Mug shot of Jeffrey Epstein made available by the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Department, taken following his indictment for soliciting a prostitute in 2006 (via Wikimedia Commons)

Disgraced billionaire and convicted pedophile Jeffrey Epstein returned to court this week to face allegations that he was running a sex-trafficking operation of underage girls as young as 14 years old from inside his Manhattan mansion. The new charges come after more than a decade of accusations that the secretive hedge fund manager was sexually assaulting minors.

And members of the art world are among Epstein’s defenders and victims.

Yesterday, the New York Post reported that financier Leon Black, who was last year named chairman at the Museum of Modern Art, retained Epstein as the sole non-family director of his family charity for more than a decade. Tax records indicate that Epstein stayed with the Black Family Foundation through the end of 2012, four years after he pleaded guilty in 2008 to two charges of soliciting prostitution — one involving a minor — which resulted in a sweetheart deal of only 18-months with 13 served.

An unnamed source told the newspaper that Epstein’s personal relationship with Black has continued through the years. In 2015, the disgraced billionaire was spotted at a lavish pool party thrown at Black’s Hamptons estate. Black — who amassed his $7 billion fortune after co-founding the buyout firm Apollo Global Management — has not yet responded to press inquiries for comment.

Federal prosecutors intercepted Epstein on Saturday at Teterboro Airport in New Jersey after investigators discovered a cache of lewd photographs of girls kept within a safe stored at the billionaire’s 45,000-square-foot mansion located on Museum Mile. Hours after his arrest, several other women contacted the bureau with complaints against the former convict.

One of the latest accusations comes from Maria Farmer, who filed an affidavit in April claiming that Epstein leveraged her dreams of becoming an artist against her when she was a 25-year-old student at the New York Academy of Art. The billionaire allegedly assaulted her and her younger sister, who was only 15 years old at the time.

“Epstein said that if I sold him one of my paintings for half price he would help me with my career,” Farmer wrote about their encounter at her art opening in 1995, according to the affidavit. She agreed and sold him an artwork for $6,000.

A year later, Farmer was recruited to help Epstein “with acquiring art.” The job included both buying art and monitoring who came into his home. During this time, she claims to have seen numerous young girls come through the house, some still in uniforms. She also claims that Dershowitz was there and would sometimes go upstairs where the girls were led.

The account appears within Virginia Giuffre’s defamation lawsuit against Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz, who has been accused of participating in Epstein’s trafficking operation. (Dershowitz has also served as Epstein’s lawyer over the years.) Giuffre claims that when she was a 16-year-old locker-room attendant at Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort, the British socialite Ghislaine Maxwell recruited her to work as a masseuse for Epstein. Her lawsuit claims that Epstein later “lent” her out for sex to his friends, including Dershowitz.

The summer after Farmer began working for Epstein, he arranged for her to work on an art project at the Ohio mansion of his friend Leslie Wexner — the billionaire businessman and Victoria’s Secret founder who gave Epstein his New York mansion. It was there that she claims she was sexually assaulted by Epstein and his girlfriend Maxwell.

“I fled from the room and called the sheriff’s office but did not get any response,” Farmer writes in the affidavit. “The Wexner’s security staff refused to let me leave the property. I pleaded with them and my father drove up from Kentucky to Ohio to help me. I was held against my will for approximately 12 hours until I was ultimately allowed to leave with my father.”

She filed a report with the FBI upon returning to New York but says she doesn’t know if any action was taken.

That summer, Epstein allegedly flew Farmer’s younger sister to visit him at his New Mexico ranch where he “directed her to take off all of her clothes and get on a massage table,” whereupon he and Maxwell molested her, according to the affidavit. “It was not until later in the summer … that I learned what had happened to her,” Farmer wrote.

The artist couldn’t escape the billionaire and British socialite, even upon returning to New York. “Maxwell and Epstein contacted my art clients and individuals in the art community in an effort to ruin my art career,” she wrote. They “were successful and I was shut out of all art related opportunities.” She also said that she’s had to move several times in order to hide from Epstein, who worked to ensure her art career was “ruined.”

In an interview with Democracy Now, the journalist Vicky Ward said that she first learned of Farmer’s allegations while reporting on Epstein for Vanity Fair in 2003. Unfortunately, the magazine’s editor, Graydon Carter, cut that section from her piece after taking a meeting with the billionaire. Ward also verified Farmer and her sister’s account with several witnesses, including the artist Eric Fischl, who had been a postgraduate instructor for Farmer at the Santa Fe Art Institute.

Last year, Epstein was the subject of a Miami Herald report on how Alexander Acosta (then a US attorney in Miami and now President Trump’s Secretary of Labor) offered the billionaire the plea deal of a lifetime despite ample evidence and a 53-page federal indictment. Victims in the case were not notified of the deal, which also ended an FBI probe into the allegations. In January of last year, Acosta tried to slash the budget of a government anti-trafficking program by almost 80 percent.

“I have struggled throughout my life as a direct result of Epstein and Maxwell’s actions,” Farmer wrote in the affidavit, “and my hope is that they will be held accountable for their crimes.”

Zachary Small was a writer at Hyperallergic.

6 replies on “Disgraced Billionaire Jeffrey Epstein’s Art World Connections”

  1. This is an incredibly important story that is obviously getting shut down by many outlets — thank you Hyperallergic for writing about it and doing your job.

    Now the question is about Wexner’s involvement/knowledge, particularly if there was participation of his security team. Not a good look for OSU’s Wexner Art Museum.

  2. “Money is the root of all evil.” When people are amassing billions, at the same time as city streets are becoming crowded with thousands of homeless people, this shows that that level of greed is one of the addictions, and addictions get worse over time, when you are an addict. At first it takes 2 drinks to get high, and as time goes on it takes a whole bottle of whiskey. Not only is the body of the addict being slowly poisoned, so is the personality, character, and the soul of the addict. The substance becomes their God. In this story we see double addictions – to money and to corrupted sex. When I was a student psychiatric nurse learning about alcoholism, we were told that there are often nests of alcoholics, that is a group that reinforces and approves of the downward spiral, and this story illustrates that phenomenon. – Madeline Bruce, Nanaimo, B. C. Canada.

    1. I believe the full quote is the love of money is the root of all evil.

      There’s a difference.

    2. Calling Epstein a sex addict is an insult to sex addicts and even more so to his victims. I’ve met several sex addicts who would never stoop so low as to luring underage partners.

  3. In between Vicky Ward’s article for Vanity Fair and Julie K. Brown’s series of articles for the Miami Herald there is the book “Trafficking”, by Conchita Sarnoff, 317 very well documented pages of interviews with victims, excerpts from the trial, notes, plea deal, all that appeared in the Miami Herald’s articles.(But was not given credit). The book, published in 2016, had been turned down by twenty publishers before being picked up by a small company in Arizona. (ISBN 9781682735992). Sarnoff is the executive director of the Alliance to rescue Victims of Trafficking.

  4. “British socialite” Ghislaine Maxwell is in fact the daughter of the late Robert Maxwell, mega-fraudster and dangerous bully, who disappeared off his yacht “Ghislaine” in mysterious circumstaces in 1991 at about the time some of the worst of his murkier deals were being uncovered. The sleaze continues.

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