Wexner was aware of what his friend was up to.) Jeffrey liked to trade on the Victoria’s Secret name to woo his victims. Another entree to the world of fashion modeling was his friend…

Jean-Luc Brunel

The Frenchman owned the MC2 modeling agency and was a notorious creep, with a reputation for sexually abusing would-be models. Here is one such account, by a model from New Zealand named Zoë Brock—someone I actually know. Small wonder Brunel and Epstein were chummy.

Alan Dershowitz

His uncomely face has been on TV screens for so many years, I’d forgotten why exactly he became famous: as a defense attorney for the nation’s most notorious criminals. He talks about his career in the “Filthy Rich” documentary—props to him for agreeing to appear—and watching it, I couldn’t help but think, “What sort of person makes it his life’s work to help heinous, clearly guilty criminals escape justice?” This was how Dershowitz came into Epstein’s orbit: he was the one who negotiated the sweetheart deal with Alex Acosta that gave his client the slap on the wrist. What sort of person could do that, knowing, as he presumably must have, all the gruesome details of what Epstein was up to? Dershowitz was a law professor at…

Harvard University

The alma mater of Jared Kushner and Mark Zuckerberg was favorite institution of Epstein’s—and probably deserves a deep dive of its own. Epstein saw himself as a philanthropist, who also gave money to…

Research scientists

…who might not otherwise receive funding. In “Filthy Rich,” there is a tape of Epstein talking with some pride about his philanthropic work. It is likely through this philanthropic work that Epstein befriended…

Bill Clinton

From what I can gather, Clinton came into Epstein’s orbit via Ghislaine Maxwell. I have not seen any charges that the former president availed himself of the young women in Epstein’s entourage—“Filthy Rich” makes no such allegations; to the contrary. On the other hand, Clinton is certainly lying about how chummy he really was with Epstein. He wasn’t just on the “Lolita Express” for the humanitarian trip to Africa—he flew on Epstein’s private jet a lot. And he claims never to have visited Little St. James, but the telecom worker interviewed in the documentary insists that he saw Clinton on Epstein’s island. After all that’s happened to him, hasn’t Bill realized that it’s best to tell the truth about these details?

Alex Acosta

The former US Attorney who signed off on the humdinger of a plea agreement—the rationale for which he’s never adequately explained—went on to serve as Labor Secretary for…

Donald John Trump

…an old pal of Epstein’s with a yen for underage girls, who is now, somehow, the President of the United States. His third Attorney General, the one working like sixty to grant Trump despotic powers, is…

Bill Barr

Barr is himself a “Man in the Middle.” His father plucked Epstein from thin air and installed him at Dalton, beginning one of the most notorious careers in recent history. Barr headed the Justice Department when Epstein was found dead in his prison cell—and was thus ultimately responsible for what the makers of “Filthy Rich” clearly believe was not a suicide. Thus was Epstein’s career begun and ended by the Barrs, father and son, completing the circle of jerks.


Thanks to Zev Shalev for his help with this piece. Speaking of which…

I will be on Zev’s live broadcast today at 7pm EST, along with Lincoln’s Bible and Eric Garland. The topic: Robert Maxwell. Please do tune in.

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