On March 20, 2016, guests at Warner Bros.' Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice premiere in New York began whispering about one man mingling among the A-list crowd. No, it wasn't the film's Ben Affleck or Henry Cavill, or Affleck's hulking bodyguard, who almost knocked over the studio's former marketing head Sue Kroll as the VIP area became too crowded.
The surprised looks were aimed at Jeffrey Epstein, who was being introduced to guests by New York society doyenne Peggy Siegal. When a Warners executive was asked at the time how a highly recognizable level-three registered sex offender landed the hottest ticket in town, the executive offered no comment.
As Epstein's July 6 arrest for sex trafficking of minors in New York and Florida dominates headlines, news outlets have focused on the billionaire's ties to powerful government officials, including presidents Clinton and Trump. Equally troubling are Epstein's long-cultivated relationships within Hollywood and New York media circles, where he moved with ease well after his high-profile 2008 conviction for soliciting prostitution from girls as young as 14.
After serving a 13-month sentence and a subsequent year of house arrest in Palm Beach, Florida, Epstein in late 2010 hosted a dinner party in honor of his friend Prince Andrew at his 71st Street mansion in New York. Among the 15 to 20 guests, the New York Post reported at the time, were Katie Couric, Charlie Rose, Woody Allen, Chelsea Handler and George Stephanopoulos. (A source close to Couric tells THR it was her first and last encounter with Epstein.) Lasagna was served, and Epstein led his guests on a tour of the house; he was wearing jeans and velvet Stubbs & Wootton slippers. Multiple sources say the event was organized by Siegal, who presented it as an opportunity to meet the prince at the largest single-family dwelling in New York City. Given that it was less than two months after Kate Middleton and Prince William's engagement, interest in the royals was running high. Multiple guests who now decline to speak on the record noted the optics of attending such an event did not raise an eyebrow, in part because the invite came from Siegal. Siegal declined comment.
Even in the post-#MeToo era, Epstein, 66, frequently attended industry events, like the Gotham Awards in November 2017. Amid a climate where figures including Harvey Weinstein and CBS' Leslie Moonves had instantly become persona non grata for alleged misconduct, Epstein had been convicted and still enjoyed film-world access. As he traveled behind the velvet rope with ease, his alleged co-conspirator Ghislaine Maxwell was also embraced. At the time of Epstein's conviction, Maxwell was not charged thanks to a highly controversial nonprosecution agreement.
Despite well-publicized claims that she wrangled teen girls for Epstein and partook in sexual abuse, Maxwell in recent years has been spotted at top-tier awards-season parties in New York and Los Angeles, where she hobnobbed with a pre-scandal Weinstein, Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos. She even attended the 2014 Vanity Fair Oscar bash, posing with the magazine's editor, Graydon Carter. (Writer Vicky Ward on July 8 accused him of neutering her 2003 profile of Epstein by cutting out on-the-record accusations by two sisters who claimed Epstein sexually assaulted them, one of whom was 16 at the time of the alleged incident. Carter stated recently that he did not "have confidence" in Ward's reporting.)
Epstein's little black book, which became part of the public record after his first arrest, contains a who's who of entertainment figures. In 2015, Gawker published the flight logs from Epstein's jet, which showed that Kevin Spacey, Chris Tucker and such powerful players as Bill Clinton and investor Ron Burkle took one flight to Africa. A source close to Burkle says he was invited by Clinton, assumed the ride was vetted and flew home on a commercial jet after finding Epstein to be "creepy."
One top Hollywood veteran notes Epstein was very interested in show business and would reach out for information about the industry. “He would call and ask ‘What does this person do? What do you think of Paramount?’ Questions like that,” this person recalls. “He was an investor. He seemed incredibly smart. I didn't know what his social life was. I wish i had read [about him] more carefully. But based on what I’ve read, he had a lot of friends in every industry."
Epstein also made efforts to control the message. In 2004, he bought Radar magazine with Mort Zuckerman, gaining a foothold in the realm of publications that dished on the salacious doings of the rich and famous. In 2003, WWD reported that he tried to buy New York magazine with Weinstein, Zuckerman, billionaire investor Nelson Peltz, then-Cablevision chief Jim Dolan and Donny Deutsch. A rep for Weinstein declined comment.
Deutsch, a marketing entrepreneur and well-known media personality who is a contributor to MSNBC's Morning Joe (he also hosts the net's Saturday Night Politics), said on the show several months ago that Epstein tried to "suck [him] into that world," but he quickly rebuffed those efforts. "I could see there was something very, very wrong here," he said. Deutsch, through a spokesperson, declined further comment.
In hindsight, it might come as no surprise that the New York media never covered the Epstein story aggressively despite the fact that it happened in its own backyard. It wasn't until the Miami Herald's Julie K. Brown wrote a three-part story late last year that the feds launched a new investigation into Epstein, which led to his current arrest and incarceration. A lawyer involved with the case notes, "Those relationships are a big part of the Jeffrey Epstein story of how he evaded justice for all these years."
This story first appears in the July 10 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.
A previous version of this story misstated the date that Epstein attempted to buy New York magazine with Harvey Weinstein, Mort Zuckerman and others. It was 2003, not 2006.