Long before Jeffrey Epstein pleaded guilty to prostitution charges in Florida more than a decade ago, his fellow Palm Beach resident and hedge-fund manager Douglas Kass was intrigued by the local gossip about his neighbor.
“I’m hearing about the parties, hearing about a guy who’s throwing money around,” says Kass, president of Seabreeze Partners Management. ... Kass was more focused on how this obscure person, rumored to be managing billions of dollars, had become so wealthy without much of a track record.
Kass was well-connected on Wall Street, where he’d worked for decades, so he began to ask around. “I went to my institutional brokers, to their trading desks and asked if they ever traded with him. I did it a few times until the date when he was arrested,” he recalls. “Not one institutional trading desk, primary or secondary, had ever traded with Epstein’s firm.”
For decades, Epstein has been credulously described as a big-time hedge-fund manager and a billionaire, even though there’s not a lot of evidence that he is either. There appears little chance the public is going to get definitive answers anytime soon. ...
Naturally, this air of mystery has especially piqued the interest of real-life, non-pretend hedge-funders. If this guy wasn’t playing their game — and they seem pretty sure he was not — what game was he playing? Intelligencer spoke to several prominent hedge-fund managers to get a read on what their practiced eyes are detecting in all the new information that is coming to light about Epstein in the wake of his indictment by federal prosecutors in New York. Most saw signs of something unsavory at the heart of his business model.
Intelligencer spoke with Thomas Volscho, a sociology professor at the College of Staten Island who is working on a book about Epstein.
For years, even before all the sordid details of his personal life were known, it has been a mystery to those reporting on Jeffrey Epstein how, exactly, he earned his prodigious fortune. You’re working on a book that explores this very topic. What’s the thrust of what you’ve found?
It’s very murky. I found a couple things, but it’s a mystery. I caught the Virgin Islands corporate filing where he listed his company as having $88 million. I found in a Citgroup court case that he was on the deed for 14 parcels of land for Elizabeth Ross Johnson, the Johnson & Johnson heiress. I don’t know in what capacity — he’s told people he’s a real-estate developer, so he might have helped her to develop Lightning Tree Farm in Dutchess County. That property is selling for $28 million. So that’s a client.
But naming his clients or assets is very tough. One of the things I did, and I see NBC did a story on this, was look into the charities he’s running. He was running charities for [Leslie] Wexner [the retail billionaire and Epstein’s one major client], and then was running his own charities, and they always had $9 million or $10 million donations circulating around them. And I always suspected, but not got around to pursuing, that he was embezzling funds. And I can’t prove that, but that’s my suspicion right now. NBC is reporting that the charities hadn’t really received the donations that he’d reported. So that could be a source of his finances.