Despite living a life of private jets, celebrity friends and private islands, Epstein remains an enigma.
In a profile published in 2002, New York Magazine called Epstein an “international moneyman of mystery.”
Author James Patterson, who has written a book about Epstein, called him “a total mystery person.”
On CBS News, Patterson compared Epstein to author F. Scott Fitzgerald’s character Jay Gatsby: an impenetrable rich man who “liked to be around famous people and he liked to throw parties.”
Epstein’s start was a humble one. He was born to a Jewish family in Brooklyn, New York. His father worked for the city parks department.
In the mid-1970s, Epstein attended a private college in New York called The Cooper Union. He later attended New York University. Even though he failed to earn a degree from either school, Epstein managed to land a job teaching math at the Dalton School, an elite private school in Manhattan.
He was reportedly hired by then-headmaster Donald Barr, father of Attorney General William Barr, according to Newsweek magazine.
Epstein quit Dalton in 1976 and started work at the Wall Street investment bank Bear Stearns, advising clients on tax strategies. By 1980, he “did well enough to become a limited partner — a rung beneath full partner,” Vanity Fair reported.
He left Bear Sterns in 1981 and set up a money management firm, J. Epstein and Co., which later became the Financial Trust Company, based in the U.S. Virgin Islands.
Epstein’s company is shrouded in secrecy. While Epstein has long claimed to represent several billionaires, his only known client is Les Wexner, the founder of Victoria’s Secret, The Limited and other retail brands.
And despite his claims of wealth, Forbes magazine says Epstein is not a billionaire. He has never appeared on the magazine’s list of 400 richest Americans.
Along with lavish properties, Epstein also appears to like to collect notable friends.
In 2015, the now-defunct site Gawker published what it said was Epstein’s address book. It contained entries for U.S. President Donald Trump and his daughter Ivanka Trump; actors Alec Baldwin, Dustin Hoffman and Ralph Fiennes; the Nobel Peace Prize winner Elie Wiesel, former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak, singers Courtney Love and Jimmy Buffett, and high-profile lawyer Alan Dershowitz among others. He is also known to have traveled on his private jets with former President Bill Clinton and actor Kevin Spacey.
None of his high-profile friends have been linked to the crimes for which Epstein was indicted by a federal grand jury in New York this week.