Vanity Fair Reminds Us When Jeffrey Epstein Wasn't a Creep

A 2003 profile recalls when the financier was a businessman, not a sex offender

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Before he was the billionaire sex offender known for soliciting massages from underage girls in a porno-bedecked South Florida mansion, Jeffrey Epstein was a mysterious financial adviser operating from his own private island in the Caribbean who would only manage the money of billionaires. Clients would give Epstein power of attorney, and he'd control all their financial dealings, from estate-planning to philanthropy. How and why he was able to secure these deals was a secret, but it wasn't a disturbing, horrible secret, like the more than forty sex abuse claims that would later be made against him. In a 2003 profile of Epstein by Vicky Ward that Vanity Fair just posted to its website (presumably in response to the mounting pressure the British press is putting on Prince Andrew to explain what he saw during his stays at Epstein's mansion), he comes across as guarded, awkwardly generous, odd and very good at what he does. He's not likable, per se, but he doesn't come off as a scoundrel either. (Then you remember who you're reading about.) Guess you never can tell. Some of the most-revealing (and decidedly non-creepy) passages below:

  • "Why do billionaires choose him as their trustee? Because the problems of the mega-rich, he tells people, are different from yours and mine, and his unique philosophy is central to understanding those problems: 'Very few people need any more money when they have a billion dollars. The key is not to have it do harm more than anything else…. You don't want to lose your money.'"
  • "On the other hand, Epstein is clearly very generous with friends. Joe Pagano, an Aspen-based venture capitalist, who has known Epstein since before his Bear Stearns days, can’=;t say enough nice things: 'I have a boy who's dyslexic, and Jeffrey's gotten close to him over the years…. Jeffrey got him into music. He bought him his first piano. And then as he got to school he had difficulty … in studying … so Jeffrey got him interested in taking flying lessons.'"
  • "Rosa Monckton recalls Epstein telling her that her daughter, Domenica, who suffers from Down syndrome, needed the sun, and that Rosa should feel free to bring her to his house in Palm Beach anytime."
  • "Some friends remember that in the late 80s Epstein would offer to upgrade the airline tickets of good friends by affixing first-class stickers; the only problem was that the stickers turned out to be unofficial. Sometimes the technique worked, but other times it didn't, and the unwitting recipients found themselves exiled to coach. (Epstein has claimed that he paid for the upgrades, and had no knowledge of the stickers.) Many of those who benefited from Epstein's largesse claim that his generosity comes with no strings attached. 'I never felt he wanted anything from me in return,' says one old friend, who received a first-class upgrade."
  • "Epstein's appointment to the board of New York's Rockefeller University in 2000 brought him into greater social prominence. Boasting such social names as Nancy Kissinger, Brooke Astor, and Robert Bass, the board also includes such pre-eminent scientists as Nobel laureate Joseph Goldstein. 'Epstein was thrilled to be elected,' says someone who knows him. ... After one term Epstein resigned. According to New York magazine, this was because he didn't like to wear a suit to meetings. A spokesperson for the Rockefeller board says Epstein left because he had insufficient time to commit; a board member recalls that he was 'arrogant' and 'not a good fit.'"
  • "Thanks to Epstein’s introductions, says Martin Nowak, the biologist finds himself moving from Princeton to Harvard, where he is assuming the joint position of professor of mathematics and professor of biology. Epstein has pledged at least $25 million to Harvard to create the Epstein Program for Mathematical Biology and Evolutionary Dynamics, and Epstein will have an office at the university. The program will be dedicated to searching for nature's algorithms, a pursuit that is a specialty of Nowak's. For Epstein this must be the summit of everything he has worked toward: he has been seen proudly displaying Harvard president Larry Summers's letter of commitment as if he can't quite believe it is real. He says he was reluctant to have his name attached to the program, but Summers persuaded him."
  • "An insatiable, restless soul, always on the move, Epstein builds a tremendous amount of downtime into his hectic work schedule. Yet there is something almost programmed about his relaxation: it's as if even pleasure has to be measured in terms of self-improvement. Nowak says that, when he goes to stay with Epstein in the Caribbean, they'll get up at six and, as the sun rises, have three-hour conversations about theoretical physics. 'Then he'll go off and do some work, re-appear, and we'll talk some more.'"
  • "Many people comment there is something innocent, almost childlike about Jeffrey Epstein. They see this as refreshing, given the sophistication of his surroundings. Alan Dershowitz says that, as he was getting to know Epstein, his wife asked him if he would still be close to him if Epstein suddenly filed for bankruptcy. Dershowitz says he replied, 'Absolutely. I would be as interested in him as a friend if we had hamburgers on the boardwalk in Coney Island and talked about his ideas.'"
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.