Leon Black, whose longstanding professional relationship with Jeffrey Epstein is detailed in a new report, has stepped down as chairman and CEO of Apollo Global Management, the major financial firm he founded over 30 years ago.
The announcement March 22 came after a lengthy investigation by a law firm hired by the company, disclosing that Black had paid Epstein a staggering sum of $158 million for estate and tax planning advice between 2012 and 2017. He also paid a separate $10 million to Epstein’s charitable foundation.
The lengthy financial relationship also included, as the report confirms, a personal relationship. It continued for six years despite the fact that Epstein in 2008 had served 13 months in a Florida state prison for sex crimes involving underage young women.
Epstein committed suicide in 2019 while imprisoned on additional federal sex-trafficking charges involving dozens of underaged girls.
Black’s wife Debra, a successful Broadway producer, is the sister of Tony Ressler, who helped found Apollo Global Management in the 1990s and now has his own company in Los Angeles.
Ressler headed a group that purchased the Atlanta Hawks and operating rights to the former Philips Arena for $850 million in 2015. Also included among the new owners of the NBA team was the founder of Atlanta-based Spanx clothing company Sara Blakely and her husband Jesse Itzler.
The Dechert report found “no evidence that Epstein ever introduced Black, or offered to introduce Black, to any underage woman.”
It goes on to say that “Black has no recollection of ever seeing Epstein with an underage woman at any time.”
In a resignation letter to the Apollo board the 69-year-old Black described that “the last weeks and months have been deeply trying for me and my family,” and the examination “have taken a toll on my health and have caused me to wish to take some time away from the public spotlight that comes with my daily involvement with this great public company.”
Apollo, the firm Black founded, is a huge private equity corporation with over $440 billion in assets that has offices in 15 countries around the world. Among its venture capital investments are such online successes as Snapfish, Shutterfly, Expedia and Airbnb.
Over the years Black used his personal fortune, which is estimated to be over $7 billion, for a number of high-profile philanthropic causes. He endowed a chair in Jewish studies at his alma mater Dartmouth College in memory of his father Eli Black, a Polish immigrant who built United Brands Company into a billion-dollar American conglomerate. He committed suicide in 1975.
The junior Black also gave Dartmouth an additional $48 million for a school of visual arts.
For the last 11 years, the Leon Black Family Foundation has also underwritten the critically acclaimed Jewish Lives series of the Yale University Press. It now includes over 70 titles about the lives of such ancient Jewish leaders as Moses and Rabbi Akiva and such modern figures as Groucho Marx, Barbra Streisand and Yitzhak Rabin. One of the latest books is about Bugsy Siegel, the Las Vegas mobster.
Black wrote on the publisher’s web page, “I was inspired to found Jewish Lives in response to a question one of my sons asked, relating to Jewish identity and continuity.”
He has also been a prominent investor in works of art and other rare treasures. In 2013 he paid $9.3 million for a complete set of the Babylonian Talmud, printed by the 16th century Venetian printer of Hebrew books Daniel Bomberg. It was said to have been the highest price ever paid for a work of Judaica.
He also acquired in 2012 one of four versions of Edvard Munch’s “The Scream” for $119.9 million, another record at the time for a work of art at auction. The same year he bought the prestigious art book publisher, Phaidon Press.
He later lent “The Scream” to the Museum of Modern Art in New York, where he became head of the board of trustees in 2018.
He and his wife have further given the museum a $40 million gift to create 40,000 square feet of new gallery space. Black’s interest in art, apart from its investment potential, is said to have stemmed from his mother Shirley Rubell, who was an artist.
Black’s future with the museum is uncertain. His relationship with Epstein is said to have raised a number of still unanswered questions. There have been consistent calls for him to resign when his term as chairman of MOMA ends on July 1.
One of his latest charitable donations originated last fall when he admitted that his work with Epstein, which began over 20 years ago, was “a horrible mistake on my part.”
In January, Black said he had decided that “one way I can begin to address the grievous error” of having a relationship with Epstein was “to pledge $200 million toward gender-equality initiatives and supporting survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault and human trafficking.”