How Ohio’s richest man was connected to Jeffrey Epstein, financier turned sex offender
Jessie Balmert, Cincinnati Enquirer
COLUMBUS – Financier Jeffrey Epstein, arrested this week on child sex trafficking charges, was notoriously secretive about his billionaire client list, disclosing just one prominent name over and over: Leslie H. Wexner, CEO of L Brands and Ohio’s richest man.
Epstein’s recent arrest has brought to light his once-close relationship with Wexner, the billionaire founder and CEO of brands like Victoria’s Secret and Bath & Body Works.
In 1989, Wexner purchased the seven-story Manhattan mansion where Epstein has since been accused of sexually assaulting girls in the 2000s. In 1996, a woman alleges Epstein and his partner sexually assaulted her at Wexner’s Ohio mansion, according to a federal court affidavit.
Wexner, through a spokeswoman, said that he severed all ties with Epstein nearly 12 years ago – around the time Epstein faced charges for sex crimes in Florida.
Epstein was convicted in 2008 and served 13 months in county jail as part of a plea deal negotiated by then-U.S. Attorney Andrew Acosta, who announced Friday he would resign from President Donald Trump’s administration. That deal has since come under scrutiny for cutting off a larger FBI investigation into Epstein.
Before that time, Wexner played a key role in improving Epstein’s prospects as a financier to America’s elite. In 2003, Epstein described his relationship with Wexner to Vanity Fair: “People have said it’s like we have one brain between two of us: each has a side.”
Property and paintings
The connections between Wexner and Epstein abound. Wexner, a longtime Republican fundraiser who recently left the party out of frustration with Trump, became Epstein’s client in the late 1980s after Epstein left global investment bank, Bear Stearns.
“I think we both possess the skill of seeing patterns,” Wexner told Vanity Fair in 2003. “But Jeffrey sees patterns in politics and financial markets, and I see patterns in lifestyle and fashion trends.”
In 1989, Wexner purchased the 21,000-square foot Manhattan townhome for $13.2 million – the highest recorded sale for that type of property at the time, according to the New York Times. He then spent “tens of millions on renovations, art and furnishings,” according to a 1996 Times article.
But Wexner never lived there. Epstein did.
That’s one place where federal investigators say Epstein groped and sexually assaulted girls after he recruited them to massage him while nude or partially nude. Other alleged assaults occurred at Epstein’s Palm Beach, Florida, residence. Some of the girls were as young as 14 years old.
When investigators searched the palatial New York City townhome, they found “hundreds – and perhaps thousands – of sexually suggestive photographs of fully – or partially – nude females,” according to a memo from prosecutors. Epstein has pleaded not guilty to the charges of sex trafficking.
Wexner no longer owns the Manhattan home; it was transferred to a trust that Epstein controls in 2011, according to a New York Times report.
Epstein played an important role in the development of New Albany, a city just east of Columbus where the Wexners reside in their Georgian-inspired estate, in the 1990s. At one point, Epstein owned a “grand house” nearby, according to a 2002 New York Magazine article.
In 2000, Epstein commissioned a $339,000 family portrait of Wexner’s wife, Abigail, and the family’s four children. But the Wexners weren’t satisfied with the painting – upset about Abigail’s expression and the children’s ages and sizes – and refused to pay.
The artist, Nelson Shanks, sued over payment 2002. An attorney for the Wexners and Epstein called the painting “impersonal, inaccurate and disturbing.” The case was settled and dismissed in 2003.
Even though the Wexners severed ties more than a decade ago, Epstein’s companies made $46 million in donations to Wexner’s YLK Charitable Fund in 2008 – an apparent bid to get back into the family’s good graces, according to tax records first reported by CNBC.
‘My life was ruined’
It was at the Wexner’s Ohio home where Maria Farmer, of Paducah, Kentucky, accused Epstein and his partner Ghislaine Maxwell of sexually assaulting her during the summer of 1996, according to an affidavit filed in federal court.
Farmer first met Epstein and Maxwell in 1995 at an art show when she was in her mid-20s. Epstein told Farmer that if she sold him a painting at half price, he would help her with her career. Farmer later took a job with Epstein, helping him to acquire art.
Epstein later arranged for Farmer to work on a special art project at Wexner’s Ohio mansion during the summer of 1996. She stayed at the property with her two younger brothers.
One day, Epstein and Maxwell visited Wexner’s mansion, asked Farmer to come into a bedroom and sexually assaulted her, according to the affidavit.
“I fled from the room and called the sheriff’s office but did not get any response,” Farmer wrote in the affidavit. “The Wexner’s security staff refused to let me leave the property.”
Farmer alleges she was held against her will for 12 hours until she was ultimately allowed to leave with her father, who drove up from Kentucky to help her. When Farmer returned to New York City, she reported the assault to local police and the FBI but no charges were filed.
After that summer, Farmer says Epstein and Maxwell threatened her and cut off her access to art clients. “Maxwell and Epstein worked in concert to make sure that my career and my life was ruined,” she wrote.
The Enquirer reached out to Wexner for comment. A person close to the matter said Wexner has no knowledge of the situation Farmer referenced.
A Franklin County Sheriff’s Office spokesman said nothing was reported at the time, and they would have responded to any claim or complaint. Ohio has a 25-year statute of limitations on rape and a 20-year statute of limitations on other sex crimes.
Farmer also alleged that Epstein and Maxwell molested her 15-year-old sister at their New Mexico ranch.
Farmer’s affidavit was part of a complaint filed by Virginia Giuffre against retired Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz, accusing the attorney of acting as Epstein’s co-conspirator. Dershowitz has denied the allegations and accused Giuffre of perjury.