The failure to see what Jeffrey Epstein was doing

The Times, in an account of Epstein’s relationship with JP Morgan, reported that, in late 2008, compliance officers at the firm’s private bank began conducting a review to identify problem clients from whom it ought to disassociate itself. (The bank had had some unfortunate dealings with Bernie Madoff.) They flagged Epstein; this was after the guilty plea, and after reports questioning the source of his wealth had surfaced. The bank kept working with him. (JP Morgan denied to the Times that a top executive had overruled the compliance team.) According to the Times’ sources, the reason, remarkably, was not the amount of money Epstein had but how much the bank valued his relationships—the friends and associates whose business he might steer its way. The Wall Street Journal reported that when Highbridge was sold to JP Morgan, in 2004, Epstein received a fifteen-million-dollar fee from Highbridge, apparently for making an introduction. The bank didn’t extricate itself until 2013; after that, Epstein moved to Deutsche Bank, which kept him on as a client until this summer.

Tolerance of Epstein, in other words, wasn’t simply a matter of bystanders focussing only on the dollar amount and not seeing the rest. He often suggested that he was involved in complex foreign-currency trades, big plays with an intellectual aspect. In reality, he may have just been the guy who gets a cut. But what currency he was actually trading in—charisma, loyalty, insight, tax schemes, or even, as he reportedly insinuated, secrets—is a matter for further inquiry. The financial accounting doesn’t add up.