Three years after Jeffrey Epstein was found dead in his Manhattan jail cell from an apparent suicide, a firestorm of speculation and conspiracy theories continue to surround the life and death of the world’s most notorious pedophile. Specifically, his bizarre relationship with Victoria’s Secret’s billionaire founder Leslie Wexner.
Was Epstein a clandestine intelligence agent in the employ of the US government? Was he an out-of-control financial wizard? Or a blackmailing sociopath who gained fortune and power by threatening the rich and famous with exposure if they failed to pony up?
These questions, along with his perverse professional and personal partnership with the man known as ‘the Merlin of the Mall’ are investigated in Hulu’s latest documentary, ‘Victoria’s Secret: Angels and Demons.’
Director Matt Tyrnauer details the rise and fall of the lingerie behemoth and Epstein’s hypnotic hold over Wexner, whose company L Brands, at one point owned Victoria’s Secret, Abercrombie & Fitch, Express, Lane Bryant and Bath & Body Works.
‘It never really surprised me, as the Jeffrey Epstein onion unpeeled, what face was on the next layer of the onion. Les Wexner was right at the top,’ said journalist Michael Gross in the three part docuseries that premieres today on the streaming network.
The doc sheds light on the cloud of mystery behind Epstein’s estimated $550million wealth, and how he, as a college drop out and former high school math teacher, came to have full power of attorney over Wexner’s $7.5billion empire.
It was a baffling move that experts featured in the series continue to question: Why would a man heralded as a brilliant marketer and scrupulous micromanager give carte blanche to a conman from Coney Island?
‘Something was amiss,’ said Cindy Fields, the former CEO of Victoria’s Secret. Other experts featured in the, documentary allude to rumors of a sexual relationship, though both men have categorically denied it.
With free reign over Wexner’s checkbook, Epstein’s holdings grew tremendously. His financial backing helped the pervert expand his property portfolio and enable the purchase of a Boeing 727 where he is known to have perpetrated heinous sex crimes.
His estate included Manhattan’s largest private home on East 71 Street (bought from Wexner for below market value), a private jet nicknamed the Lolita Express (formerly owned by L Brands), a 10,000 square foot house on Wexner’s Columbus, Ohio property, a helicopter, a private island, a Paris apartment, a Palm Beach retreat and a 10,000-acre ranch in New Mexico.
Epstein perpetuated his own myth, absurdly boasting that he only took on clients with assets exceeding $1billion. though at the time, Wexner was, at least publicly, Epstein’s only client.
‘Wexner was a protector, and seemed to be a facilitator for [Epstein] because he was the money man behind him,’ Conchita Sarnoff, an anti-trafficking advocate in the Hulu series. Wexner helped create Epstein.
A new Hulu docuseries charts the rise and fall of famed lingerie brand Victoria’s Secret – and investigates L Brands’ former CEO Les Wexner’s ties to infamous pedophile Jeffrey Epstein
Victoria’s Secret: Angels and Demons – which is due for release on July 14 – will explore Epstein’s control over Wexner and his brands, with one expert revealing in a trailer for the doc: ‘There wasn’t a part that company that Epstein didn’t have access to.’ The doc sheds light on the cloud of mystery behind Epstein’s estimated $550million wealth, and how he, as a college drop out and former high school math teacher, came to have full power of attorney over Wexner’s $7.5billion empire
Wexner is the Ohio billionaire who made a fortune as the ‘Merlin of the mall’ for his company L Brands that owned The Limited, Lane Bryant, Abercrombie & Fitch, Victoria’s Secret and Bath & Body Works. ‘It never really surprised me, as the Jeffrey Epstein onion unpeeled, what face was on the next layer of the onion. Les Wexner was right at the top,’ said journalist Michael Gross in the series
A maverick in marketing, Wexner bought a struggling mail-order lingerie brand known as Victoria’s Secret for $1million in 1982. By 1995, the company was valued at $1billion. He rebranded the company which he as ‘a Victorian velvet sofas and Tiffany lampshade kinda place’ into what anther expert featured on the documentary called ‘t***s and glitz’
The documentary starts with Wexner’s origin story and how he purchased a fledgling catalogue lingerie brand based in Palo Alto and turned it into a billion dollar retail empire that dominated malls across America.
