Apollo Doth Protest Too Much: Our Leon Black-Jeff Epstein Post Elicits Intervention by Apollo’s Flack

Many readers have been following with prurient interest the saga of serial child-rapist Jeffrey Epstein, and in particular media speculation connected to the Very Important People whose names and personal contacts appear in Epstein’s “Little Black Book,” seized by the FBI and currently publicly archived here, courtesy Jon Cook of Gawker. One listing that got a lot of attention was that of billionaire Leon Black, founder of private equity heavyweight Apollo.

After the black book became public, the press dug deeper into the long-standing relationship between Black and Epstein, with the Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg, and more recently, the New York Times weighing in.

In a sign that Apollo is in the public relations version of Defcon 1 over l’affaire Epstein, we got a call and an e-mail from Apollo’s hired mouthpiece, insinuating that we really should have talked to them. Had the PR professional bothered even a cursory look into our work on Apollo or private equity generally, he might have realized that contacting us could be counterproductive, particularly since no financial firm has ever deigned to muscle take official interest in this humble website.1

If you’re up to speed on Leon Black and Epstein, you can skip over the next section.

The Plot Thus Far

It wasn’t just that Black’s name appeared in Epstein’s famed black book. Since 1997, Epstein served as an “original trustee” of the Leon Black Family Foundation. Black has disavowed state filings that listed Epstein as on the board through 2012, years after Epstein pleaded guilty in 2008 to solicitation of prostitution. Black claims the state filings were inaccurate and said he asked Epstein to resign in 2007.

This relationship alone is enough to raise eyebrows. Men at Black’s level are hyper-attentive to their personal wealth. The notion Leon Black, who has access to the best tax experts in the world, and himself is a renowned financier, would hire someone with no credentials in tax or accounting to advise on his affairs would seem nonsensical had it not actually happened.

More bad news dripped out. The Wall Street Journal published a long expose, Jeffrey Epstein Burrowed Into the Lives of the Rich and Made a Fortune, Bloomberg reported Jeffrey Epstein Had a Door Into Apollo: His Deep Ties With Leon Black, with insider accounts of how Epstein was permitted to approach Apollo principals to pitch his “tax strategies”. An individual mentioned as hosting one meeting disputed that it had occurred. Black issued a denial that didn’t address a key Bloomberg claim: that Black had allowed Epstein to solicit senior executives at Apollo. Black merely said that Epstein had never done business with Apollo.2

Black first sent an e-mail to employees, then wrote his investors, then read the employee e-mail as part of Apollo’s quarterly conference call. The investor presentation failed to address a New York Times account that a Black-controlled entity had given $10 million to an Epstein charity in 2015.

In addition to covering this ground in a post last week, we also described how CalPERS has featured in this story:, making pious shows of discomfort and earnestly seeking an explanation. We reminded readers that Apollo was central to CalPERS’ decline, by virtue of Apollo’s and four other investment firms with ties to Apollo’s mind-bogglingly large “pay to play” fees by CalPERS that funded bribes to CalPERS’ CEO, eventually landing him in Federal prison. Using some conservative assumptions, it also looks as if CalPERS was had by Apollo in the deal Apollo proposed to kiss and make up. We’d anticipated that outcome when we wrote about the CalPERS pay to play scandal in 2014.

The Flack Call and E-Mail

We received this voicemail at 10:02 EDT when our post had gone live 4:20 AM:

And this e-mail immediately thereafter:

Hello Mr. Webber,

I left a voice mail message for you at Aurora introducing myself as well. I am the spokesperson for Apollo Global Management here in New York. Always please feel free to call us for fair comment prior to publication. We are always available to talk on a not-for-attribution basis to go over facts for accuracy and context and in some cases offer an on-the-record comment in the face of criticism.

Many thanks for your consideration.

Best, Charles.

Charles V. Zehren | Executive Vice President
RUBENSTEIN

This is amusing on so many levels I don’t know where to begin. Zehren makes no formal objection to what’s in our post, but he is trying to sell the idea that anyone who writes about Apollo ought to ring in….to get not-on-the-record comments. When we seek comments on posts with original reporting, we operate only on an on the record basis.

