- Jeffrey Epstein was funding episodes of a science TV series just a year before he was arrested on sex-trafficking charges.
- The financial support came through Epstein's nonprofit organization, Gratitude America. The project has yet to be completed and lacks funding in the wake of Epstein's death.
- Part of the guaranteed money came in 2018, in the form of a $500,000 check, according to Epstein's group's most recent 990 tax return obtained by CNBC.
A year prior to Jeffrey Epstein being accused of sex trafficking, he was quietly funding episodes of a science TV series that airs on PBS.
"Closer to Truth," a show that was created to help viewers gain a "better understanding of our human experience," according to its website, was working on a group of episodes that would focus on the "nature of mathematics," the program's founder said in an interview.
The project has yet to be completed and lacks funding in the wake of Epstein's death. An attorney for Epstein did not return a request for comment.
Robert Kuhn, the creator of "Closer to Truth," said Epstein committed to funding the project in its entirety, agreeing to spend $1.4 million. The financial support came through Epstein's nonprofit organization, Gratitude America, Ltd.
Part of the guaranteed money came in 2018, in the form of a $500,000 check that was sent to Kuhn's Foundation from Gratitude America, according to Epstein's group's most recent 990 tax return obtained by CNBC. Kuhn said the money was being used to help produce the episodes.
The donation to Kuhn's foundation is the largest donation Epstein made before he was arrested a year later on sex trafficking charges. After Epstein pleaded not guilty, he died in August while in federal lockup. His death was ruled a suicide.
The other donation from Epstein's charity to Kuhn's group came in 2017 for $150,000 and that, too, was part of Epstein's investment into "Closer to Truth," the series founder explained.
Epstein's first engagement with Kuhn came a year before the multimillionaire sent in his first donation for the episodes. The two spoke on the phone and met numerous times at his apartment in New York, the shows creator says, after being introduced through a group of scientists, although he declined to name who those scientists were.
Kuhn said he had no knowledge of any of the accusations that were later levied against Epstein at the time of their first introduction in 2016 and in the future encounters he had with him. He called his behavior "reprehensible."
"The obvious answer is that it's totally reprehensible what's been reported and it's an example of how corruption can be used in human control," he told CNBC. "It is an example of the corruption of power distorts your own reality and then exercises this power over people who are psychologically defenseless."
Kuhn later explained that he cannot give away the money Epstein contributed because he's already spent it on crafting some parts of the episodes but guaranteed he would, in the future, not use donor money to complete the project.
"I wouldn't take money from anyone else to do this and if I do finish this, then I would do it with my own money," he said. "I feel an obligation to finish it and wouldn't ask anyone to fund it with this baggage."
The discovery that Epstein was funding a science-based TV show is the latest example of how many who met him overlooked the financier's previous legal disputes, which included being sentenced to a Florida jail in 2008 for soliciting a prostitute. He was sentenced to 18 months and ended up serving 13 months.
Epstein's group finished 2018 giving out $891,000 in contributions, according to tax documents, including $10,000 to the New School in New York and $100,000 to a nonprofit called Humanity +, which describes itself as a group "dedicate[d] to elevating the human condition."
The financial support for Kuhn's show also gives a glimpse into how Epstein, behind the scenes, used his wealth to invest in nontraditional projects and to get access to leaders in various intellectual communities. Epstein donated regularly to Harvard and was known to have scientists as allies within the university.
Epstein had ties to a variety of scientists. According to a report by Buzz Feed News, Epstein had links to Martin Novak, a Harvard mathematical biologist, Lawrence Krauss, a legendary physicist, and George Church, a genetics professor at Harvard.
Outside of the close allegiances he had with scientists, Epstein was known to have clients in the business community, including longtime investor Leon Black. Epstein also came into contact with billionaire Bill Gates, who has since called the meetings a "mistake."
Another past associate of Epstein's was Donald Trump. Before he became president, Epstein and Trump reportedly used to party together but the two later had a falling out.