Why you should care
Because the truth doesn’t have to die.
This is an OZY Special Briefing, an extension of the Presidential Daily Brief. The Special Briefing tells you what you need to know about an important issue, individual or story that is making news. Each one serves up an interesting selection of facts, opinions, images, and videos in order to catch you up and vault you ahead.
What to know
What’s happening? While medical examiners have performed an autopsy on disgraced financier Jeffrey Epstein, who’s believed to have hung himself Saturday, they have yet to release any details about his death. Guards at the Manhattan detention facility tasked with watching Epstein, who’d been charged with sexually abusing and trafficking underage girls, were reportedly working long overtime hours, and it’s still unclear why Metropolitan Correctional Center authorities removed the inmate from suicide watch. Meanwhile, federal investigators continue to probe the opaque nature and source of Epstein’s wealth — and his victims are asking whether justice has died with the 66-year-old.
Why does it matter? Even before his death, critics cried foul over how the U.S. criminal justice system had allowed such a serious perpetrator to avoid meaningful prosecution until now. Those complaints have only become amplified after his apparent suicide — following a reported suicide attempt in July. Authorities eager to prove they’re still effective hope to finish connecting the dots that tied Epstein’s illicit empire together, as well as to ensure his victims are properly compensated.
How to think about it
Money matters. Questions remain about how Epstein amassed his wealth — he recently listed assets worth $559 million, though without independent verification — and about his connections in the world of finance. For instance, both JPMorgan Chase and Deutsche Bank reportedly kept servicing Epstein’s fortune — even after internal warnings that legal trouble could result. Among those who did sever ties with Epstein after his first charge of sexual misconduct in 2006 was Leslie Wexner, CEO of Victoria’s Secret parent company L Brands, and whose money Epstein managed for years. While Wexner claims the financier stole “vast sums” of cash, he never pressed charges. But in 2011, $56 million from an Epstein-linked trust showed up in the account of Wexner’s charitable fund, according to The New York Times. So far, the 81-year-old hasn’t answered any questions about it. Back in 2002, one insider called their ties “a weird relationship,” adding that it was strange Wexner entrusted such a low-profile money manager with so much cash.
Suspicious socialite. Fresh attention has also fallen on British socialite Ghislaine Maxwell, who’s been described variously as Epstein’s assistant, lover and best friend. Whatever their relationship, the Oxford-educated Maxwell, 57, is believed to have played a leading part in his criminal exploits. Just hours before his death, her name cropped up in newly released court documents suggesting she’d helped coordinate his sex trafficking operation. “We can train you,” she’s alleged to have told a minor she recruited. “We can get you educated.” But Maxwell also appears elusive: Her whereabouts are currently unknown.
Legal means. Epstein’s death complicates the restitution process in the federal case against him because it makes the criminal forfeiture of his assets technically impossible, experts say. A civil forfeiture case might still be possible, and indeed it’s been done before: The Department of Justice did the same in 2007 after disgraced Enron CEO Kenneth Lay died. Meanwhile, at least some of his accusers — distraught as they may be over the lack of justice — are pushing forward with legal cases against Epstein’s estate, which includes a $77 million New York City mansion and an island in the Caribbean. While the fact that he’s dead could prove to be an obstacle because he’s not around to defend himself, that hasn’t dampened the survivors’ drive. “We’re just getting started,” said the attorney for several of them.
Grassy knoll. There are also multiple investigations into what exactly happened to Epstein, with Attorney General William Barr on Monday saying he “was appalled … and frankly, angry” at the jail’s lapses. Given the powerful men whom Epstein was tied to — from President Donald Trump to former President Bill Clinton — his death let loose a flood of conspiracy theories on the internet. Trump himself fanned the flames by retweeting an unfounded theory connecting Clinton to Epstein’s death. New York City’s top medical examiner, Barbara Sampson, is awaiting “further information” after conducting an autopsy. Forensic pathologist Michael Baden — who often investigates high-profile deaths — witnessed Sampson’s autopsy and is conducting an inquiry of his own on behalf of Epstein’s representatives.
What to read
Epstein’s Death Has a Simpler Explanation by Lindsay M. Hayes in The Atlantic
“Tellingly, many criminal-justice experts pointed instead to a broader issue: Suicide has been a lingering problem in detention facilities, and systemic factors — such as inattention, understaffing or inadequate training — generally offer a simpler explanation for a prisoner’s death than nefarious intent.”
Epstein’s Death Is an Amazing Failure by His Jailers — His Victims Must Not Be Denied Justice by Robert A. Bianchi in Fox News
“The thing about this that strikes me as a former prosecutor is that Epstein has now escaped justice on two separate occasions with the help from the very government institutions that were supposed to prevent this and protect the victims.”
What to watch
New Questions Emerge on Jeffrey Epstein’s Suicide
“‘Give Jeffrey what he wants’ — a lot of this training came from Ghislaine herself.”
Watch on ABC News on YouTube
How Jeffrey Epstein’s Accusers Are Reacting to His Apparent Suicide
“They think it’s another example of how our criminal justice system is not only broken, but it seems to favor wealthy people.”
Watch on CBS News on YouTube
What to say at the watercooler
Infamous clientele. Before being sent off to a supermax facility in Colorado, notorious drug boss Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán had spent time at the 763-person Metropolitan Correctional Center — the same place Epstein was held. Guzmán claimed conditions were dismal, and he faced “physical, emotional and mental torture.” Swindler Bernie Madoff, mobster John Gotti and World Trade Center bomber Ramzi Yousef have also been locked up there.