In September, Leslie Wexner took the stage at L Brands’ investor day in Columbus, Ohio to talk about his vision for the aging retail empire. Wexner did, in fact, discuss the “significant progress” made by L Brands during the first half of the year, but before he did, the 82-year old retail tycoon told an audience filled with investors, media and company higher-ups gathered in his native Ohio that he is “embarrassed” by his decades-long ties to late sex offender Jeffrey Epstein, saying that he had been “taken advantage of by someone who [was] so sick, so cunning, so depraved.” It was the elephant in the room.
L Brands’ annual Investor Day came almost two months to the day that Epstein had been arrested by a swathe of federal law enforcement on the tarmac of Teterboro Airport just moments after his private jet touched down from France. Epstein was taken into custody on the basis of a new round of sex-trafficking charges involving minors, and in the months to follow, Wexner, the chairman and CEO of the publicly-traded L Brands, would have his name cemented into the narrative due to his close and long-standing – and severed – ties to Epstein both in terms of L Brands and his personal Wexner Foundation.
On the stage in September, Wexner never actually uttered the late Epstein by name in his discussion of the “sensitive subject.” His mention of a “personal financial adviser” and the “advantage taken of so many young women” by that individual, however, was an undeniable reference to the former financier and convicted pedophile, who committed suicide in August in his Metropolitan Correctional Center jail cell, while awaiting trial of new sex-trafficking charges.
Seemingly looking to “move past the controversy and instead, focus on the nuts and bolts of a long-promised retail turnaround for Victoria’s Secret,” per Bloomberg, Wexner characterized his ties to Epstein as “in the past” and having “happened a long time ago,” and then shifted his opening remarks “to today” and the capabilities of brands that fall under the L Brands umbrella, such as Victoria’s Secret and Bath & Body Works.
Wexner’s brief discussion of the Epstein scandal was the latest attempt by him and L Brands to distance themselves in the minds of L Brands investors and the public, alike, from the late financier, who Wexner once described as “a most loyal friend” with “excellent judgment and unusually high standards.” “a most loyal friend” with “excellent judgment and unusually high standards,” according to the New York Times.
While the L Brands chief has not been publicly accused of proffering minors for Epstein or of engaging in sexual activity with minors, his name has, nonetheless, proven nearly irremovable from the equation due to his status as Epstein’s onetime “mentor” and maybe even more significantly, the only known client of Epstein’s financial management firm, the New York-based J. Epstein & Company. There are also questions about the timeline of the parties’ fall out. Writing for the Times in August, Emily Steel, Matthew Goldstein, Steve Eder and David Enrich reported that in 2011, “an entity once linked to Mr. Epstein sent tens of millions of dollars to the charity of … Wexner – [four] years after Mr. Wexner has said he severed ties with Mr. Epstein.”
Against the background of enduring headlines connecting Wexner and L Brands to Epstein, L Brands enlisted outside legal counsel in July to “conduct a thorough review” of its relationship with Epstein, although the retailer noted preliminarily that it does not believe Epstein “was ever employed by nor served as an authorized representative of the company.”
A month after L Brands initiated that probe (to date, none of the findings have been made public), Wexner doubled down even further. On the heels of making an initial statement against Epstein, in which he declared in July that he was “never aware of the illegal activity charged in the [latest] indictment,” Wexner revealed in August that Epstein had stolen more than $46 million from him.
CNBC reported at the time that Wexner and his legal team were in the process of “providing documents to federal investigators that they believe show Epstein misappropriated funds while he was Wexner’s money manager.”
Despite Wexner’s attempts to remove himself from the ugly reality that is Epstein’s legacy, his name keeps being clawed back into the picture. This time around, it comes in the form of the defamation lawsuit that litigator David Boies filed against fellow lawyer and emeritus Harvard professor Alan Dershowitz in New York state court earlier this month.
In his suit, 78-year old Boies – who has defended the likes of failed blood testing startup Theranos and #MeToo magnate Harvey Weinstein – claims that Dershowitz “repeatedly asserted that [Boies] is guilty of an [Epstein-centric] extortion scheme,” statements that Dershowitz “knows are false.”
Addressing the exact nature of the alleged scheme, Boies claims that Dershowitz accused him of “extorting or seeking to extort money from billionaire Leslie Wexner,” all while “inducing the women who [had] sworn that [Dershowitz] abused them to make up that report as part of that extortion scheme.” (Note: Boies asserts in his suit that Dershowitz has “been personally accused under oath by two women” – Virginia Giuffre and Sarah Ransome – “of sexually abusing them when they were young.”)
As previously reported by Courthouse News Service, “As Boies tells it, Dershowitz, the 81-year old embattled former lawyer to Epstein is trying ‘to distract attention from his own misconduct’” by way of the allegedly defamatory statements he has made about Boies. On the other hand, Dershowitz, who swiftly filed defamation and intentional infliction of emotional distress counterclaims against Boies, “has painted the allegations as part of an elaborate plot to extort money from billionaire Lex Wexner, the Victoria’s Secret retail tycoon whose fortune Epstein managed.”
While Wexner is mentioned only once in Boies’ suit, he is name-checkedalmost a dozen times in the countersuit, with Dershowitz claiming that “around the same time that she publicly accused Dershowitz, [Epstein accuser] Virginia Giuffre, through her lawyers … privately made an accusation against Wexner, the billionaire founder and CEO of L Brands and owner of Victoria’s Secret.”
Dershowitz goes on to assert that on the heels of such allegations, Boies – whose firm Boies Schiller Flexner LLP was representing Giuffre until it was disqualified this fall – “personally met with Wexner’s lawyer in what Wexner’s lawyer and wife both described as a ‘shakedown.” While the relevant statute of limitations “had long expired for any legal action against Wexner,” Dershowitz states, “Boies and his partner described in detail the alleged sexual encounters between Giuffre and Wexner, including an alleged demand by Wexner that Giuffre wear Victoria’s Secret-type lingerie during their encounters.”
“Such an accusation, if made publicly, could have massively damaged Wexner and his company,” Dershowitz countersuit states. However, “No public accusation against Wexner was ever made,” which means that, according to Dershowitz’s filing, “Wexner either submitted to Giuffre and her lawyers’ extortion conspiracy and paid the demanded hush money, or Boies came to disbelieve Giuffre’s claims regarding Wexner.”
If the latter is the case, Dershowitz argues that Boies’ firm induced Giuffre to engage in “perjury when [she] later testified under oath in a sealed deposition that she was sexually trafficked to Wexner” by Epstein and co.
Either way, Dershowitz’s filing alleges that “Giuffre’s lawyers also approached other wealthy individuals whose alleged misconduct was well beyond the statute of limitations, as part of an extortion and shake down conspiracy.” Chuck Cooper, of Washington-based Cooper & Kirk, who now represents Giuffre in the case, has since called Dershowitz’s countersuit consists of “the same false claims from his increasingly stale playbook.”
As for Wexner, a rep for L Brands did not reply to a request for comment, while the company, itself, has been suffering from what Zacks Equity Research calls “stiff competition and consumers’ changing preferences,” as well as “wrong merchandising actions and [its] inability to keep up with its strong brand image,” which has been “weighing on the company’s top line performance … for quite some time now.”