Jeffrey Epstein’s ghost sends a chill through Apollo Global Management By John L. Smith, CDC Gaming Reports January 27, 2021 at 8:00 pm Jet-setting sex trafficker Jeffrey Epstein died in 2019, but he continues to haunt his old associates. One of those, Apollo Global Management co-founder Leon Black, certainly knows his way around Las Vegas and the casino industry. Apollo announced this week that Black would step down as CEO following the release of an investigation by its board of directors that focused on his relationship with Epstein. The investigation found no criminal link to the pedophile but did emphasize the two shared a substantial financial relationship and longtime social friendship during years Epstein was recruiting and sexually abusing underage girls. Black has denied all wrongdoing and any knowledge of Epstein’s crimes. Forbes calls Black “the most prominent Wall Street A-lister connected to Epstein.” Leon Black via NBC News He is all that. In the 1980s, Black emerged at the highest levels of finance as the head of mergers and acquisitions for Drexel Burnham Lambert and its leader, Michael Milken. Before he took a fall, Milken was the major financier for the great Las Vegas Strip comeback of the late 1980s. After Drexel’s spectacular crash and 1990 bankruptcy, Black and partners Marc Rowan and Joshua Harris formed Apollo and built it into a private equity giant that manages roughly half a trillion dollars in assets. Black’s magic was tested in 2008 when Apollo and private equity firm TPG combined for a withering $31 billion leveraged buyout of Harrah’s Entertainment, later wisely rechristening it Caesars Entertainment. What was less wise was the apparent adherence to the false belief in a long-held canard about the casino industry being somehow gravity-defying. In short, that it was recession-proof, or at least much less susceptible to chilly economic winds. It wasn’t true in the early 1970s and 1980s, and it remains equally untrue today. Buckling under $24 billion in debt, Caesars Entertainment filed for bankruptcy protection in 2015. In June 2019 it was bought by Eldorado Resorts for $17.3 billion in cash and stock and emerged as the largest casino corporation in the world with more than 60 properties. By then, multibillionaire Black was already making headlines for his relationship with Epstein, a well-connected financial advisor whose propensity for traveling with a bevy of very young models made him controversial — and quite popular in some penthouse business circles. Epstein died of an apparent suicide while in custody in 2019 on sex trafficking charges. The convicted pedophile’s sleazy deal to avoid real punishment in a previous sex trafficking case in Florida was exposed by Miami Herald journalist Julie K. Brown. Even after more than two years, rereading the article still makes me sick to my stomach. In a financial world positively overflowing with brilliant advisors, why did Black pay Epstein $158 million for his supposed insights? After all, as The New York Times observed in October, Black and his $9 billion fortune “could buy the best counsel in the world.” That was back when it appeared Black had paid an astounding $50 million. With the real number now understood to be more than three times that high, the reaction in the financial press has ranged from head-scratching wonder to outright astonishment. Raised eyebrows aside, as The Financial Times reports, when the two first met in the 1990s “he saw a differed side of the elusive businessman, according to a report this week, viewing him ‘as someone who was very intelligent and knowledgeable regarding … estate planning and taxation.’” Harder to explain is Black’s continued support of Epstein after the pedophile’s criminal behavior and suspected activity as a high-rolling hustler of young women became public. Whatever Epstein’s brilliance might have been worth, Black paid him $158 million over a five-year span ending in 2017. In 2019, Black said reports of their relationship had created a “virtual tsunami of press on this subject” and he immediately played the victim card. “It’s salacious, it involves elements of politics, of MeToo, of rich and powerful people. And my guess is it will continue for a while.” It might have helped chill the atmosphere had new revelations of Black’s payments to Epstein not kept emerging. He assured skeptics there was nothing to see and was credited with asking his company to commission an investigation. He stated in October, “Let me be clear, there has never been an allegation by anyone that I engaged in any wrongdoing because I did not. Any suggestion of blackmail or any other connection to Epstein’s reprehensible conduct is categorically untrue.” Published reports suggest Epstein did, however, attempt to use his relationship with Black to squeeze more money from the billionaire. Although Black traveled extensively with Epstein, “socialized and held meetings” on Epstein’s Caribbean island and at his properties in New York, Paris, Florida, and New Mexico, Black reported never seeing him in the company of underage girls. Apollo’s investigation determined there was no evidence that Black was involved with any of Epstein’s criminal activity. But it’s also true it took an independent inquiry to find that the actual payout to the pedophile with the priceless financial advice was three times the previously reported figure. The company also made it clear in its key findings that it “never regained Epstein for any services and Epstein never invested in any Apollo-managed funds.” Good to know, and apparently an important fact to include when you’re distancing yourself from an infamous ghost. John L. Smith is a longtime Las Vegas columnist and author. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter: @jlnevadasmith.