In this case, all of the facts in our piece were previously reported and not corrected or retracted, so there were no “facts to go over”. Since when do op-ed writers, which is the category in which this post would have fallen in a newspaper, check in with the subjects of their op-eds?

But clearly, Zehren lives in a world populated by access and trade journalists who regularly write up big company press releases and planted stories. Those writers are over there.

The “Mr. Webber” is very inattentive. Zehren had just called and left a voicemail for one “Susan Webber,” and he started his message with “Mrs.” Does he think women don’t write about finance, and that Susan Webber is the wife or sister of the moving force behind the blog, who obviously must be male?

Even though Zehren did manage to track down the Aurora Advisors phone number, presumably from our antique website (which I keep up only for its archive of articles in the 1990s and early-mid 2000s), he didn’t look at the bios, where the only Webber is female.

But the really rich part is the notion that Apollo is entitled to a “fair comment”. Did Apollo have any concern for fairness when it bankrupted companies like Caesars, Hexion, and Claire’s, resulting in job and pension losses, including lawsuits accusing Apollo of acting in bad faith, as with CEVA Logistics? How fair was Apollo when it failed to inform investors about termination of monitoring fees and had to cough up a record $52.8 million in SEC fines and disgorgements? Even the normally finance-friendly Matt Levine of Bloomberg fame made clear that monitoring and other portfolio company fees are an exercise in extraction (emphasis his):

The basic idea is that private-equity firms charge their portfolio companies a “monitoring fee” for … monitoring them? It seems silly to insist on a reason. They charge the monitoring fee to get more money. They could charge portfolio companies a Fee For Being Nice Guys, and the portfolio companies would cheerfully pay up….They can send a portfolio company a bill, and then send themselves back some money.

We could go on, but you get the picture. Apollo for once is faced with a problem it can’t solve by using its ginormous checkbook, so it falls back on spurious requests for fairness. Help me.

Moreover, as established readers know, we’ve been writing about private equity regularly and critically since 2013. We’ve published 25 limited partnership agreements, documents the industry implausibly insists are trade secrets in their entirety, including one for a recent Apollo flagship fund, Apollo Investment Fund VIII, L.P., aka Apollo VIII. We’ve had six other posts with “Apollo” in the headline, and also discussed Apollo’s conduct at length in the aforementioned 2014 post on the CalPERS pay to play scandal.

So why the interest now, particularly since Google algo changes have downgraded articles by small sites like ours, no matter how on point they are relative to search terms? It’s pretty clear from Mr. Zehren’s dilatory contact that his mission from Apollo entails trying to push the Apollo party line, even to people who a cursory inspection of their record would show they’d be unreceptive and perhaps even annoyed at the re-education attempt.

Maybe Apollo is concerned that Naked Capitalism is about to move up in the Google search criteria.

____

1 There is one exception that proves the rule. We got a call from an in-house lawyer at Oak Hill Capital Partners asking us to take their limited partnership agreement down. It was a very short call. The lawyer’s voice had the tired sound of knowing she’d been asked to do something that wasn’t going to work. My recollection is she tried arguing that the limited partnership agreement was confidential. I said, “Are you kidding? It’s been up for eighteen months.” I said I didn’t engage with lawyers on the phone, that she needed to deal with me in writing and the limited partnership agreements were staying up. I never heard anything more.

2 The Wall Street Journal makes the notion that Black would use Epstein seem not crazy:

Around 1995, Mr. Epstein brought his staff to meet with Apollo Global Management LLC, a private-equity firm run by Leon Black, to pitch his company as an ideal service for Apollo’s wealthy clients, including tax strategy. “He found every single provision that could justifiably be utilized, and he worked with some very smart tax lawyers,” said a person who attended the meeting.

But even then Black would have had access to top tax attorneys; clever tax structuring is a big part of private equity’s returns. So why would he need to pay a markup to get them through Epstein?

The Bloomberg story depicts Apollo’s executives reacting as you’d expect:

Almost a decade after Jeffrey Epstein was first accused of preying on young women, he still had access to the inner sanctum of Apollo Global Management.

