By Pam Martens and Russ Martens: August 25, 2023 ~
On March 15, 2022, U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland issued a Memorandum to the heads of executive departments and to federal agencies mandating how they were to handle Freedom of Information Act requests. Garland wrote:
“For more than fifty years, the Freedom of lnformation Act (FOIA), 5 U.S.C. § 552, has been a vital tool for ensuring transparency, accessibility, and accountability in government. As the Supreme Court has explained, the Act’s ‘basic purpose … is to ensure an informed citizenry,’ which is ‘vital to the functioning of a democratic society [and] needed to check against corruption and to hold the governors accountable to the governed.’ NLRB v. Robbins Tire & Rubber Co., 437 U.S. 214,242 (1978).”
Despite this laudable endorsement of FOIA by the Biden administration’s top law enforcement officer, the Securities and Exchange Commission under Chair Gary Gensler is drawing a dark curtain around a case of critical public interest and importance to the American people in rooting out ingrained and systemic corruption on Wall Street.
Wall Street On Parade is a public interest financial news site which has already devoted months of research into bringing in-depth reports on this matter to the public’s attention. But despite this, the taxpayer-supported SEC is refusing to provide Wall Street On Parade with even a shred of paper in response to our FOIA request.
The case involves the more than 15 years that the taxpayer-backstopped Wall Street mega bank, JPMorgan Chase, was making 9,000 money transactions totaling $2.4 billion and providing hundreds of thousands of dollars in hard cash annually to child sex trafficker Jeffrey Epstein – knowing full well for much of that time that Epstein was a Level 3 Registered Sex Offender and was credibly alleged by the Palm Beach County Police Department (supported with videotaped victim testimony) to have sexually assaulted dozens of underage schoolgirls, paying them $200 to $1,000 in hard cash after each encounter to stay quiet.
Making JPMorgan Chase’s position even more indefensible, internal documents obtained during discovery in federal lawsuits show that the bank held accounts not just for Epstein, but for his accomplices, procurers of underage girls, and victims. The bank casually moved money from Epstein into these accounts on a regular basis.
According to internal documents and depositions in the federal lawsuit brought by the U.S. Virgin Islands against JPMorgan Chase for “actively participating in Epstein’s sex trafficking venture,” the bank conducted a secret internal investigation into bank employees’ relationship with Epstein. It dubbed the internal investigation “Project JEEP.” (The JE was for Jeffrey and the EP was for Epstein.) That internal investigation turned up hundreds of highly incriminating emails showing the nauseatingly sycophantic relationship that bank executives maintained with Epstein. (See a partial listing of 260 of those emails here.)
As the JPMorgan Chase executives were falling over themselves to curry favor with Epstein and get client referrals, the compliance, anti-money laundering and human trafficking personnel inside the bank were referring to Epstein in their own internal emails as a “known child sleaze,” “that scum Epstein” while another acknowledged that he was aware that Epstein had stocked his mansion with “nymphettes.”
According to court documents, JPMorgan Chase conducted Project JEEP in 2019, the same year that Epstein was arrested and criminally charged by the Department of Justice for child sex trafficking and his ties to Wall Street figures began to make headlines in newspapers that JPMorgan cares about, i.e., the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal. (Epstein died in jail on August 10, 2019, a little more than a month after his arrest. The Medical Examiner ruled it a suicide.) The bank thus became fully aware in 2019 that it had serious legal liability over its relationship with Epstein; that one of its executives had received sexually suggestive photos from Epstein; and that the same executive had visited Epstein in jail while he was doing time for sex with a minor in Palm Beach County.
The bank also likely learned of its potential liability for funneling more than $5 million in hard cash to Epstein – much of which was used to perpetuate his international sex trafficking ring according to the U.S. Virgin Islands, while failing to file the legally mandated Suspicious Activity Reports.
According to the SEC, form 8K must be filed with the SEC by a publicly-traded company to announce major events that shareholders should know about. Companies, typically, have just four days to make the 8K filing after becoming aware of the event.
We could find no record of JPMorgan Chase ever filing an 8K report with the SEC in 2019, or in any year since, that shares its Project JEEP internal report with shareholders and the public.
The U.S. Virgin Islands’ lawsuit is providing some transparency on what transpired with Epstein inside the five-count felon JPMorgan Chase. But, aside from news reports and a breathtaking, nonfiction book of criminal intrigue, One Nation Under Blackmail, by Whitney Webb, connecting members of the JPMorgan Chase Board of Directors and its predecessor bank (Banc One), to Epstein and one of his largest clients, Leslie Wexner, and to crime families and Israeli intelligence operations, there has been a tight lid on the deeper facts involving the Wexner connection.
Leslie Wexner is the former longtime Chairman and CEO of The Limited (a/k/a L Brands) retailing chain which, at various times, included Abercrombie & Fitch, Victoria’s Secret, Lane Bryant, Bath & Body Works and others.
Epstein functioned as a financial advisor to Wexner and held a power of attorney for Wexner’s financial interests from approximately 1986 to at least 2008. Epstein’s Boeing 727, which was referred to as the “Lolita Express,” had been a corporate asset of The Limited. Epstein’s Upper East Side mansion in Manhattan came from Wexner. According to Epstein’s victims who have come forward, both the 727 and the Manhattan mansion were used to facilitate sexual assaults on underage girls. Prosecutors found a safe full of photos of naked girls, hundreds of which appeared to be underage, when the Manhattan mansion was raided by the FBI in 2019.
According to court filings, Epstein also posed for years as a recruiter for Victoria’s Secret models, telling models that he could get them work at the company. Multiple women have said that when they showed up for the modeling interview with Epstein, he sexually assaulted them.
