“There is a world in which this is the norm.”
Jeffrey Epstein’s creepy world of billionaires and powerbrokers.
A three-part series, now available for everyone to read.
Part 2: Jeffrey Epstein’s game.
Part 3: Billionaires are risky.
If you haven’t already, please:
BY HENRY ABBOTT
The book Molly’s Game is based on a true story about a woman who ran a high-stakes private poker game first in Los Angeles and then in New York. (It later became an Aaron Sorkin movie starring Jessica Chastain and Idris Elba).
At one point, author Molly Bloom writes that she hired some friends—female models—to wear revealing clothes and serve drinks at the game, to boost business and create an air of fantasy. Once I read that line, I had a feeling: there will an NBA investor in this book.
And sure enough, a few pages later, Bloom writes that then-Rockets governor Leslie Alexander played in her game.
For whatever reason, wherever the very rich and very powerful cavort, recruit, and collect women for sex appeal, there tends to be an NBA investor or two in the mix. They’re not necessarily doing anything wrong, but they're ... around.
It’s a halfway decent rule of thumb that persists to this day.
In 2015, the New York Post headline read: “This party boy investor throws the grossest ragers in the Hamptons.” Part of me thought of course when it turned out to be a minority investor of the 76ers, named Marc Leder.
The NBA is getting better, intentionally. But it has long been a dreadful place to be a woman. There’s a sexualized undertone to this workplace, where the Warriors’ boss Joe Lacob not only takes the championship trophy to bed with his fiancee for a “menage a trois” but feels fine bragging about it to a magazine.
Sometimes it’s far heavier. For instance, ESPN’s Peter Keating wrote about Donald Sterling:
“Working for Donald Sterling was the most demoralizing, dehumanizing experience of my life," says a hostess from the 1990s who says she helped set up ‘cattle calls’ to find other women to work the job. "He asked me for seminude photos and made it clear he wanted more. He is smart and clever but manipulative. When I didn't give him what he wanted, he looked at me with distaste. His smile was so empty.”
In 1996, a former employee named Christine Jaksy sued Sterling for sexual harassment. The two sides reached a confidential settlement, and Jaksy, now an artist in Chicago, says, "The matter has been resolved." But The Magazine has obtained records of that case, and according to testimony Jaksy gave under oath, Sterling touched her in ways that made her uncomfortable and asked her to visit friends of his for sex. Sterling also repeatedly ordered her to find massage therapists to service him sexually, telling her, "I want someone who will, you know, let me put it in or who [will] suck on it."
Jerry Buss is lauded as one of the greatest executives in sports history, but in a 1979 Sports Illustrated profile William Oscar Johnson writes about the “girls” he dates in a way that sounds alarming forty years later:
He dates them by the dozen. "When I have time, I date one for lunch and another for dinner every day," he says. Indeed, just as he is ready to show anyone his stamp and coin collections, so is he quick to offer a look at his girl collection. He brings out a thick photo album, which he pages through fondly, pointing at the pictures of myriad gorgeous young women. He muses aloud, page after page, "She was Miss something or other.... This one is a model, what a beautiful woman.... This one is a Ram cheerleader.... This was a Playboy foldout.... This is possibly the most striking girl I've ever seen...." When the last page in the photo album is turned, Buss pulls out a shoe box filled with perhaps hundreds of snapshots of other young women he has gone out with. "...This one was a foldout.... This one is an actress.... This one models bathing suits.... Rams cheerleader.... A foldout...."
The message is not that the entire NBA is gross with women. However, being gross with women does not appear to disqualify you from the NBA. In fact, rich men who are gross with women seem to gravitate to the league:
The Mavericks had a recent major workplace sex scandal. In 2018, Jon Wertheim and Jessica Luther wrote: “Interviews with more than a dozen former and current Mavericks employees in different departments, conducted during a months-long Sports Illustrated investigation, paint a picture of a corporate culture rife with misogyny and predatory sexual behavior: alleged public fondling by the team president; outright domestic assault by a high-profile member of the Mavs.com staff; unsupportive or even intimidating responses from superiors who heard complaints of inappropriate behavior from their employees; even an employee who openly watched pornography at his desk.”
Mikhail Prokhorov famously travels with a group of women that French authorities thought, in 2007, had the whiff of trafficking.
When Harvey Weinstein was America’s primary sex villain, it didn’t take long to learn that one of his only known close personal friends, with meaningful business ties to boot, was Knicks governor James Dolan.
