MANHATTAN (CN) — Ex-Victoria’s Secret CEO Leslie Wexner may still have to take the hot seat to talk about accused sex-trafficker Jeffrey Epstein, Harvard professor Alan Dershowitz and the woman who implicated all three of the men in the scandal.
U.S. District Judge Loretta Preska reserved her decision Monday at the end of a half hour telephone conference on Dershowitz’s bid to depose the clothing billionaire.
“Seems to me we ought to see the lay of the land before we make that decision, right?” Preska told Dershowitz’s counsel, postponing a decision on Wexner’s potential deposition until after the parties have “close to a complete” collection of document discovery evidence.
Decades before Epstein’s indictments for abusing underage girls, Wexner appointed Epstein as a trustee of his foundation and gave him power of attorney over his fortune. That association has come back to haunt Wexner, in Epstein’s life and even his death.
“At some point in your life, we are all betrayed by friends,” Wexner told shareholders of Victoria’s Secret parent company L Brands at a board meeting last September, the month after Epstein’s apparent jailhouse suicide.
“Being taken advantage of by someone who was so sick, so cunning, so depraved is something I’m embarrassed I was even close to,” Wexner added. “But that is in the past.”
Dragging that history into the present, Dershowitz has sought to rope Wexner into his litigation with prominent Epstein accuser Virginia Giuffre, who claims that the professor sexually abused her when she was underage.
Giuffre sued the professor for defamation after he called her a “certified, complete, total liar,” and Dershowitz’s countersuit has depicted himself and Wexner as targets of an extortion plot.
Dershowitz counsel Christian Kiely, a lawyer from the Boston-based firm Todd & Weld, said the Harvard law professor is entitled to Wexner’s testimony to prove the underlying extortion claims.
“Your honor disqualified Boies Schiller from representing the plaintiff in this case because that extortion conspiracy made them necessary witnesses in this case — how can it be that the jury is not going to allow to hear from the target of that extortion conspiracy,” he remarked. “It’s inconceivable to me that we could have discovery in this case where we don’t get from Mr. Wexner,” Kiely added.
That position took a hit when Wexner and his attorney John Zeiger flatly contradicted Dershowitz’s theory in a legal brief stating: “[N]o extortion demand was ever made, no settlement was entered into, and not a penny (or other consideration) was ever paid.” (Parentheses in original.)
In a court filing Friday, Dershowitz filed a transcript that he believes shows Zeiger telling him a different story back in fall 2015.
“[A]re there any other people out there being shaken down?” Zeiger is recorded asking, though the full sentence is inaudible.
Throughout the 16-page transcript, Dershowitz does most of the talking about what Zeiger describes as his extortion “theory,” about which Wexner’s attorney appears intrigued but noncommittal.
For Giuffre’s legal team, Wexner’s refusal to corroborate Dershowitz’s legal defense is a “smoking gun” that is devastating to his case.
“Our understanding is that the only reason that the defendant wants to depose Mr. Wexner is to get Mr. Wexner on the record as denying that he accused my client or that he met my client,” Giuffre’s attorney Nicole Moss said during today’s conference. “And so of course, if that was the purpose of the deposition, then we’re going to need to have the ability to inquire into ‘well, what is the other evidence that suggests that that’s not true?’ and this will very quickly become multiple mini trials into other individuals that are not the core central issue at this case.”
Moss added: “I’m very concerned that once we open that door, it’s going to become a circus and that if they’re going to feel the need to seek such broader discovery than what’s currently on the table if we start going down that path.”
To safely answer questions in the age of the coronavirus, Zeiger has agreed to be deposed remotely via Zoom. Giuffre’s legal team also wants to question Zeiger, but they opposed forcing Wexner to testify.
On Monday, U.S. District Judge Preska ordered the parties to move ahead with document discovery and the deposition of Wexner’s attorney. An appointee of George H. W. Bush, Preska said the other evidence is needed to determine the necessity of Wexner’s testimony.
“We’re certainly agreeable to that, but to be frank, I think that there’s close to zero percent chance that Mr. Wexner is going to voluntarily agree to be deposed,” Kiely said at Monday’s hearing.
Giuffre’s counsel said Wexner’s deposition is collateral to the case and not necessary to address the extortion claims
“Nobody is alleging that any of the prior attorneys for the plaintiff had any communications with Mr. Wexner,” Moss said. “All of the communications at issue were with Mr. Zeiger.”
Before Epstein’s death but after his sex-trafficking indictment, Wexner released his most complete statement to his foundation answering questions about his association with the disgraced financier that became the subject of embarrassing coverage in The New York Times.
“As the allegations against Mr. Epstein in Florida were emerging, he vehemently denied them,” Wexner wrote on Aug. 8, 2019, referring to Epstein’s earlier prosecution in the late 2000s. “But by early fall 2007, it was agreed that he should step back from the management of our personal finances. In that process, we discovered that he had misappropriated vast sums of money from me and my family. This was, frankly, a tremendous shock, even though it clearly pales in comparison to the unthinkable allegations against him now.”
Wexner stepped down from his position as Victoria’s Secret chairman earlier this year.