"You saw me"

Part 4, 1960-1990: The NBA's most important source of cash

This is an ongoing TrueHoop series on Apollo Global, the NBA, and Jeffrey Epstein.




The Profumo affair rocked England in the early 1960s. It began with a government minister lying about an affair with 19-year-old Christine Keeler. But it morphed, blossomed, and took down a government. Many have suggested that the character in the middle of it all—Stephen Ward—has parallels to Jeffrey Epstein. Ward was a well-connected society type. The rich and powerful trusted him, and enjoyed the young women he so often had around. Also like Epstein, Ward reportedly killed himself before facing justice.

Ward turned out to be an intelligence agent—working for the Soviet Union, while mixing with intelligence agents from other countries, too. Lewis Jones wrote in The Spectator that while British intelligence thought he was working for them, apparently he was really a Soviet “spymaster,” mining them for intelligence all along.  

One of the celebrities who hung around Ward was Douglas Fairbanks. Jones writes of an episode between Keeler, Fairbanks, and Keeler’s friend Mandy Rice-Davies, who was three years younger:

She still remembers that night with Fairbanks, though: ‘Mandy and I got into this big bed with him and we had a threesome. He loved it — and he paid us.’ Not that she was a tart, you understand — unlike Mandy, who was ‘a true tart’. But not Christine, not really. ‘I have always been free with my love,’ she reveals, but on ‘all but a few occasions I have never slept with a man I didn’t fancy’. It is ‘true that I have had sex for money but only out of desperation’.

Fairbanks is a Hollywood legend—a man so famous that his house, in the hills above Hollywood, became something of a museum. It was called Pickfair, and has NBA overtones: In 1979, Lakers owner Jerry Buss bought that house, the family that runs the Lakers now largely grew up in that house. 

It’s a house that has seen a lot. Buss was one of the world’s most famous philanderers who dated far younger women; here’s a photograph of him showing off a binder he kept with the photographs. Dr. Buss and Jeffrey Epstein both reportedly enjoyed three young women a day.

Dr. Buss was a breakthrough in sexualizing the NBA. He created the Laker girls and ran the team that had young women waiting for Magic Johnson almost everywhere we went, sometimes including the locker room. Dr. Buss invented the Forum Club where security lined the entrance, cameras were banned, and powerful men consorted with young women lined up in numbers that alarmed the fire marshal. Some described it as being a bit like the Playboy mansion

“Jerry used to invite me over to his house,” writes Magic Johnson in his book My Life, “where we’d eat chocolate doughnuts and play pool. He was divorced, and he dated the most beautiful women in town. Sometimes we would double date.”

Leon Black moved to Beverly Hills in 1977 to work at Drexel Burhnam Lambert. It was an unconventional place for someone with deep connections on Wall Street. “Eli Black had had many friends in the business community,” writes Connie Bruck in The Predator’s Ball. “His son could have capitalized on his father’s contacts to go to one of the prestigious investment banking firms. But he wanted to make his own way.”

Eli’s network became very useful for Leon in his new job, however. After Eli’s death, Ohio-based billionaire Carl Lindner Jr. took over United Fruit, the CIA-connected company Leon’s dad had owned before his untimely death. He also became one of Drexel’s most important investors. Black arrived at Drexel determined to help create—his words—“robber barons.”

They partied with the robber barons at parties where stunning young women were paid to hang out with men. A key Drexel executive, who made millions, had the job of supplying the women. They had an annual party that came to be known as the Predator’s Ball. (Read much more about it in a TrueHoop post from August 2020.)

“What I like about Drexel,” Bruck quotes Leon Black saying, “is that our clients are the growth companies of this country … they are the modern version of robber barons. … They’re very very bright. They keep you awake. They’ve got lots of guts.” He mentions Buzzy Krongard’s long-term business partner Carl Icahn, as well as Henry Kravis, Samuel Heyman, Rupert Murdoch, and Ronald Perelman. 

One of the pioneers of private equity, Meshulam Riklis, said, of Drexel’s investors: “They have to create—I call these guys the monsters.”

James Patterson’s 2017 book “Filthy Rich”, which has been made into a Netflix special, describes a 1982 episode where a Spanish heiress, Ana Obregon, hired Jeffrey Epstein to recover her father’s fortune. It turned out to be a case that rocked Wall Street

One of the lawyers looking into the case for the government at the time was Andrew Levander, who was then an assistant US Attorney in the Southern District. Patterson writes: 

Even today, Levander remembers Epstein bringing “a very attractive woman” to meet him when Epstein came to him in the course of the investigation. The woman was Ana Obregon. Levander told Ana that he was already working the case. A lawyer named Robert Gold, who was a former federal prosecutor himself, was assisting. And now Epstein would join them in the hunt for monies.

