New York Magazine: How Jeffrey Epstein Made His Money: Four Wild Theories
Financial Conspiracy Theory #1: Ponzi scheme
A Ponzi scheme has been floated as a possible source of Epstein’s wealth since as early as 2009, when Business Insider noted that multiple red flags pointed to a possible Madoff-like fraud. The secrecy of his client list; the “administrative” nature of all 150 of his employees in 2002; the absolute control over investors’ money, and the $1 billion basement investment required — all signs could point to Ponzi, although there’s no concrete evidence. In the story, finance writer John Carney raised a vital question, considering Epstein’s (limited) time in jail during the 2008 financial crisis: “How could Epstein’s one-man show not fall apart while he was in jail during one of the most volatile years in history?”
Theory #2: Blackmail
As the Intercept D.C. bureau chief Ryan Grim noted, a piece of evidence detailed in the SDNY’s detention memo could hold a great deal of blackmail potential:
CD's in Epstein's safe labeled: "Young [Name] + [Name]"
That looks an awful lot like they found the blackmail tapes [t.co]
— Ryan Grim (@ryangrim) July 8, 2019
And in a 2015 court filing, alleged Epstein victim Virginia Roberts Giuffre claims that U.S. authorities were in possession of footage of her having sex with members of Epstein’s elite friend group. “Based on my knowledge of Epstein and his organization, as well as discussions with the FBI, it is my belief that federal prosecutors likely possess videotapes and photographic images of me as an underage girl having sex with Epstein and some of his powerful friends,” she said. Giuffre claimed that Epstein “debriefed her” after she was forced into sexual encounters so that he could possess “intimate and potentially embarrassing information” to blackmail friends into parking their money with him.
Theory #3: Epstein “Belonged to Intelligence”
One of the more mysterious quotes of this whole conspiracy-adjacent mess comes from Alexander Acosta, the current Labor secretary, who arranged for Epstein to get off with just a wrist-slap in 2007, when he was a U.S. attorney. According to Vicky Ward, when Acosta was being interviewed for the Labor secretary job, he was asked if his involvement in the Epstein case would be a problem during his confirmation hearings.
[...material quoted in the Daily Beast article is repeated here...]
Theory #4: Offshore Tax Schemes / Money Laundering
Because Epstein’s wealth is held offshore and is shrouded in mystery, some speculate that he may have made his money in tax schemes or money laundering. According to a well-developed, if factually void, pan-conspiracist take from finance Twitter’s Quantian, Epstein could have blackmailed his social circle into investing with him, then dumped the cash in an offshore account to avoid taxes. Or, similar to the Ponzi scheme conspiracy — and, again, without basis in fact — there is so little paperwork on the funds that the whole thing could just be a rig for money laundering.
New York Magazine: Real Hedge-Fund Managers Have Some Thoughts on What Epstein Was Actually Doing
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.”
When a reporter came to interview Kass about Bernie Madoff shortly before that firm blew up in the biggest Ponzi scheme ever, Kass told her, “There’s another guy who reminds me of Madoff that no one trades with.” That man was Jeffrey Epstein.
Epstein’s spotty professional history has also drawn a lot of attention in recent days, and Kass says it was one of the first things that raised his suspicions years ago. Now 66, Epstein didn’t come from money and never graduated from college, yet he landed a teaching job at a fancy private school (“unheard of,” says Kass) and rose through the ranks in the early 1980s at investment bank Bear Stearns. Within no time, Kass notes, Epstein was made a partner of the firm — and then was promptly and unceremoniously ousted. (Epstein reportedly left the firm following a minor securities violation.) Despite this “squishy work experience,” as Kass puts it, at some point after his quick exit, Epstein launched his own hedge fund, J. Epstein & Co., later renamed Financial Trust Co. Along the way, he began peddling the improbable narrative that he was so selective he would only work with billionaires.
Given this puzzling set of data points, the hedge-fund managers we spoke to leaned toward the theory that Epstein was running a blackmail scheme under the cover of a hedge fund.
How such a scheme could hypothetically work has been laid out in detail in a thread on the anonymous Twitter feed of @quantian1. It’s worth reading in its entirety, but in summary it is a rough blueprint for how a devious aspiring hedge-fund manager could blackmail rich people into investing with him without raising too many flags.
Kass and former hedge-fund manager Whitney Tilson both emailed the thread around in investing circles and both quickly discovered that their colleagues found it quite convincing. “This actually sounds very plausible,” Tilson wrote in an email forwarding the thread to others.
“He somehow cajoled these guys to invest,” says Kass, speaking of hypothetical blackmailed investors who gave Epstein their money to invest, but managed to keep their names private.