Raised in a tough Brooklyn neighbourhood, Epstein was working as a math teacher at a Manhattan private school when, the legend goes, the father of one of his students put him in touch with a partner at the global investment bank Bear Stearns.
That was 1976. Within six years Epstein had risen through the ranks, working as a trader, before striking out on his own and convincing some of America’s wealthiest plutocrats to let him manage their portfolios.
Profiting from the 1980s boom, Epstein quickly amassed his own fortune. Often referred to as a billionaire, Epstein’s true net worth remains unknown – in part because much of his wealth is concealed, according to Forbes, in a financial entity in the US Virgin Islands, a tax shelter where he owns his own private island.
However, over his career Epstein, 61, acquired properties across the world, including a ranch in New Mexico, a mansion in Palm Beach, Florida, and a 40-room mansion in New York, which is reportedly the largest residential property in Manhattan.
With huge wealth came great influence, and Epstein built friendships with powerful figures in the establishment: celebrities, politicians, business moguls and royalty. His list of clients has never been publicly disclosed, although it is well known that one is the billionaire retail magnate Les Wexner, whose empire includes the Victoria’s Secret chain.
Wexner is understood to have since cut his ties with Epstein. However, the investment banker maintained an impressive contacts list, from Hollywood to Washington. He was a generous philanthropist, donating millions of dollars to Harvard and other institutions engaged in cutting-edge scientific research.
He once counted Bill Clinton, Donald Trump, Kevin Spacey and Naomi Campbell among his associates, frequently lent his private jet to powerful contacts and became famed for his extravagant parties.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Epstein found himself described as a modern-day Great Gatsby. His downfall, which began almost a decade ago, has been just as dramatic as the eponymous protagonist in Fitzgerald’s novel. Epstein was arrested in 2005, after the stepmother of a 14-year-old girl told Florida police he had paid $200 for an erotic massage with her daughter, and later became the subject of an FBI investigation.
By the following year prosecutors said they had identified 40 young women who may have been illegally procured by Epstein. Dozens of his alleged victims are reported to have settled with Epstein out of court.
The federal inquiry was eventually dropped after Epstein negotiated a deal with prosecutors in which he agreed to plead guilty to a relatively minor state charge relating to soliciting paid sex with a minor. He served 13 months of an 18-month sentence and is now a registered sex offender.
A lawsuit against the US government brought by two of Epstein’s alleged victims, who are unhappy with the terms of the plea deal, has been ongoing for more than six years.
In the latest twist, lawyers for the two women filed a motion in a Florida court this week attempting to add two new plaintiffs to the case. That document surfaces new allegations against Epstein and his associates.
The motion portrays Epstein as running a “sexual abuse ring”, loaning out underage women to “prominent American politicians, powerful business executives, foreign presidents, a well-known prime minister, and other world leaders”. Epstein’s lawyers did not respond to repeated requests for comment but others identified in the court document have strenuously denied the woman’s accusation.
Those forcefully rejecting the allegations contained in the court filing on Friday include Prince Andrew, the Duke of York. His friendship with Epstein stems back to the early 1990s. Epstein was also a friend of Andrew’s former wife, Sarah Ferguson, once lending her £15,000 to reduce some of her debts. Ferguson later said she regretted taking Epstein’s money, which she described as “a gigantic error of judgment”.
After reports on Friday that the motion filed in the Florida court named Prince Andrew in connection with Epstein’s alleged sex trafficking, Buckingham Palace released a rare public statement.
“This relates to long-running and ongoing civil proceedings in the United States to which the Duke of York is not a party,” it said. “As such we would not comment in detail. However, for the avoidance of doubt, any suggestion of impropriety with underage minors is categorically untrue.”