By Matthew Haag
The townhouse where the financier Jeffrey Epstein is accused of engaging in sex acts with underage girls is one of the largest private homes in Manhattan, a short walk from Central Park.
The seven-story residence at 9 East 71st Street, between Fifth and Madison Avenues, sprawls across 21,000 square feet and has five bathrooms, a two-story reception room and many bedrooms, including three three-room suites on the fourth floor.
It also has a heated sidewalk in front to melt the snow during the winter months. On the second floor is a mural that Mr. Epstein had commissioned in recent years: a photorealistic prison scene that included barbed wire, corrections officers and a guard station, with Mr. Epstein portrayed in the middle.
“He said, ‘That’s me, and I had this painted because there is always the possibility that could be me again,’” said R. Couri Hay, a public relations specialist invited by Mr. Epstein to a meeting at his home and to view the mural three months ago.
A person who visited the townhouse last year remembered Mr. Epstein doing work at the mansion while seated at a large dining table that fit 20 people, with multiple computer monitors and a phone alongside.
Mr. Epstein answered calls while hosting visitors, according to that person and another visitor last year who saw similar behavior. Behind him was a table covered with framed photographs of celebrities and dignitaries, including a signed photograph of former President Bill Clinton.
The visitors each said they were greeted by a tall woman who spoke with an Eastern European accent, who led guests up a marble staircase to a study on another floor. At the base of the stairwell, one of the visitors said, Mr. Epstein had placed a chess board with custom figurines, many dressed suggestively — each piece, he noted, was modeled after one of his staffers.
He decorated the home with other oddities, like a life-size female doll hanging from a chandelier, and had arranged a small dining room to resemble a beach scene.
A wall of the study was covered with photographs of famous people, including Woody Allen, and another that Mr. Epstein pointed out was of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia.
Mr. Epstein, 66, is accused of engaging in sex acts with young girls from 2002 to 2005 during naked massage sessions and paying them hundreds of dollars in cash, according to an indictment unsealed on Monday.
During the search of his townhouse on Saturday, investigators seized photographs of nude underage girls, federal prosecutors said. “The alleged behavior shocks the conscience,” Geoffrey S. Berman, the United States attorney in Manhattan, said on Monday.
Prosecutors said they were moving to seize Mr. Epstein’s townhouse.
Mr. Epstein, however, was not even supposed to become the owner of the opulent stone house on the Upper East Side.
In 1989, Mr. Epstein’s mentor, Leslie H. Wexner, the founder and chairman of L Brands, the parent company of Victoria’s Secret and Bath & Body Works, bought the seven-story Beaux-Arts home for $13.2 million. At the time, it was the highest recorded sale price for a townhouse in Manhattan.
Mr. Wexner then spent at least that much on artwork — including multiple works by Picasso — Art Deco furnishings, Russian antiques, rosewood tables and doors and a gut renovation of the home. Security devices, including a network of cameras, were installed. A cellar was divided into separate spaces, one for red wines and another for white. The renovation was featured on the cover of the December 1995 issue of Architectural Digest.
The townhouse had been a longtime private school and Mr. Wexner spent years converting it into a lavish estate.
Mr. Wexner, however, never moved in; he decided to stay in Columbus, Ohio, where L Brands has its headquarters.
But another person did move in: Mr. Epstein. “Les never spent more than two months there,” Mr. Epstein told The New York Times in 1996.
The home has a history of going unoccupied by its owner. Herbert N. Straus, an heir to the Macy’s fortune, commissioned the 40-room mansion in the early 1930s and hired the prominent architect Horace Trumbauer to design it. But Mr. Straus died in 1933, leaving the property unfinished and unoccupied.
The Straus family gave the residence to a hospital in 1944. In 1962, the private school, Birch Wathen School, bought it and converted it into a schoolhouse. The school, which was started in 1921 with an emphasis on the arts, relocated after Mr. Wexner bought the house. (It later merged with another private school to start the Birch Wathen Lenox School.)
Mr. Epstein said in the 1996 interview that the mansion was now his, though the transaction has never appeared in New York City records online. In 2011, he transferred ownership of the property from a trust connected to Mr. Epstein and Mr. Wexner to Maple Inc., a United States Virgin Islands-based entity under Mr. Epstein’s control, according to records.
The transfer document, from Nine East 71st Street Corporation to Maple Inc., did not list a purchase price, indicating that it did not involve any exchange of money.
A spokeswoman for Mr. Wexner said that he “severed ties” with Mr. Epstein about a decade ago. Erika Kellerhals, a lawyer in the Virgin Islands who handled the 2011 transfer for Mr. Epstein, did not return a phone call seeking comment
Prosecutors say the home is valued at $77 million, but the city’s Department of Finance estimated this year that the mansion was valued closer to $56 million. The 2019 property taxes for the home, which are based on a much lower assessed value, were an estimated $347,000. (The property’s tax bill in 2008 was the fourth-highest-taxed single-family home in New York City.)
Mr. Epstein also owns a home in Palm Beach, Fla., a 7,500-acre ranch in New Mexico and an apartment in Paris. He also owns Little St. James Island, a private island in the Caribbean, and at least 15 cars.
A spokesman for Mr. Clinton, whose photograph was on display in Mr. Epstein’s mansion, said that the former president “made one brief visit” around 2002 to the New York home with a staff member and security officials. Mr. Clinton has not talked to Mr. Epstein in more than a decade and has not visited his properties in the Caribbean, Florida or New Mexico, the statement said.
From the street, Mr. Epstein’s Manhattan mansion has features that make it a commanding presence on the block: a 15-foot-tall oak front door (which the police pried open with a crowbar on Saturday during a search of the property), large arched windows on the ground floor and a balcony on the second floor. Mr. Epstein’s initials are on a brass plaque near the front door.
While Mr. Epstein has tried to maintain a private life, he did allow a reporter for Vanity Fair magazine to visit the mansion for a 2003 profile, “The Talented Mr. Epstein.”
The article describes a main hallway that was covered with rows of artificial eyeballs from England that had been made for wounded soldiers.
The room connected to the hallway was a marble foyer adorned with a painting that resembled works by the French artist Jean Dubuffet. “The host coyly refuses to tell visitors who painted it,” the reporter, Vicky Ward, wrote.
The article was published around the same time that he started to recruit underage girls to the mansion, according to the indictment unsealed on Monday.
(Source: The New York Times)
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