In July 2019, the New York Times reported the following:
“Mr. Wexner authorized him [Epstein] to borrow money on his behalf, to sign his tax returns, to hire people and to make acquisitions. Over the years, Mr. Epstein obtained a New York mansion, a private plane and a luxury estate in Ohio — today valued at roughly $100 million all together — previously owned by Mr. Wexner or his companies….”
In addition to having an inordinate amount of power over Wexner’s finances connected to his retailing empire and his charities, Epstein also became a business partner of Leslie Wexner in Wexner’s multi-million-dollar residential/business development project known as the New Albany Company in New Albany, Ohio.
JPMorgan Chase had members of its Board of Directors who were designated as “independent” but were co-business partners with Epstein and Wexner in the New Albany Company project as JPMorgan looked the other way at Epstein’s money laundering at the bank. (See our report: Lawsuit Bombshell: Sex Trafficker Jeffrey Epstein Was “a Business Partner” with Members of JPMorgan’s Board of Directors.) JPMorgan was regularly involved in stock dealings for Wexner, credit facilities for his retail businesses and debt offerings for his companies.
In 2019, the Board of Directors of L Brands hired the law firm, Davis Polk & Wardwell, to investigate the ties between Epstein and Wexner after their close relationship became public following Epstein’s arrest on federal sex trafficking charges. Wexner’s wife had been a lawyer at Davis Polk prior to her marriage to Wexner and the law firm was the longstanding outside counsel to the company. After a shareholder sued the company over Davis Polk not having adequate impartiality in the matter, L Brands hired a second law firm, Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz, to conduct a second investigation.
We could find no public release of the findings of either the Davis Polk or Wachtell report, nor could we find an 8K filing by L Brands with the SEC disclosing those findings.
What followed the Davis Polk and Wachtell investigations suggests that there were damaging findings. Wexner announced in 2020 that he would be stepping down as Chairman and CEO of L Brands. In 2021, both Wexner and his wife, Abigail, announced they would not seek reelection to the Board of L Brands. In August of 2021, L Brands ceased to exist with the spinoff of Victoria’s Secret and Bath & Body Works as separate companies.
On August 7 of this year we filed a FOIA with the SEC seeking to learn if L Brands had ever filed the Davis Polk or Wachtell internal investigative reports with the SEC – which would mean that the publicly-traded company requested and received confidential treatment of those reports by the SEC since they are not in the SEC’s public database.
On August 23, we received a letter via email from the SEC advising that nothing would be forthcoming to us in the way of documents under our FOIA request. The SEC based its refusal to provide even a shred of a document on the following:
“We can neither confirm nor deny the existence of any records responsive to your request. Even to acknowledge the existence of such records could interfere with the personal privacy protections provided by FOIA Exemptions…Under Exemption 6 the release of this type of information would constitute a clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy….”
What the SEC actually seems to be saying is that Leslie Wexner, a billionaire who has donated tens of millions of dollars to Harvard and Ohio State University, deserves privacy protection – notwithstanding the American people’s legally-enshrined right to government documents.
The Limited (a/k/a L Brands) was a publicly traded company during a period in which corporate assets, such as a Boeing 727, fell into the hands of a child sex trafficker. Shareholders have a legal right to know how that came to pass.
Leslie Wexner was the Chairman and CEO of L Brands when the Davis Polk and Wachtell internal investigations were conducted. A Chairman and CEO of a publicly-traded company takes on a fiduciary role with duties of loyalty and care to the company and its shareholders. Those duties take priority over any claims of personal privacy when it comes to the management of corporate assets.
Moreover, there is longstanding precedent for the naming of names when a publicly-traded corporation engages in scandalous or potentially fraudulent activity and tarnishes its brand. The shareholders have a right to a full accounting, notwithstanding that billionaires who plaster their names on public buildings (and the institutions themselves) might wish otherwise.
Leon Black was Chairman and CEO of Apollo Global Management, also a publicly-traded company, when his relationship with Jeffrey Epstein became headline news. The Board hired the global law firm, Dechert, to investigate the matter. On January 25, 2021, that internal review was released to shareholders and the public.
Dechert may now be regretting its findings, which concluded: “Dechert found no evidence that Mr. Black was involved in any way with Mr. Epstein’s criminal activities at any time.” NBC News reported last month that “A federal lawsuit filed Tuesday accuses billionaire Leon Black of raping a 16-year-old girl with Down syndrome and autism in 2002 at the Manhattan townhouse of convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein.”
The quintessential internal report of wrongdoing at a Wall Street bank came on March 15, 2013 when the U.S. Senate’s Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations released a 300-page report on the derivatives trading scandal at JPMorgan Chase known as the “London Whale.” The bank was gambling in derivatives in London using deposits from its federally-insured bank and lost at least $6.5 billion. The report had no qualms about protecting anyone’s privacy. It uses Jamie Dimon’s name 298 times – and not in a good way.
So, this is a case of the legislative branch of government, with lots of lawyers working as legal counsel, deciding that the Chairman and CEO of JPMorgan had no right to privacy that surpassed the public and shareholders’ right to know.
Then there is the judicial branch of government, which via its U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, has released 260 emails without redacting the names of the multiple JPMorgan employees who are cajoling and setting up meetings and potential deals with child sex trafficker Jeffrey Epstein. (See link in seventh paragraph above.)
So, if the legislative branch has no problem releasing a 300-page investigative report of scandalous behavior, naming plenty of names at JPMorgan Chase; and the judicial branch of government has no problem releasing 260 emails, naming plenty of names in this matter; we have to conclude that the SEC has both misapplied and misinterpreted the law on behalf of the billionaires involved.
Welcome to the United States of Kleptocracy.