Leon Black, Apollo’s billionaire chairman, met with the financier from time to time at the company’s New York offices, and he allowed Epstein to pitch personal tax strategies to the firm’s executives, according to people familiar with the matter.

The executives were puzzled. Why invite Epstein, a registered sex offender since 2009, into one of Wall Street’s most powerful private equity firms? What services could he possibly provide?

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38 comments

  1. bruce

    If I had ridden the Lolita Express to Orgy Island or whatever it’s called, I might hire a PR firm to tamp down the flames too. Could JE be the most successful blackmailer in history?

    You apparently omitted a word like “issued” in paragraph 7. What you have now is “Black a denial that didn’t address a key Bloomberg claim…”

    Maybe they thought it was Yves Montand writing the blog. Only other Yves I can think of right now. Perfectly understandable. Is he even still alive?

    Reply
    1. Pym of Nantucket

      Well, ol’ Yves might sing these words in this context

      Tu vois, je n’ai pas oublié…
      Les feuilles mortes se ramassent à la pelle,
      Les souvenirs et les regrets aussi…

      Reply
    2. Tomonthebeach

      Could JE be the most successful blackmailer in history?

      I think the answer to your rhetorical question is yes. The more interesting question is how and who facilitated his blackmail empire? There have been some suggestions that the Florida deal was at the behest of Langley. If true, what a scandal that would create – not to mention Trump boasting that he was right all along that CIA was out to get him – despite no clear connection (what’s logic got to do with it? :-).

      Reply
    3. Yves Smith Post author

      Thanks. Grr, I keep having version control issues. I had corrected that but must have had two edit windows open on the same post and went back to work on the one where I hadn’t made that fix.

      Reply
      1. TheCatSaid

        Good article. So much info is available from open sources it’s a pity the author didn’t dig a little deeper. Here’s one short video that provides additional facts and context: https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=FX0h3B1F3zE&list=PLcgk8FfGnzkyeQBDlQJaKGumq6qmmEmS1&index=4

        Link to a more extensive playlist is below. In addition to resource plays, drugs, and weapons (and trafficking from conflict areas), supporting technology transfer was a huge part of the bigger picture. JE played a crucial role in transporting key players, related logistics, and training other pilots.

        When one is playing a pivotal role in such a range of vast global deals, it’s easy to understand his wealth.

        Now Wexler is claiming JE stole funds from him–though Wexler was a collaborator all along. Seems like “hair-pulling” to me. (IOW a pretend conflict ala WWE.) It creates a cover story to obscure a much bigger picture.

        Reply
  2. Clive

    Maybe Zehren’s sudden outbreak of attentiveness to relatively under-the-radar blogs is because he thought you were George Soros’ former wife, Susan Weber. Since you changed both sex and marital status in the course of one telephone message and one email, anything’s possible!

    Reply
    1. Arizona Slim

      I think he’ll come to regret the day when he messed with Yves.

      Big mistake, Mr. Zehren. Because the NC commentariat has Yves’ back!

      Reply
      1. Clive

        Yes — it was the (okay, fairly subtle, but there nonetheless) intimation that Yves could be, if not out-and-out bought off, then, perhaps, shall we say, benefit from “getting Apollo’s side of the story”.

        You’d have thought they’d have spent, oh, I don’t know, about five minutes actually reading the blog first. That’s all they would have needed to get totally that was never going to be a happening event.

        Reply
        1. ChrisPacific

          30 seconds would have been enough. I just typed Apollo into the search bar and looked at the first half dozen headlines.

          Reply
  3. ambrit

    Is the lack of proofreading of the messages Zehren sent you a part of the “new normal” in the business world or could it be a sign of panic?
    That Apollo is doing this right now suggests that there are other revelations to come concerning Epstein and Black, et. al. Getting out in front of the mob, or, as here, cutting it off at the pass, and declaring it to be a parade is a basic strategy in crisis management.
    The other possibility is a tinfoil hat artifact: Epstein’s possible connection to Mossad. In this fabulation, Ghiseline Maxwell, daughter of Robber Baron publisher Rupert Maxwell, who was widely considered a pawn of the Mossad, and died under extremely mysterious circumstances has been widely portrayed as Epsteins “girlfriend” and procuress.
    This entire story looks too much like a case of a blackmail scheme writ large.

