Jeffrey Epstein was many things: a sexual predator, a friend of the rich and powerful, and for many years a lucrative customer of the nation’s largest bank.
Now JPMorgan Chase is facing a reckoning over its nearly 15-year relationship with a disgraced financier that could cost it a big payout in two civil lawsuits that say the bank ignored warnings that it was trading teenage girls for sex because it was profiting from the relationship with him.
New revelations from the cases suggest that bank employees flagged Mr. Epstein’s activities as suspicious on a number of occasions, while other documents show that Mr. Epstein was familiar with and had easy access to them, even after his 2008 guilty plea in Florida to racketeering prostitution from a teenage girl.
The lawsuits, filed late last year in federal court in Manhattan — one by lawyers representing Mr. Epstein’s victims and the other by the U.S. Virgin Islands government — are moving quickly, with dozens of depositions by victims, Virgin Islands officials and people who worked for the bank and Mr. Epstein.
Negotiations will take on new urgency on Friday as Jamie Dimon, JPMorgan’s chief executive, is deposed at the bank’s Manhattan headquarters.
Mr. Epstein died three years ago of an apparent suicide while in federal custody on sex-trafficking charges. JPMorgan dropped him as a client ten years ago. Many of the documents and exhibits submitted in the lawsuit are under seal.
One document prepared by the bank, an exhibit in a court filing last week, suggests that JPMorgan employees filed numerous suspicious activity reports (SARs) about some of Mr. Epstein’s transactions. The names of about four dozen employees the bank said “participated in the SAR reporting of the Epstein accounts between 2000 and 2019” are being redacted.
Banks must file a SAR with federal regulators when they suspect a transaction may involve money laundering or fraud. The reports are confidential because the transactions may turn out to be legitimate, although they may provide authorities with clues to an investigation.
A JPMorgan spokeswoman said the bank knew of nothing to suggest Mr. Epstein was involved in sex trafficking. In filings related to the case, the bank also said it asked federal prosecutors in Florida in 2011 whether it was actively investigating Mr. Epstein. The bank said the plaintiffs had not disclosed any investigation.
A separate cache of emails and partial calendar entries reviewed by The New York Times show that top executives at the bank knew Mr. Epstein well.
“I’m still waiting for your phone call,” Mr. Epstein wrote in October 2011 to Mary C. Erdoes, the current head of the bank’s large asset and wealth management division.
Mrs. Erdoes replied, “Seriously. It’s 1:00 am your time. I’d say get life…but you’re at the Ritz and we’re not.” Ms. Erdoes added that she had just landed in California and would speak with Mr. Epstein the next day.
Emails and calendar entries for Mr. Epstein while he resided at his Manhattan residence were obtained through a public request by the Attorney General for the US Virgin Islands. A JPMorgan spokeswoman said contact between wealthy clients and bank executives was not unusual.
E-mails provided to The Times by the Virgin Islands also include exchanges between Mr. Epstein and James E. Staley, a JPMorgan executive with closest ties him.
Some are personal: In one 2015 interview, Mr. Staley asked Mr. Epstein if he would meet with his daughter to discuss her plans after college. In an email exchange in 2011, there was a discussion about arranging a dinner with Mr. Epstein and Mr. Staley’s family.
Other emails between Mr. Epstein, Ms. Erdoes and Mr. Staley included potential business deals. A number of exchanges focused on Mr. Epstein trying to start a charity organization a partnership between the bank, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and others. He also asked for a meeting with Mr. Dimon to discuss the plan.
A spokeswoman for the bank said Mr. Epstein had never met Mr. Dimon. Mr. Epstein proposed a charitable fund with the Gates Foundation and JPMorgan she never progressed much beyond the speaking stage in 2011 when Mr. Gates fandfirst met Mr. Epstein.
JPMorgan cut ties with Mr. Epstein in 2013, though that was years after some members of the bank’s compliance department raised concerns that business with him. And it only dropped him after Mr. Staley left for another job.
Mr. Staley and Ms. Erdoes, The Times previously reported, favored keeping Mr. Epstein as a client after his guilty plea in 2008, in part because he helped bring wealthy clients to JPMorgan’s private banking division.
The relationship between Mr. Epstein and Mr. Staley, who is known as Jes, is a central issue in the lawsuit. Virgin Islands lawyers alleged that the two men shared sexually suggestive emails about young women and that Mr. Epstein sometimes sent Mr. Staley “photographs of young women in seductive poses.”
The Virgin Islands said the bank should have known about the emails. Mr Staley left JPMorgan in 2013 and became chief executive of Barclays in 2015. He resigned from this position in 2021 due to the impact of an investigation by UK regulators into how he characterized his relationship with Mr. Epstein.
JPMorgan said it was not aware of any misconduct involving Mr. Staley. But the bank has named him as the defendant in a third-party lawsuit, so if Mr. Staley is found to have engaged in improper activity, he may bore the responsibility for any damages he will have to pay. A federal judge this week he refused Mr. Staley’s attempt to be excluded from the lawsuit.
Neither Mr. Staley nor his lawyers responded to requests for comment, but he denied any wrongdoing in court documents and said he was not aware of any sex-trafficking operation.
Lawyers for Mr. Epstein’s victims scored a major victory in a similar case last week when Deutsche Bank, which replaced JPMorgan as Mr. Epstein’s primary banker, agreed to pay $75 million to settle a proposed class action filed in federal court last year. German bank previously paid $150 million fine for New York regulators.
The proposed settlement with Deutsche Bank could become a model for any deal with JPMorgan. JPMorgan managed 40 accounts for Mr. Epstein and handled most of his wire transfers, which included payments to women believed to be victims, people briefed on the matter said.
“JPM was his true partner,” said Bradley Edwards, who along with David Boies is part of the legal team representing Mr. Epstein’s victims in the lawsuit. “There is no real comparison between the two cases.
To date, Mr. Epstein’s estate — once valued at $600 million — has paid out more than $150 million in settlements to more than 125 victims. Those victims could be eligible to receive some of the money from the proposed settlement with Deutsche Bank.
The Virgin Islands court v. JPMorgan grew out of information the territory gathered during a lawsuit with Mr. Epstein’s estate. The islands sued to recover tens of millions in tax breaks they gave to Mr. Epstein’s St. Louis-based businesses. Thomas, it settled for $105 million in November.
Virgin Islands own dealings with Mr. Epstein they also have caused controversy during years. Not only did it grant lucrative tax breaks to his businesses, but in 2012 the government lifted travel restrictions on Mr. Epstein at the request of his lawyers, according to documents obtained by The Times through a public records request.
Because of his status as a sex offender, Mr. Epstein was required to notify authorities of any travel plans, but that advance notification was shortened to one day out of about three weeks by the then-Virgin Islands attorney general, the documents show.
JPMorgan has seized on some of these criticisms of the Virgin Islands government to argue that the territory is not in a position to sue for damages. The bank said in a court filing on Tuesday that officials in the US territory had a long history of dealing with Mr Epstein and looked “the other way as he walked through USVI airports accompanied by girls and young women”.
The bank also noted that Mr. Epstein made frequent campaign contributions to local politicians and sought information on Cecile de Jongh, the wife of a former governor of the Virgin Islands who was a longtime office bearer of Mr. Epstein’s companies. He is also set to unseat Albert Bryan Jr., the current governor who was chairman of the agency that granted Mr. Epstein’s businesses big tax breaks.