Wexner was the son of Russian Jewish parents who began his career working in their women’s apparel store called ‘Leslie’s,’ in Columbus Ohio.
After dropping out of law school, Wexner urged his parents to focus on stocking their store with a limited selection of ladies casual wear. When his father disagreed, Wexner opened his own shop named ‘The Limited,’ using a $5,000 loan from his aunt in 1963.
His gamble paid off. Within six months Wexner’s parents closed their shop to work full time for their son. ‘By the time I was 30-years-old, I was several times a millionaire and it kept expanding,’ he says in old footage featured in the Hulu doc.
Soon after, Wexner earned his reputation as the ‘Merlin of the mall’ for expanding his company into 14 brands— including Lane Bryant, Abercrombie & Fitch, Lerners, The Limited Too, Henri Bendel, Bath & Body Works in locations across the country.
He is known as the father of fast fashion, ‘he taught Americans how to shop, shop shop.’
‘There was this great expression in the 80s fashion business, that ‘If you sell to the masses, then you travel with the classes. If you were a mall retailer, like Les Wexner you were gong to get incredibly rich if you had a knack for it, which clearly the guy did,’ said Michael Gross in the series.
By 1982, The Limited (later changed to L Brands) was listed on the New York Stock Exchange. That same year, Wexner acquired Victoria’s Secret for $1 million. The company was a mail order lingerie brand that was started by a married couple in California when the husband felt embarrassed to buy by lingerie for his wife at stores.
‘Victoria’s Secret, when Roy sold it to Les Wexner, was basically on its last legs, it was facing bankruptcy,’ said Cindy Fields, the former CEO of the brand.
A maverick in marketing, Wexner rebranded the fuddy-duddy underwear brand, which he once described as ‘a Victorian velvet sofas and Tiffany lampshade kinda place’ into a $1 billion industry within a few years.
‘He invented a story about the mythical founder of the brand, and her name of course was Victoria. She was refined, aspirational and English,’ said Fields. ‘Les wanted to make Victoria’s Secret into the Ralph Lauren of lingerie.’
‘Victoria was this smart savvy woman, lived in London, her husband was a barrister. It was a fantastic story and a very powerful tool. We were always running around and asking ourselves, ‘Would Victoria do this?’ That was the touchstone.’
A preposterous internal brand video featured on the doc shows black and white vintage photos of the made-up ‘Victoria’ on her estate in the English countryside. ‘Mother was passionate, a fiery French woman with a quick temper and a healthy disrespect for the English and their stodgy ways, she used to tease father about everything,’ says a posh-accented voiceover.
Eventually the stodgy English woman marketing campaign was replaced with the ‘Victoria’s Secret Angels’ and an over-the-top annual fashion show, that ‘every celebrity wanted to be part of,’ noted one interview subject.
‘It was t**s and glitz!’ she added.
Wexner was the son of Russian Jewish parents who began his career working in their women’s apparel store called ‘Leslie’s,’ in Columbus Ohio. After dropping out of law school, Wexner urged his parents to focus on stocking their store with a limited selection of ladies casual wear. When his father disagreed, Wexner opened his own shop named ‘The Limited,’ using a $5,000 loan from his aunt in 1963. Within six months Wexner’s parents closed their shop to work full time for their son. ‘By the time I was 30-years-old, I was several times a millionaire and it kept expanding,’ he says in old footage featured in the Hulu doc
Soon after, Wexner earned his reputation as the ‘Merlin of the mall’ for expanding his company into 14 brands— including Lane Bryant, Abercrombie & Fitch, Lerners, The Limited Too, Henri Bendel, Bath & Body Works in locations across the country
‘There was this great expression in the 80s fashion business, that ‘If you sell to the masses, then you travel with the classes. If you were a mall retailer, like Les Wexner you were gong to get incredibly rich if you had a knack for it, which clearly the guy did,’ said Michael Gross in the series
The first Victoria’s Secret fashion show happened at The Plaza Hotel in 1995; by 2018, it was considered archaic and cancelled permanently for being out of step with the times
By the debut 1995 fashion show, Epstein had already been deeply enmeshed in Wexner’s life.
The shadowy conman who billed himself as a ‘brilliant young financer’ had been introduced to the billionaire through a close friend in 1989.
At the time, Wexner was eager to make inroads in New York City. Until the late 1980s, the Ohio-born businessman still remained relatively unknown to East Coast elites.