Now that the billionaire sex scandal du jour is the incredibly sordid tale of Jeffrey Epstein, I hope my rule of thumb is proved wrong. Thus far, no NBA personalities have been implicated. But there aren’t many billionaires, they tend to overlap in the same tiny circuit. When Gawker published what is reportedly Epstein’s “little black book,” it included a limited number of contacts for New York hotels. Three of them were the St. Regis, the Lowell, and the Waldorf Astoria—all lobbies familiar to the NBA. They actually hosted talks during the 2011 lockout. Similarly:
The founder of Apollo Global Management, Leon Black, has emerged in published reports as one of Epstein’s most important long-term allies and friends and possibly an important source of cash for Epstein’s charity. Two of Black’s Apollo co-founders bought NBA teams in the last decade.
Does Dolan know Jeffrey Epstein? Multiple published reports say that in 2003 Dolan, Epstein, Weinstein, and others banded together in an attempt to purchase New York magazine. Dolan then withdrew for unspecified reasons, and the group failed in its bid anyway.
Anywhere there are lists of billionaires there will be NBA investors. (Randomly, here’s a 2012 list of rich people in Aspen, Colorado. It includes those holding stakes in the Lakers, Magic, Nuggets, Pacers, and Cavs.) But if you’re worried that a creep like Epstein may have a special ability to influence the powerful, here’s confirmation: it’s not even disputed that two-fifths of living U.S. presidents, and a British prince, spent real time with him.
He was long described as a businessman who had young women and girls hanging around. But maybe that thinking was backward. According to a growing mass of investigative reporting and victims’ testimony, Epstein appears to have run a substantial operation involving the exploitation of young women and girls. What’s less certain is whether or not he ever ran a legitimate business. “Someone who has been so busy molesting young women,” says journalist Vicky Ward on Slate’s podcast Trumpcast, “couldn’t possibly be working in the normal sense.”
I’ve followed this story and individual for a long time. It needs to be understood that this is about much more than the actions of individual men, but a *system* of powerful men using underage girls as luxury goods to offer, trade, etc. There is a world in which this is the norm. A class of (mostly) uber-powerful men who think the rules do not apply to them. One of them is in the White House.
In the early 2000s, Epstein made a point of befriending prominent or upcoming scientists, journalists, famous actors, and politicians, most of whom were likely never shown this side of things, especially if they were women. Young women who *were* shown this secret world of exploitative male power, often victimized themselves, were given the impression that this was just the way things were and they had no power to change it. But it shouldn’t be that way.
This is, most importantly, a story about shattered lives. Perhaps the unfolding legal process will contribute a little to their recovery.
It’s also a mystery. We need to know where all the money came from. Epstein stands in the center of an extremely expensive world (a taxidermy poodle, like he reportedly had in his townhouse, isn’t free). Notice the hotels and restaurants in his address book: You’ll find names like Cipriani (chef salad: $29) and the Lowell (two-bedroom suite: $3,812 a night). Reportedly, he had a whole staff of people identify, meet, train, and groom women and children. Ghislaine Maxwell, Epstein’s key associate, reportedly had her own $5 million Manhattan home. There was a private chef who, per testimony of Epstein’s victims impressed them upon arrival with delicious food. The biggest house in Manhattan, a massive place in Palm Beach, what might be New Mexico’s biggest house, and a private island with private boats. There were private jets and more than 200 masseuses at the Florida house alone, in one estimate. According to testimony, each girl or young woman received a few hundred dollars a day. And, what may be the most expensive service of them all: a who’s who of the finest lawyers flocked to his side when the law came knocking.
Consider the time it took. Then-Vanity Fair writer Ward had Epstein figured out years ago, with a pair of his victims—young sisters—on the record. “I remember their mother saying to me ‘we’ve got to get this guy’” Ward recently told Virginia Heffernan on TrumpCast. But Ward says Epstein somehow—think of the phone calls, the dinners, the cajoling—got the head of Bear Stearns (Jimmy Cayne) to spend all kinds of time with her talking about how great Epstein was. Publisher Conrad Black weighed in. Somehow, while Ward was reporting, someone influenced Ward’s husband’s boss to weigh in against the article. (She describes it in creepy detail on The Daily Beast.) And then at some point, Epstein paid a personal visit to Vanity Fair publisher Graydon Carter’s office, which was evidently effective. I cry along with Ward when she tells the story of Carter telling her he’s killing the part of the story about Epstein’s victims.
The more you examine the resources that went into Epstein’s world—a world decorated with young women and girls partying alongside some of the world’s most powerful men—the bigger and more expensive an undertaking it obviously was. Meanwhile, as many serious investigators and reporters are beginning to share these days, the more you dig into Epstein’s business life, the less legitimate business there seems to be.
So who did pay for all that, and why? We’ll explore next time.
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