Mr. Epstein pleaded not guilty to charges that he and his employees paid dozens of underage girls to engage in sex acts. He is being held without bail as he awaits trial. His lawyer, Martin G. Weinberg, declined to comment.
‘There Was Just Nothing There’
Mr. Wexner grew up in Ohio, where his parents owned a women’s apparel store, Leslie’s. Their son started The Limited in a Columbus shopping mall in 1963.
By the 1980s, Mr. Wexner was emerging as a force that would shape the American shopping mall – “The Merlin of the Mall,” as The New York Times would later describe him. His company was expanding its namesake chain, The Limited, as well as the retailer Express, while snapping up the likes of Henri Bendel and Lane Bryant.
Mr. Wexner, see the site who would go on to buy Abercrombie Fitch and launch Bath Body Works, made his most important acquisition in 1982: an obscure company called Victoria’s Secret.
Mr. Wexner wanted to diversify his personal investments beyond his retail chains. He was planning to build a luxury residential community in New Albany, Ohio, and also wanted to get more involved in the arts, philanthropy and Jewish causes, according to Robert Morosky, the former vice chairman of The Limited who resigned in 1987.
It was around then, in the mid-to-late 1980s, that Mr. Wexner and Mr. Epstein were introduced by a mutual acquaintance, an insurance executive named Robert Meister.
Mr. Epstein, a 30-something Coney Island native, didn’t fit the mold of financial adviser to the superwealthy. A college dropout, he had briefly taught math at the Dalton School in Manhattan and then worked at Bear Stearns, the investment bank. He told people that he was a tax expert and a fraud detective with a gift for devising sophisticated investment strategies.
After Mr. Meister’s introduction, Mr. Epstein started spending more and more time around Mr. Wexner, leaving longtime colleagues puzzled about why he was embracing this newcomer.
Mr. Morosky looked into Mr. Epstein’s background and was not impressed. “I tried to find out how did he get from a high school math teacher to a private investment adviser,” Mr. Morosky said. “There was just nothing there.”
Mr. Epstein’s formal role was to help manage Mr. Wexner’s fortune and to provide him with financial advice. The normal bread and butter of a financial adviser to a billionaire is to invest in all sorts of securities and assets, as well as hedge funds and private equity firms, pocketing a fee derived from any profits.
It isn’t clear that there was any official agreement detailing Mr. Epstein’s role or compensation. Representatives for Mr. Wexner and the company declined to answer questions about what investments Mr. Epstein made for Mr. Wexner, how any such investments performed and whether Mr. Epstein was ever audited or provided Mr. Wexner with documentation about the financial services he was providing.
“This whole thing has been a real mystery to me,” said Pete Halliday, a classmate of Mr. Wexner who helped him raise money when The Limited went public about 50 years ago. The Limited later became L Brands.
‘Manager of Fortune’
Jim Duberstein for es and dinner parties with Mr. Wexner; they even invested in real estate together. Shortly after Mr. Epstein showed up, he was late for a meeting with Mr. Duberstein at Mr. Wexner’s office. When Mr. Epstein did arrive, he put his feet up on Mr. Wexner’s desk, Mr. Duberstein recalled. Mr. Wexner joined the meeting by phone and instructed Mr. Epstein to treat his old friend like family.