Bill Gates once wanted nothing to do with Jeffrey Epstein, a wealthy financier and sex offender who already had several powerful connections. That changed in 2013, when Epstein unleashed an aggressive lobbying campaign to meet with Gates, the Microsoft co-founder and one of the richest, most influential people in the world.
Gates, according to people with direct knowledge of the matter, was inundated with outreach from people speaking on Epstein's behalf, including business associates of Epstein's. Gates ended up meeting with Epstein and other philanthropists in 2013 in New York to discuss "growing philanthropy" on a broader scale.
After the meeting, Gates met his family in Florida after flying on one of Epstein's planes. Gates was still chairman of Microsoft when he attended the New York gathering.
The Gates episode is another example of Epstein's tireless attempts to contact, influence and advise business titans and other leaders. Before he was convicted of a sex crime, Epstein was friends with President Bill Clinton and then-celebrity real estate magnate Donald Trump. L Brands founder Les Wexner, meanwhile, was one of Epstein's few clients. Epstein died at the age of 66 in a jailhouse suicide last month, weeks after he was arrested on federal charges of child sex trafficking.
The efforts to get into Gates' orbit happened after Epstein was sentenced in 2008 to 13 months in jail on a charge of soliciting an underage prostitute. He spent much of his jail time on work release.
A spokeswoman for Gates recently confirmed to CNBC that Epstein was first introduced to Gates as someone who wanted to help give a boost to philanthropy. The spokeswoman also said Epstein worked aggressively to meet with Gates. She declined to comment further on these lobbying efforts. Gates' representatives have in the past denied that there was any business partnership or personal relationship between the two.
A year after Gates' meeting with Epstein, representatives of the MIT Media Lab were informed they were receiving a $2 million gift from the Microsoft founder under the direction of Epstein, The New Yorker reported.
Epstein bolstered his relationship with MIT with the help of other wealthy men, as well.
"This is a $2M gift from Bill Gates directed by Jeffrey Epstein" according to a 2014 internal email from Joi Ito, then the media lab's director. He resigned after The New Yorker article linked anonymous MIT donations from Gates and billionaire Leon Black to Epstein. Gates' representatives have denied that "Epstein directed any programmatic or personal grant making."
In the early 2000s, Epstein used his connections through those close to the Rockefeller and Rothschild families to meet Black, founder of private equity giant Apollo Global Management, according to people familiar with the relationship.
Epstein, as Black said in a companywide email in July, would go on to advise Black on philanthropy and tax services. The New Yorker reported that Epstein acted as an intermediary for Black's $5.5 million contribution to MIT. Records indicate that Black, through shell company BV70 LLC, contributed $10 million in 2015 to Epstein's nonprofit, Gratitude America Ltd. The address of the LLC matches that of Black's family foundation and private office in New York.
Lynne Forester, a wealthy investor and wife of Evelyn de Rothschild, had a link to Epstein, but denied to CNBC that she introduced Black to Epstein.
Forester reportedly flew on one of Epstein's planes. Business Insider reported that Epstein bought a Manhattan townhouse from a woman with the same name as Forester. She declined to confirm those details.
She also told CNBC that she stopped talking to Epstein in 2000, the year following the sale of a $4.95 million home – and eight years before he was sentenced for a sex crime.
"I never spoke to JE [Jeffrey Epstein] after 2000," she said and declined to comment further.