    Reply
  4. David in Santa Cruz

    Absolutely fascinating. The interlinking of amorality and corruption at the highest levels of American politics and finance have become pervasive.

    Everyone knows this to be the case, but it continues to be treated by the perpetrators as some superficial PR problem that’s just going to blow-over in the next 24-hour news cycle.

    They’re correct, the CalPERS reference is any example. Apollo paid millions in bribes which appear never to have been recovered or actually disgorged, and engages in strategies which might be charitably described as the polar opposite of ESG investing, yet still does business with CalPERS.

    No wonder millions of Americans have given up on democracy, a handful of them in the worst ways possible. Ethics matter — in business, in politics, in personal relationships. Thank you for exposing this.

    Reply
  5. Charles Yaker

    is it just me but given the clout of all these people if Epstein could embarrass any of them why is he still alive?

    Or is it that I have an over active imagination or view of criminal capabilities is a myth?

    and if a myth why a witness protection program or is that a myth also?

    Reply
    1. paul

      is it just me but given the clout of all these people if Epstein could embarrass any of them why is he still alive?

      Because his* enormites and his* accomplices have conjugated in plain view for so long they lost the energy to draw the curtains.

      I dread to think that this a kite flier to all the other apex degenerates.

      “If we can get away with this?..in the greatest country on earth!”

      *I am reminded to note lacy ghislaine’s implicity

      Reply
    1. LifelongLib

      Epstein sounds like the equivalent of a drug dealer who uses his own product. If it hadn’t been for that we would probably never have heard of him, and his schemes would still be going (maybe they are anyway)…

      Reply
    2. Hopelb

      Has the connection between power and sexual predation been studied? It Seems as power accumulates, the powerful can only get “enjoyment” by inflicting violent sexual harm on the innocent, exhibiting their awesome power by engaging in the most universally despised depredations. Does this pathology develope over time as power accrues, or was it, this depravity, there all along, and what enabled their rise?

      Reply
      1. hunkerdown

        A fair working definition of “elite” (n.) is one to whom rules do not apply, which is yet subordinate to the “sovereign”, s/”he who decides the exception”. If there were such studies, I believe they would be classified as TOP SECRET, lest it cause a revolt.

        Reply
      2. Norm de plume

        Pasolini made the connection explicit in Salo in 1975.
        More recently, the old Rigorous Intuition blog ran several speculative posts connecting breadcrumbs of evidence from ancient to recent times that seem to point to a very longstanding tradition of ritualistic violence and abuse by elites, or at least subsets of them.
        From memory, the thesis was that they recognised that they owed their position to forebears who prospered through violent appropriation, and that this key faculty of cruelty, like any other, needed to be honed, exercised, fed and watered to ensure that they didn’t degenerate and become the people they dominated.

        Reply
  6. golawco

    It is great to hear the calm, soothing voice of Mr. Zed, Esq. on the voicemail. To form, if you call him back you get Roy Cohn. Now THAT was a lawyer.

    Reply
    1. EoH

      Mr. Cohn was indeed a prince of darkness. He received both his undergraduate and law degrees at the age of 20. He had to wait until he was 21, before he could sit the NY bar exam.

      Like his victims, Cohn was addicted to power. Like Hoover, he made a study of human weakness, apparently kept meticulous records of it, and was not reluctant to exploit it. As a courtier to the great and good – politicians other actors, celebrities, heirs and heiresses, a cardinal and a director of the FBI – he ruthlessly used his skills and files to protect them.

      The personal secrets of his clients that he collected along the way made for lifelong bonds, and paid for a life of considerable excess. Dead man switches being what they are, even when he was broke, sick, and dying, the great and good flocked to give testimony about his good character. It finally did no good and he lost his license. Like any good con man, his last check bounced. (That dynamic may be what he has in common with Epstein.)

      There’s a tie-in with Trump, who claims to have been mentored by Cohn. When Cohn’s lover was broke and dying of AIDS – not long before Cohn died in similar circumstances – Cohn asked client and real estate tycoon Trump if he could find a place for him to die in peace. Donald found somewhere, then promptly billed Cohn for it. I hope that’s the check that bounced.