‘Coming from the Midwest, he’s intimidated by this society that he cant quite dominate the way he can in Columbus,’ said Sarah Ellison, a journalist for The Washington Post. ‘And you can see how he can benefit from a translator, or someone who can take his elbow and lead him into the right rooms and the right charities and the right parties.’
Enter Jeffrey Epstein —a social connector who had a savant-like skill at impressing powerful, older men. He populated Wexner’s introverted life with glittery people.
Within a few months of meeting, the billionaire mogul had fired his longtime loyal financial advisor, Harold Levin, and given Epstein power of attorney over all his finances.
‘There wasn’t a part of Wexner’s empire that Epstein didn’t have access to,’ said Ellison. ‘He had unmitigated control over all his assets.
‘Twenty companies, 19 trusts and different charitable foundations. He was able to manage his real estate, he managed his investments, he managed his businesses.’
Barry Levine, author of The Spider told Hulu: ‘[He] was obviously a con man to anyone who was paying attention. I think the million dollar question is why a gentleman as brilliant as Leslie Wexner could allow this guy into his life?’
Raising more questions is why Epstein was so well compensated. According to Vanity Fair, Wexner paid his former money advisor, Harold Levin, a salary $250,000 per year. At Epstein’s time of death, he was reportedly worth $559 million.
Levin recalled to the magazine how he went through a six-month-long grueling interview process with Wexner, only to be ousted from his job for a man that had known Wexner for a matter of months.
Until that point, Epstein’s professional road to Wexner had been nothing but checkered and rocky.
He was a college dropout who managed to get a job teaching at the very prestigious prep school, Dalton in New York City. He was hired by headmaster Donald Barr, whose son, William, later went on to become Attorney General in President Trump’s administration.
It was at Dalton that Epstein met Ace Greenberg, a parent who ran Bear Stearns investment bank and gave Epstein his next job.
‘Bear Stearns wasn’t one of those white shoe Wall Street firms,’ explained Gross in the series. ‘It was a rough and tumble streetwise place run by Jewish guys.
‘And it was at Bear that Epstein manifested a trait that would be part of his career thereafter: worming his way into the lives of older successful influential Jewish men.’
Epstein was fired from Bear Stearns under a cloud of suspicion in 1981. From there, he would eventually take on as his key client, Wexner.
When Wexner met Epstein, he apparently was so excited that he remarked that ‘Jeffrey Epstein was everything that he thought he was lacking in Ohio,’ said Steven Hoffenberg, a former business partner of Epstein’s.
He ‘was extraordinarily mesmerizing and can convince anything of anybody,’ added Hoffenberg. ‘The master manipulator.’
Epstein had a way of turning Wexner against individuals that he thought were standing in the way. Just as he had done with Harold Levin, the hustler from Coney Island had also come between Wexner and his own mother, Bella.
During a brief illness, Bella Wexner resigned from the Wexner Foundation’s board in the 1990s. Epstein was quick to take her seat and refused to give it up when she recovered, resulting in a protracted and difficult lawsuit, that ‘Wexner could have absolved at any point, but he doesn’t. And he’s clearly at odds with his mother over it,’ Levine explained to Hulu.
According to Gross, one senior executive said that he told Wexner in no uncertain terms that Epstein was a wolf, ‘and Wexner just sat there and stared at him silently.’
The doc establishes how Epstein ingratiated himself among the wealthy and powerful by including photos and video clips of him at parties with former president Donald Trump and Prince Andrew, while his accomplice Ghislaine Maxwell, who was sentenced to 20 years in prison for sex trafficking just days ago, is also featured
Experts interviewed in the Hulu documentary remain perplexed regarding the nature of their relationship. It’s not typical for someone of such enormous wealth to suddenly relinquish all of it to a virtual ‘nobody.’ ‘Each one must have fulfilled the need of the other,’ explained Fields. ‘Wexner had the money that Epstein was seeking— and Wexner got from Epstein, the glamour and smoothness that he was seeking’
In a 2002 magazine article Donald Trump said: ‘I’ve known Jeff for fifteen years. Terrific guy. He’s a lot of fun to be with. It is even said that he likes beautiful women as much as I do and many of them are on the younger side. No doubt about it—Jeffrey enjoys his social life’
In 2013, Wexner gushed to Vanity Fair that Epstein ‘is very smart with a combination of excellent judgement and unusually high standards. Also, he is always a most loyal friend.’
