Yesterday the Washington Post told the story of Maria Farmer, an artist who was commissioned by the disgraced and deceased sexual predator Jeffrey Epstein to do some paintings in the mid-1990s. In reality, Farmer alleges, Epstein and his partner Ghislaine Maxwell used the opportunity to sexually assault her while she was held virtual prisoner in a secluded, remote estate in New Albany, Ohio. An estate that, as the crow flies, stands less than half a mile from my house, and from which all power that matters in both New Albany and in the city of Columbus practically flows.
Epstein's crimes are well-documented. Less documented is the role, if any, that Ohio estate and its owner, billionaire retail magnate Leslie Wexner, played in it all. Wexner was, for over a decade, Epstein's only client and his primary financial benefactor. Epstein was gifted his Upper East Side mansion by Wexner and was given a guest home in New Albany as well. He was likewise given power of attorney by Wexner to handle all of his personal financial and real estate matters. Billionaires have no shortage of advisors and employees managing their concerns, but Epstein was, apparently, given far more power than anyone in Wexner's immediate circle.
Wexner, his lawyers, and his associates say he had no idea about Epstein's crimes and that he was deceived by Epstein just as everyone else was. And, to be sure, there have been no allegations that Wexner knew of Epstein's wrongdoing. Wexner claims he cut all ties with Epstein in 2007, soon after Epstein was first arrested on criminal sexual assault charges and, what's more, that he was financially defrauded by Epstein. There is no known reason not to believe Wexner's account of that.
The Post story, however, paints a frightening portrait of the circumstances Farmer faced when, in the summer of 1996, she took up residence on Wexner's estate to do those paintings for Jeffrey Epstein.
Farmer tells the Post that she was placed in a privately-gated guest house adjacent to Wexner's 300-acre estate and patrolled by Wexner's security staff which included both contracted sheriff's deputies and by guard dogs. She says that her movements were monitored and that she was not permitted to leave without permission. The night she was assaulted by Epstein, she claims, she attempted to call the Sheriff's Department but was told "we work for Wexner." She claims she was told by Wexner's security staff that she could not leave -- a guard told her "you're not going anywhere," she says -- and, indeed, it took her father driving to the estate in person to get her before she was permitted to leave. A former security guard for Wexner tells the Post that, while he has no recollection of the incident, he doubts that something like that could have happened.
I have no idea what Wexner's security guards did or did not say or do, but based on geography and based on the character of Wexner's estate, I don't think it would even require such acts by the security team for Farmer to feel like a prisoner on that night.
Even today, Wexner's property -- which is nothing short of a fortified compound -- is pretty remote. New Albany is growing, yes, but it's a very well-planned and restrained growth, little if any of which has reached the 300 pastoral acres Wexner calls home. In 1996 Wexner's house may as well have been in the middle of nowhere. At that point New Albany's metamorphosis from farm town to anglophilic upscale paradise was already underway, but it had not yet reached critical mass and his home was far removed from anyplace a young woman recently relocated from New York City would've considered civilization.
Wexner's personal property -- on which sat the guest house owned by Epstein -- is bounded by four roads, which were then and now no more than country lanes:
It's about two miles from Dublin-Granville Road -- the east-west road at the top -- and the east-west road at the bottom, Morse Road, just below where it reads "Balfour Green" (neither it, nor Albany Farms, high-end, gated properties carved out of Wexner's land existed in 1996). Wexner's main house is in the middle there, next to the stand of trees. It's unclear where the Epstein guest house was, but I suspect it is where New Albany Farms is now. Either way, Farmer says it was a half mile from the main house.
Today, if you were on that property and wanted or needed to leave, it'd be a a good mile and possibly two mile walk, depending on which of the estate's gate you exited, down a dark country road to the nearest business of any kind -- a gas station, to the northwest of the property -- depending on what gate you used.
Except you would be unlikely to simply be able to walk out of the estate's gates, especially at night:
That's the north side boundary of Wexner's property along Dublin-Granville Road. I took that photo on a walk a year ago. That fence and those signs surround the entire 300 acres and have for many years. The Post story notes that the land was patrolled by dogs back in 1996 as well.
And it's not just dogs, either. Wexner has 24-hour security that patrols the property and closely monitors the public roads adjacent to it. Indeed, everyone who has lived in New Albany for any amount of time knows of someone who, while lost, pulled to the shoulder of Kitzmiller or New Albany-Reynoldsburg Road or attempted to turn around in what looked to be an innocuous little driveway, only to have dark SUVs descend upon them and ask them what their business was.
Which is to say that if you were on Les Wexner's property and felt threatened in any way, I am certain you would feel extremely isolated and unable to leave. You would, for all practical purposes, feel like a prisoner, regardless of what was explicitly said to you by security guards.
Does any of that make Les Wexner responsible for what Jeffrey Epstein did to Maria Farmer? No. But it's certainly the case that Epstein's residence at the Wexner compound certainly made it easier for him to prey on her.