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Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

It's been one of the central mysteries of the Jeffrey Epstein saga: How did the notorious pedophile get so rich?

Driving the news: A partial answer to that question arrived on Monday with the release of a report detailing how and why Apollo Management founder Leon Black paid Epstein some $148 million, including $70 million in 2014 alone.

The big picture: Epstein seems to have sought out individuals who were so rich that they faced tax bills well into the billions of dollars. He would then offer his services as a friend, confidante, and general billionaire whisperer — the kind of person who will help you buy a yacht, or renegotiate an airplane lease, or staff a family office.

  • His pay: Either a flat fee of as much as $40 million per year, or — more commonly — a percentage of the money he saved you on taxes. For every $100 you saved, he would take between 5% and 10%.

What they're saying: More than 20 people who dealt with Epstein agreed that he was "disruptive and caustic" and eager to take credit for others' ideas, according to the report. He also, they said, "had creative ideas that no other advisor had proposed," and "provided advice that conferred more than $1 billion and as much as $2 billion or more in value to Black."

  • Epstein was an expert on Grantor Retained Annuity Trusts, or GRATs, despite having no training as an accountant or lawyer. Epstein saved Black at least $500 million in taxes on one of his GRATs.
  • Black credited Epstein with also saving him at least $600 million in taxes on a separate transaction, although later Epstein failed to demonstrate that the central idea was really his.
  • Epstein would take on "managing and responding to audit inquiries" from the IRS and other tax authorities.

Beyond taxes, Epstein played a central role in building up Black's family office (the group of people managing Black's wealth) — in large part by persuading Black and his family to concentrate on such matters.

  • There were "myriad esoteric issues" where Epstein made himself useful, ranging from art to yachts to airplanes.

The bottom line: Epstein was not really a provider of financial services. As Washington lawyer Jack Blum told the NYT, the best lawyer in the world would never be able to charge this kind of money. Rather, Epstein held himself out as someone who understood billionaire problems in a way that only a fellow billionaire could. And he charged accordingly.

Go deeper

Black residents in Tampa Bay face big COVID vaccine disparities

James Bryant, left, and his wife Eunice register to receive the COVID-19 vaccine at St. Johns Missionary Baptist Church in Tampa earlier this month. Photo: Octavio Jones/Getty Images

Tampa Bay's vaccination rate for Black residents is startlingly low.

By the numbers: Of the 54,725 people who have received the COVID-19 vaccine in Sarasota-Manatee, only 812 are Black.

Senate Dems receive max donations from Nord Stream 2 lobbyist

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

A major Democratic donor and Nord Stream 2 lobbyist has made maximum campaign contributions this year to Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and vulnerable Senate Democrats, campaign finance records show.

Why it matters: If pressure from the White House to vote against reimposing sanctions on the Russia-backed natural gas pipeline weren't enough, Democrats who back such legislation also will be at loggerheads with one of their party's top fundraisers.

McConnell: No legislative agenda for 2022 midterms

Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Mitch McConnell has told colleagues and donors Senate Republicans won't release a legislative agenda before next year's midterms, according to people who've attended private meetings with the minority leader.

Why it matters: Every midterm cycle, there are Republican donors and operatives who argue the party should release a positive, pro-active governing outline around which candidates can rally. McConnell adamantly rejects this idea, preferring to skewer Democrats for their perceived failures.

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