There’s a disappointing lack of detail. Was it common for prosecutors to buddy up with private citizens for investigations? Patterson writes that Epstein and Levander worked on the case together for years, in an unusual kind of public/private partnership, and were ultimately successful in recovering the money. 

It’s a forgettable episode except: Levander would go on to become one of the most successful white-collar defense attorneys in the country, and eventually chairman of the respected international firm Dechert. 

When Buzzy Krongard’s conflicts committee hired an independent law firm to look into the relationship between Epstein and Leon Black, they hired Dechert. The report that resulted didn’t have a lawyer’s name on it, but it has been widely reported that Levander—reported admirer of Epstein’s beautiful companion and ad-hoc investigation partner from the 1980s—was the author. 

So the man who exonerated Leon Black for his Epstein ties knew Epstein?

In the 1980s, after getting fired from Bear Stearns, Jeffrey Epstein worked at Towers Financial for Steven Hoffenberg. Now that he’s out of prison, Hoffenberg freely admits in James Patterson’s “Filthy Rich” that the whole enterprise was a Ponzi scheme. Hoffenberg detected a superpower in Epstein the first time he met him: “He controls the people that he meets and manipulates them totally.” He was hired. Later, Hoffenberg reiterates the main point: “You can’t grasp the magnitude of this man’s controlling effect.”

Hoffenberg has openly discussed the idea that Epstein might have intelligence ties, telling journalist Dylan Howard he understands exactly why Epstein didn’t get into trouble for the Towers Financial Ponzi scheme:

He was needed by the CIA or the FBI for intelligence, because he was manipulating the American intelligence for the overseas organizations: MI6, the Israeli’s, and the Saudi’s. That’s what he was doing. They were afraid of the exposure that he brought to the table for what he did with Prince Andrew, MI6, the Israeli’s, and the Saudi’s. That’s why (Alex) Acosta said to the media, “This is an intelligence criminal case, this is not a standalone criminal case.” Acosta said that.

Don’t forget, he and I interacted from ’87 through ’96 or around that timeframe. So we were inseparable, as being together and talking every day. 

Apollo Global’s Leon Black has many homes, but has spent a lot of time in Beverly Hills since 1977. He recently purchased a mansion, from Tom Cruise. It’s barely a mile from Pickfair. To get to his new house, he would drive past what was once called the Parretti Mansion, at the foot of Coldwater Canyon.

Geno Parretti was, at the end of the eighties and early nineties, a major figure in Hollywood, who led a group that purchased MGM—despite persistent evidence he was affiliated with the mob. Why did bankers keep lending him money?

California Superior Court Judge Irving Shimer thought it might have something to do with Parretti’s harem. He would observe in court that the French bankers who lent Parretti and others billions weren't “interested in making movies. They were interested in getting girls on the yacht ... That's why bankers come to Hollywood—lots and lots of pretty girls.”

The key banker from the French bank Credit Lyonnais who lent money to Parretti ended up in prison. But not before he reportedly also lent money to an interesting list:

  • Robert Maxwell—Epstein collaborator Ghislaine Maxwell’s dad Robert, and a reputed intelligence figure

  • Adidas, and

  • Leon Black, to found Apollo Global. (More on that here.)

It all cost French taxpayers billions to bail out the bank. When investigators tried to piece it all together, the headquarters of Credit Lyonnais—filled as it was with all the transaction records—burned to the ground.

In 1988, Dr. Buss sold Pickfair to a figure from the Drexel Burnham Lambert world, someone Leon Black worked with, and who is one of the inventors of modern private equity: Meshulam Riklis. Riklis moved into Pickfair with his 30-years-younger wife, Pia Zadora. Only in 2012 did Zadora reveal why she and her husband leveled the main house: because, she said, they grew convinced it was haunted by a woman who allegedly died there while having an affair with Douglas Fairbanks.

Riklis, who died in 2019, intersects with many people in this story and the NBA. He invested with Buzzy Krongard’s longtime business associate, and Drexel mainstay, Carl Icahn. He sold Carnival Cruise lines to Micky Arison’s dad for a dollar. Riklis owned a Trump Tower condominium and lived a stone’s throw from Jeffrey Epstein in Manhattan. And in 1974 he told Business Week:

“If you are a Rockefeller or a hotel owner, you build an empire based on the company’s worth. If you are Meshulam Riklis, you build an empire using every possible trick.”

You might remember Kirby Sommers from Part 3. She is an author, activist, and, in her own words, “a former sex slave to one of Jeffrey Epstein’s friends.” She says the man who kept her as a sex slave was Ira Riklis, Meshulam’s son, who was a young adult when his dad bought Pickfair.

The point is not that the house was part of any conspiracy. 

The point is that if you look in the right places, the evidence of Epstein-like behavior is alarmingly common. One of Epstein’s best-known victims, Virginia Roberts Giuffre, has the same message, and it’s an important one in NBA circles: 

This all happened in plain sight. How did nobody intervene?


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