Pop Culture

Billionaire Leon Black Is Being Investigated by the Manhattan D.A., Sources Say

Two former models have met with prosecutors following claims of rape and sexual assault against the former “best friend” of Jeffrey Epstein.  

Last week the mandarins of high finance assembled at the Beverly Hilton for the annual conference hosted by former “junk bond king” Michael Milken. This year’s eclectic guest list included Questlove, Uma Thurman, and former Treasury secretary Steven Mnuchin. One attendee certainly attracted extra attention: former Apollo Global Management CEO and chairman Leon Black. It was Black’s first high-profile appearance since two former models accused him in court documents of sexual assault, rape, and participating in Jeffrey Epstein’s sex ring (Black’s spokesperson has called the allegations “complete fiction”). According to the Financial Times, Black and his wife, Debra, attended a panel on distressed debt featuring their son Ben, a private-equity executive.  

Black’s attempt to return to public life is being complicated by mounting legal problems. The Manhattan District Attorney’s Office has opened a criminal investigation into Black, according to two sources briefed on the probe. Sources said prosecutors are examining allegations in court documents that Black raped and sexually assaulted the two former models. The allegations were included in former Russian model Guzel Ganieva’s civil lawsuit against Black. Ganieva and a woman identified in court documents as “Jane Doe” recently met with prosecutors to discuss their claims, one of the sources said. A spokesperson for the Manhattan D.A. declined to comment. 

A spokesperson for Black said, “We have no knowledge of any investigation of Mr. Black. As we have previously stated, Mr. Black has provided substantial documentary evidence in legal filings, including text messages and recordings, that show Ms. Ganieva’s claims to be completely false. In addition, we have been in contact with the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office and provided detailed evidence of Ms. Ganieva’s extortion of Mr. Black.” Ganieva’s lawyer, Jeanne Christensen, declined to comment specifically on the investigation, but said: “We believe in our clients and seek to hold Black accountable.” 

Black’s personal and professional lives have been in a tailspin since January 2021, when the billionaire announced he was stepping down as CEO of private-equity giant Apollo following the emergence of his ties to Epstein. An investigation commissioned by Apollo’s board disclosed that Black had paid Epstein $158 million in fees between 2012 and 2017—after Epstein pleaded guilty to soliciting prostitution from a teenage girl. Black’s massive payments to Epstein for purported “tax advice” and “estate planning” struck many on Wall Street as amounting to a preposterously inflated sum for such services. 

Black insisted all along that his relationship with Epstein was strictly professional. “I was completely unaware of Mr. Epstein’s abhorrent misconduct that came to light in late 2018,” Black said in January 2021, adding: “I did not engage in any wrongdoing or inappropriate conduct.” But in late March, Black abruptly left Apollo months earlier than expected and then announced he would resign as board chairman of New York City’s Museum of Modern Art. 

Since then, Black and Ganieva have been battling claims and counterclaims in court. In June, Ganieva filed a lawsuit that alleged Black raped her in 2014. In July, Black’s lawyers filed a 52-page response to Ganieva’s lawsuit. It called Ganieva’s suit “a work of fiction,” stated that Ganieva had extorted Black, and suggested that Ganieva could be working for “a third party who might wish Mr. Black ill.” 

In August, Ganieva filed new court documents that alleged Black flew her to Palm Beach in October 2008 “without her consent, to satisfy the sex needs of Epstein, his ‘best friend.’” The lawsuit also alleged Black spoke openly of Epstein’s sexual deviancy and that Black told Ganieva that Epstein flew “very young girls” on his private jet. 

Then, last month, Ganieva amended her lawsuit with shocking new allegations. In the complaint, a former model identified as Jane Doe claimed Black violently raped her in the massage room at Epstein’s townhouse in 2002. Doe claimed that Black later paid her $5,000 in cash to help her with credit card debt. “This claim is complete fiction and has no basis in fact or law,” a Black spokesperson said in a statement at the time. “It is telling that it is asserted anonymously and concerns events that allegedly occurred some 20 years ago. We expect that the courts will see this bogus claim for what it is.”

According to sources, the Manhattan D.A.’s investigation is in its early stages. 

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