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Who Is Leon Black, The Billionaire Who Bankrolled Jeffrey Epstein’s Second Act?

In a bombshell report published Monday by the New York Times, hedge fund tycoon Leon Black—whose net worth Forbes estimates to be $8 billion—transferred at least $50 million to disgraced financier Jeffrey Epstein between 2008 to 2017, in a professional relationship that ended in 2018 when the two men had a falling out over a “fee dispute.”

Although Jeffrey Epstein has been dead for over a year, having taken his own life in a Manhattan lockup in August 2019 while awaiting trial on federal sex trafficking charges, many questions—including how extensive his alleged sex ring of underage girls actually was—remain. From a financial perspective, many people wonder how Epstein, born to a working-class family in Brooklyn, New York, managed to get his hands on hundreds of millions of dollars throughout his lifetime, and use some of those funds to prop up his alleged sexual predation.

Forbes was the first to report the revelation from podcast Broken: Seeking Justice that late British publishing magnate Robert Maxwell could have been one of Epstein’s earliest sources of wealth. Maxwell’s prized daughter, Ghislaine Maxwell, was reportedly introduced to Epstein by her father as early as 1988, before his mysterious drowning death off the Canary Islands in 1991. A deposition uncovered by the podcast revealed that Ghislaine Maxwell, who’s awaiting trial on federal sex trafficking charges in Brooklyn, may have had access to some of her father’s wealth after his death, including the $500 million in pension funds he stole from his own company.

During Epstein’s high-rolling years in the late 1990s, he managed the fortunes of L Brands CEO and chairman Leslie Wexner. But after Epstein was convicted of soliciting prostitution from an underage girl in 2008, however, the Times reported he was all but deserted by the elite scions of business and academia—including the loss of income he had earned as a financial advisor, despite having no college degree and only a few years of Wall Street experience. Black appears to be one of the few who continued to do business with Epstein.

It remains unclear what services Epstein could have provided for Black. Black, 69, is the chief executive and chairman of Apollo Global Management, a private equity colossus that manages over $400 billion in assets. He also serves as chairman of a variety of institutions, most notably the Museum of Modern Art. Black ranked #55 on this year’s Forbes 400 in September, with a net worth of $8.7 billion. He’s been a mainstay on the list since 1999, when he was worth an estimated $500 million. It was only two years before that Black made Epstein one of the first trustees of his charity, known today as the Debra and Leon Black Foundation, according to the Times.

The son of Eli M. Black, the chief executive of the United Brands Company, Black studied philosophy and history at Dartmouth University and earned a Harvard MBA in the 1970s. He went on to join Drexel Burnham Lambert, an investment bank that sold junk bonds, and rose through the ranks to become head of mergers and acquisitions. The bank’s fortunes floundered in 1989, when senior advisor Michael Milken was convicted of securities fraud, forcing the firm into bankruptcy. (Milken, nicknamed the “junk bond king,” was pardoned by President Trump, a former Epstein friend, in February.) Black struck out on his own the following year, cofounding Apollo Advisors the following year with colleagues Joshua Harris and Marc Rowan, both of whom are also now billionaires.

Since 1999, Black has increased his net worth a stunning 1,540%. Through his 23% stake in Apollo, he’s invested in a variety of industries, including retail (Linens ‘N Things), casinos (Harrah’s and Wyndham) and consumer packaged goods (Hostess, maker of Twinkies). Black’s personality in business was “politely” described by insiders as “aggressive,” according to a Forbes report from 2004, which concluded that “probably means he’s just more shameless about some of the unsavory aspects of [investing].” All in all, Black’s netted hundreds of millions of dollars in dividends paid by the publicly traded company.

Those years also saw a number of transactions between Black and Epstein, according to the Times. In 2014, several million dollars were sent to Epstein from a company called Narrow Holdings, which Black has used to purchase his famously extensive art collection. In 2015, an LLC that owned Black’s yacht transferred $10 million to Epstein’s Gratitude America, a charitable foundation started by Epstein after his 2008 solicitation conviction. In 2017, $22.5 million was sent from Black’s yacht LLC to the company that managed Epstein’s private Gulfstream jet. 

A spokesperson for Black has not responded to questions from Forbes about the nature of these payments, or the alleged “fee dispute” that ultimately killed their professional relationship. 

Black has been facing questions about his dealings with Epstein ever since Epstein’s July 2019 arrest on federal sex trafficking charges. Less than two weeks before Epstein died by suicide, Black sent an email to Apollo employees saying that the firm has never done business with Epstein. He stressed that Epstein “provided professional services to my family partnership and related family entities, involving tax, estate planning and philanthropic advice,” and said he was “unaware” of Epstein’s alleged criminal conduct—claims that a Black spokesperson repeated on Monday in an emailed statement to Forbes and in a letter to Apollo investors that was obtained by Axios. Black also indicated he will cooperate with the U.S. Virgin Islands attorney general in her investigation of Epstein’s estate.

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