In Epstein’s own words he said of Wexner: ‘People have said it’s like we have one brain between two of us: each has a side.’
Experts interviewed in the Hulu documentary remain perplexed regarding the nature of their relationship. It’s not typical for someone of such enormous wealth to suddenly relinquish all of it to a virtual ‘nobody.’
‘Each one must have fulfilled the need of the other,’ explained Fields. ‘Wexner had the money that Epstein was seeking— and Wexner got from Epstein, the glamour and smoothness that he was seeking.’
She adds: ‘And I am not at all inferring that it was a sexual need… but there was something there.’
Fields isn’t the only person to imply that there was indeed, ‘something there.’
‘I also believed they had a complicated relationship,’ said Sarnoff. ‘Financially, personally… and in many other ways.’
Though both Epstein and Wexner denied ever having a sexual relationship; others interviewed in the docuseries seem to think it could explain the spell Epstein had over the shadowy discreet billionaire.
‘In the 80s and 90s, Fortune 500 company’s CEOs were simply not gay,’ explains Gross. ‘The very notion was incomprehensible. Wexner needed any rumor like that to go away.’
Always out to protect his boss, Epstein planted a story in New York Magazine that touted him as ‘the bachelor billionaire’ on the cover. ‘And it really caught your attention because there was this elfin little guy surrounded by beautiful models but you came away reading it thinking, ‘This guy is a real question mark. He’s kind-of a cipher.’
Eventually when Wexner married Abigail Koppel in 1993, Epstein handled the entire prenuptial agreement and was one of 50 attendees at their intimate nuptials. Later, he would be tasked with vetting nannies for the growing Wexner family.
‘What it implied to me is that… clearly Epstein was deeply involved in the personal lives of Abigail and Les,’ recalled Cindy Fields.
As Epstein’s wealth grew, his predatory behavior became more brazen. He used his connections to Wexner as a calling card to girls.
Though Wexner eventually categorically denied knowledge of his consigliere’s sexual proclivities, evidence shows that he was aware of Epstein’s behavior as early as 1993.
One summer afternoon, an executive rushed into Field’s office with disturbing news: A model told a hairdresser at a photo shoot that a man named Jeffrey Epstein was running around New York portraying himself as a Victoria’s Secret scout.
‘I said, oh boy, this is trouble,’ Fields told the doc. ‘So I asked this executive to call Les directly and tell him what was happening. She did and Les told her he would put a stop to it.’
Another allegation was made against Epstein in 1997, when Alicia Arden, an aspiring model and actress agreed to meet with a man whom she believed was a Victoria’s Secret model recruiter at Shutters on the Beach in Santa Monica.
She filed a police report claiming that Epstein sexually assaulted her. Featured on the doc is a harrowing voicemail she left on her friend’s answering machine moments after. ‘I didn’t expect that I’d have to be in my bra and underwear in front of him,’ she says through distressed tears. ‘He did give me $100 cash as well. And by that time when he was touching my butt, I felt like such a prostitute and I put the $100 back on the table.’
According to another accuser, Epstein brought the abuse to Wexner’s doorstep in Ohio when he invited artist Maria Farmer to spend the summer painting on his 300-acre farm. (Epstein had purchased the guest house on Wexner’s property for $3.4 million).
By that time, Epstein had been spending time with his girlfriend and co-abuser, Ghislaine Maxwell. Farmer recalled feeling unsettled by the strange visitors coming and going at all hours – government officials, and countless underage girls.
Perhaps more distressing was that Farmer was made a virtual prisoner of the property. She couldn’t go outside without permission, and the grounds were guarded by dogs and security cameras. One month into her stay, Farmer was invited into their bedroom and was sexually assaulted by Ghislaine and Epstein.
Ironically Wexner can be heard in an old interview saying: ‘If someone has done something bad, or taken advantage of their leadership position, I will execute them publicly.’
That didn’t happen.
