The Wexner Foundation released the results of a long-awaited independent review Tuesday into its ties to Jeffrey Epstein, concluding that the convicted sex offender “had no meaningful involvement” with the foundation, despite serving as a trustee of the foundation for 15 years at the same time that he served as a financial adviser to Leslie Wexner.
The foundation, which supports an array of Jewish leadership programs, was created by billionaire Wexner, who recently stepped down as CEO of L Brands, the retail conglomerate that includes embattled lingerie brand Victoria’s Secret.
Epstein was facing charges of allegedly sex trafficking girls at his homes in Manhattan and Palm Beach, Florida, when he apparently hanged himself in a New York City prison cell in August.
The report, obtained by The Jewish Week, quotes former foundation staff members who said that Epstein “was absent from the organizational life” and “had no role whatsoever in creating, executing or planning for” foundation programs. The review found that there was “no evidence that Epstein ever used his ties to the Foundation to commit any assault or sexual misconduct, or to otherwise perpetrate any crime.”
The authors of the review state that “none of the Foundation leaders we interviewed recalled ever seeing Epstein present in the Foundation offices.” The review also found that Epstein made no financial contributions to the foundation, though he did contribute to a different charity, YLK Charitable Fund, associated with the Wexner family. Epstein served as a Wexner Foundation trustee from 1992 to 2007.
Rabbi Elka Abrahamson, president of the foundation, sent out the report to members of the Wexner community Tuesday morning. After summarizing the findings of the report, she said the foundation would take time “to reflect on the report and review and assess best practices of philanthropic governance.”
The review was prompted by news reports last summer about the close ties between Wexner and Epstein, a wealthy financier who attracted an array of high-powered friends and acquaintances and who in 2008 pleaded guilty to a felony charge of solicitation of prostitution involving a minor.
Fellows and alumni of the various Wexner programs had raised concerns about the ties between the two men and between Epstein and the foundation. Some even wondered if they should return the money they received from the foundation in the form of multi-year scholarships or if they should remove the fellowship from resumes and professional bios.
“Some Fellows, Members and Alumni expressed concern about whether their Foundation fellowships or leadership programs may have been funded, in some way, by Epstein. Others questioned whether Epstein used his association with the Foundation to commit any crimes,” the report says.
While the review seems to clear the foundation of any meaningful connection to Epstein or his crimes, it leaves unanswered many of the questions that Wexner fellows and alumni have raised.
Wexner appeared to have a close relationship with Epstein from the 1980s until 2007; Epstein was first charged with sex offenses in 2006. News reports have shown that Leslie Wexner knew about some complaints about Epstein’s behavior dating back to the mid-1990s.
According to a story in The New York Times from August, Jeffrey Epstein misrepresented himself as a recruiter for Victoria’s Secret to gain access to models, some of whom he sexually assaulted, in incidents stretching from the mid-1990s through 2006. The Times cited two former executives at the company who said that Leslie Wexner was alerted to instances of Epstein identifying himself as a recruiter for Victoria’s Secret. Whether Wexner ever took action in response was not clear.
In a separate incident, one of Epstein’s accusers, Maria Farmer, told The Washington Post that she holds Wexner “responsible for what happened to me.” Farmer said she was prevented from leaving a home in New Albany, Ohio, where she alleges Epstein molested her and which was located on property owned by Leslie Wexner and guarded by his security guards.
Wexner declined to be interviewed in The Washington Post and New York Times stories, though he has made public statements denying any knowledge of Epstein’s crimes before he was first charged in 2007.
The new report was conducted by the law firm Kegler Brown Hill + Ritter in Columbus, Ohio, where the foundation is headquartered. In an email to fellows and alumni of Wexner programs, Rabbi Abrahamson said the firm had no prior ties to the foundation. A law firm that conducted a similar review for L Brands was found to have prior ties to the Wexner family, prompting criticism of its independence.
The report looked at the following questions: “What was the nature and extent of Epstein’s relationship and interactions with the Foundation? Did Epstein make any financial contributions to the Foundation and, if so, how did the Foundation use any such contributions? Did Epstein use his ties to the Foundation to commit any crimes?”
The review included a review of the foundation’s tax filings and other documents as well as interviews with current and former staff. Among those interviewed were Rabbi Elka Abrahamson, Leslie Wexner and his wife Abigail Wexner.