Anyone who has been to a mall in the last few decades has undoubtedly been in one of Leslie “Les” Wexner’s stores, the former CEO of L Brands. Wexner, who was once the owner of Victoria’s Secret, Abercrombie & Fitch, Express, and Bath & Body Works, was dubbed the “Merlin of the Mall.”
The Ohio billionaire’s eventual demise, which was mostly brought on by his relationship with Jeffrey Epstein, came quickly though. Director Matt Tyrnauer explains how the “underworld of fashion,” the billionaire class, and Epstein himself are all “inextricably entwined with the fall of this renowned brand” in Hulu’s three-part docuseries Victoria’s Secret: Angels and Demons, which premieres on July 14.
According to Vanity Fair, Wexner and Epstein first spoke through personal friend and insurance executive Robert Meister sometime around 1986. Wexner apparently gave Epstein complete access to his funds and personal data shortly after hiring him to be his personal money manager.
The New York Times stated that Wexner even gave Epstein full authority to borrow money on his behalf, sign his tax returns, and make new hiring and company acquisitions, citing court records and persons familiar with the issue. At one point, Epstein replaced Wexner’s mother on the board of his foundation while residing in a home on the Ohio property of Xanadu.
As reexamined in Victoria’s Secret: Angels and Demons, Epstein attempted to pose as a model recruiter for the lingerie company in the mid-1990s. Epstein’s infamous Lolita Express Boeing 727 was formerly owned by L Brands (formerly The Limited).
According to two executives who spoke to the NYT under the condition of anonymity, when L Brand staff alerted Wexner that Epstein was trying to hire lingerie models for Victoria’s Secret catalog in violation of company rules, he pledged to take care of the situation.
However, Alicia Arden claimed in a 1997 police report, which the publication examined, that Epstein had used the same fictitious claims to get her to a hotel room in Santa Monica.
The following statement was provided by Wexner on behalf of Epstein to the Hulu filmmakers: “The topic of Epstein claiming an affiliation with Victoria’s Secret was raised with Mr. Wexner on one occasion.
He addressed Epstein and made it abundantly clear that it was against company policy for Epstein to imply that he was connected in any way to Victoria’s Secret and that Epstein was prohibited from doing so at any time in the future. Epstein vehemently denied doing so.
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Nevertheless, Wexner described Epstein as “a most faithful friend” who is “extremely smart with a combination of superb judgment and unusually high standards” in a 2003 interview with Vanity Fair. Then, in 2006, Florida police accused Epstein of many counts of child abuse and illegal intercourse with a minor.
Wexner severed his ties with Epstein 18 months later, but he didn’t publicly admit it until 2019. Wexner allegedly claimed in a letter to his foundation that Epstein’s former financial advisor had deceptively “misappropriated vast sums of money” from him and his family, including a reportedly $47 million transfer to a Wexner-controlled charity fund in 2008. Epstein passed away in prison in August 2019 while awaiting trial for crimes.
Wexler allegedly wrote, “I am embarrassed that, like so many others, I was fooled by Mr. Epstein. “I realize now that my faith in him was utterly misplaced, and I sincerely regret ever coming into contact with him.”
In the wake of Epstein’s demise, L Brands looked into Wexner’s interactions with Epstein. Wexner left his position as CEO in 2020, about six decades after he founded the business, even though the conclusions were never made public.
He continued to serve as the board’s chairman emeritus but resigned in May 2021. After selling around $2.2 billion worth of shares, Bloomberg revealed months later that he had nearly fully cut his links with the business. Wexner, whose estimated net worth is $10 billion, was left with less than a 2% ownership stake in his previous business as a result.
The 84-year-old continues to buy real estate, including a rural home in Warwickshire, England, as well as planning and constructing his own town, New Albany, close to Columbus, Ohio, even though he has mainly avoided the spotlight in recent years. The Wexner family was reportedly also purchasing golfer Greg Norman’s $60 million South Florida estate in February 2021, according to The Real Deal.
Regardless of whether he was “deceived” by Epstein or not, Wexner will always be linked to financing his crimes.
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