Though Wexner categorically denies knowledge of Epstein’s sexual misconduct, evidence shows that he was aware of Epstein’s behavior as early as 1993. Cindy Fields, former CEO of Victoria’s Secret recounts to Hulu how an executive in 1993 rushed into her office with disturbing news: A model told a hairdresser at a photo shoot that a man named Jeffrey Epstein was running around New York portraying himself as a Victoria’s Secret scout. ‘I said, oh boy, this is trouble’
Amid rampant rumors of his sexuality, Wexner married Abigail Koppel in 1993. Epstein handled the entire prenuptial agreement and was one of 50 attendees at their intimate nuptials. Later, he would be tasked with vetting nannies for the growing Wexner family. ‘What it implied to me is that…clearly Epstein was deeply involved in the personal lives of Abigail and Les,’ said Fields
Barry Levine, author of The Spider told Hulu that Epstein and Maxwell ‘were in essence a predatory Bonnie and Clyde, these girls came to trust Ghislaine almost in a sisterly way, or as a mother figure and instead she turned these girls over to Jeffrey’
Epstein purchased the guest house on Wexner’s property for $3.4 million in Columbus, Ohio. According to another accuser, Maria Farmer, she was invited to stay the summer in 1997 as an ‘artist in residence’ but instead was held captive and sexually abused by Epstein and Maxwell. When she went to report the incident to the police, she learned that the police were also working as security on the property
Wexner posits that he had no idea of Epstein’s criminal behavior. But by 2006 it became impossible to ignore.
Epstein was charged by Palm Beach Police Department for having unlawful sex with minors. He was let off easy with a slap on the wrists, thereby allowing the politically-connected pervert to escape more serious charges for well over a decade.
It wasn’t until a whole year later that Wexner finally removed Epstein as power of attorney. ‘You have to wonder why the delay in severing ties?’ questions Ellison in the film.
One alarming scoop revealed in the Hulu documentary is a 2006 document suggesting that L Brands paid for Epstein’s legal defense. Furthermore, one of Epstein’s victims had worked for Victoria’s Secret before she was fired for stealing merchandise. L brands shared her private employee records with Epstein’s lawyers to help create a smear campaign.
Meanwhile, one of Wexner’s charitable funds continued to accept a $46million donation from Epstein in 2008. He later claimed that it was money stolen from him by the rogue financier, and that it ‘was put back quietly so that he wouldn’t be embarrassed,’ says Tim Feran who investigated the suspicious transaction for a local paper in Columbus, Ohio.
Why Wexner continued to turn a blind eye remains an enduring mystery. Ellison told the series: ‘Wexner is known for being litigious, and yet, he wont pursue Epstein for stealing millions upon millions of dollars? To allow that level of betrayal and dishonesty to happen, unpunished, is entirely unexplained.’
Conchita Sarnoff suggests extortion. ‘This was a rich man who did not need money so why was he bringing children from all over the world and introducing them to politicians and rich men?
‘I believe he needed them for something uniquely different. One pleasure and two power. And that power came through blackmail, and that’s what these girls were to him, they were a tool of blackmail.’
Epstein and Maxwell were a predatory Bonnie and Clyde. Maxwell lured vulnerable girls for her boyfriend to use for his own pleasure and ‘for the pleasure of others who he intended to influence and manipulate.’
Virginia Giuffre, who was held hostage as one of Epstein’s ‘sex slaves’ and later became the center of a high profile a civil case against Prince Andrew, said that Epstein ‘videotaped everything’ and kept the footage in a safe.
‘Government officials, the royals, they were taping every body, every moment,’ Giuffrie told the BBC. ‘When you walked into the New York mansion, to Palm Beach, everything was being filmed.’
The question remains to this day, where is all that material?
One former Palm Beach County officer named John Mark Dougan claimed that a lead detective on the case in 2006 turned over 700 CDs containing video evidence of powerful men engaging in sexual relations with underage women. Shortly after this, Dougan escaped to Russian.
‘You have to wonder, has this played into Putin’s world?’ asks Levine. ‘There’s a photo of him and the man who was in Putin’s inner circle (a Russian politician named Pavel Borodin).’
When asked by MailOnline about what information he has, Dougan said: ‘Do I have dirt on Prince Andrew? I have lots of things.
‘But I’m not a Kremlin agent and I did not share any materials with the Russian Government. I don’t intend to blackmail anyone with my information. It’s against my principles.’
Sarah Ellison counters with a good point: ‘No one has ever been able to establish that Epstein did in fact have recordings,’ she says to Hulu. ‘But all you need is the fear of exposure for that kind of power to accrue to him.