      Reply
  7. flora

    Yves writes: ” So why the interest now,…?”

    Hating or fearing a man’s business model, e.g. PE, isn’t too threatening, in general.

    It is better to be feared than loved, if you cannot be both. Niccolo Machiavelli

    Destroying a man’s public image by revealing sordid facts about his personal life, to the point he becomes an object of contempt, now that’s a different ballgame. imo.

    Reply
    1. John k

      I dunno…
      Thinking here is epstein is feared, and that he might therefore have an accident.
      Problem is twofold… reaching him where he is, though maybe somebody did and warned him…
      He must have warned his wealthy friends of auto disclosures on his death or disappearance…
      So maybe the fearful are frozen in place.
      But what then about deep? They can reach him… are they frozen too? Are they reaching out to nyc fbi?
      And what about potus? If he’s clean on this he would relish a grenade that takes down oppo…
      I assume he came back to get stuff out of mansion, stuff he didn’t want to trust to anybody else. Does fbi have this now, or is the best stuff still hidden there?
      Hope I need all that popcorn.

      Reply
    2. Off The Street

      Epstein and his ilk seem to have a business model that absorbs assets, not often willingly. What better way to get cooperation and defenders than by converting those needed at the point and click of a mouse instead of a gun? You get what you want, they stay out of the way and everybody is happy, in a twisted, distorted awful subculture.

      Reply
  8. Tyronius

    Yet more proof, as if any were needed, that allowing the rich to run things is a mistake with inordinate consequences to all levels of society in ways large and small.

    The trouble is that it’s looking likely that even with exposure of all these excesses, both large (massive wealth and income inequities, widespread poverty) and small (depravities visited upon the young and helpless), the system will survive interact and even largely unindicted.

    History repeating. It’s enough to make one wonder if being one of the bad guys isn’t the smarter play?

    Alas, my conscience gets in the way!

    Reply
  9. TheCatSaid

    The mainstream media focuses on portraying Epstein primarily as a pedophile and trafficker. Consider this is to distract from the decades of piloting and pilot training for drug running and weapons running around the world. Not to mention compromising generals, political leaders, financial and industrial leaders, etc.–which ensures their cooperation in the real moneymaking ventures (drugs, weapons).

    George Webb has been reporting on Epstein for over two and a half years. Researchers have documented jet ID numbers and specific flight details, for example. A playlist of Epstein videos is here (59 clips so far since early 2017): https://m.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLcgk8FfGnzkyeQBDlQJaKGumq6qmmEmS1

    To only focus on Epstein’s pedophile and trafficking activities is what MSM / TPTB wants. That is just the surface of the Epstein story.

    Perhaps Apollo’s reaction relates more to the bigger picture–potentially a bigger danger to them or their clients than being associated with a notorious pedophile/trafficker.

    Reply
    1. TheCatSaid

      Drugs, weapons, compromise activities are often in the context of major resource plays. E.g., oil, gas, pipelines, uranium, precious metals. Planes and helicopters of all sizes and pilots to fly them are critical to these “enterprises”. Many are set up to function under “color of law” (e.g., govt and law enforcement insiders and military contractors run operations like Project Cassandra for years till it is exposed).

      Reply
    2. flora

      Et tu, Ehud?

      https://www.businessinsider.com/the-nyc-building-at-the-center-of-jeffrey-epsteins-web-2019-8

      One former resident says she “often” saw [former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak] and his security detail in the building, with a sighting as recent as this calendar year. Another former resident, who confirmed Barak was a frequent visitor, said he once accidentally rode the elevator with Barak and two unfriendly security guards after sliding in through the doors at the last second.

      Barak’s presence in the building was often announced to residents by way of a visible security detail with Suburbans idling on the street outside, witnesses say. One source who visited the building in 2017 recalls seeing what the source described as “Mossad agents” — meaning Israeli security guards — waiting downstairs, and former residents said at least one member of the security team would typically be posted in the lobby with an earpiece when Barak was upstairs. On at least one occasion, the former resident said, NYPD officers were also stationed outside.

      Reply

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