Three months after Jeffrey Epstein was found dead in a Manhattan jail cell, a trio of crisis professionals announced plans for a fund to help pay restitution to Epstein’s victims. The “distinguished” experts, a press release announcing the fund said, would give victims an opportunity for money and closure through a “confidential, non-adversarial alternative to litigation.”
The press release boasted that the experts — Kenneth Feinberg, Camille Biros and Jordana Feldman — had “extensive experience in fashioning similar claims programs.” Feinberg, it said, was “the nation’s leading expert.”
Feinberg, a former aide to Sen. Ted Kennedy, has designed so many high-profile programs like the Epstein fund over the last 20 years that he is virtually the only big-name figure in his field, a lawyer so celebrated that he is the subject of a new Netflix feature film starring Michael Keaton. Feinberg and his colleagues occupy a niche in the criminal justice system that belongs almost exclusively to them: After high-profile disasters and public scandals, they are who politicos and corporations call to run compensation funds, the pools of money set aside to pay restitution to survivors.
Following the 9/11 victims’ fund — which the U.S. government asked him to oversee and which he did for no fee — Feinberg’s approach has blossomed over the last two decades, becoming an increasingly common strategy for responding to crises. But it has rarely been questioned — until recently, when he was hired to design the program for survivors of Jeffrey Epstein’s alleged abuse.
After Epstein’s death, his estate hired Feinberg and Biros to establish a victims compensation fund administered by Jordana Feldman, who previously worked with Feinberg at the 9/11 victims fund. The operation soon set about taking applicants and received more than 200 claims from women claiming to be victims of Epstein’s abuse before it came to a halt this March. But something happened that some of Epstein’s alleged victims say they did not expect: While the compensation fund doled out roughly $125 million overall, it offered small settlements or no money at all to some women who anticipated receiving it, creating concern among some applicants and their lawyers that the fund was falling short on its stated mission to help victims.
Ultimately, some alleged victims fear, the fund may have helped victims less than they’d expected — and protected people who aided Epstein’s abuse.
Unlike the 9/11 fund and some other Feinberg missions to help victims, such as the Boston Marathon bombing, the Epstein victims compensation pool isn’t being filled by government funds or charitable donations. Nor is Feinberg’s team working for free. The fund was initiated by the overseers of Epstein’s estate, which was valued at $635 million in court filings after his death, and Feinberg’s team has been paid more than $3 million to administer it, not including staffing and expenses, according to court records and information provided by the estate.
Despite being announced with much fanfare, the Epstein fund raises fundamental questions about who benefits most when a pot of money is created to help victims after a crisis. While such funds are often touted for their benefits to victims, the organization putting up the money for the fund often has as much to gain, including better public relations, significantly fewer lawsuits and control over how a scandal gets resolved. Many Epstein victims accepted settlements from the fund and waived their right to sue not only Epstein’s estate but those who he retained for his alleged trafficking operation, including Ghislaine Maxwell, according a former victim who applied for a settlement. In addition, lawyers said, the settlements received by victims were significantly smaller than what a court would award if the victims prevailed — and they may have prevented and shut down lawsuits that could have unearthed the full extent of Epstein’s crimes.
Given all that, critics, including many prominent lawyers, are wondering why more of Epstein’s estate hasn’t been allocated to victims through the fund.
“I’m pretty confident they’re not awarding anything close to the entire amount [of the estate]. And why shouldn’t they?” said Lisa Bloom, a lawyer who represents eight alleged Epstein victims. “Jeffrey Epstein was the most prolific sexual predator I’ve ever heard of. He’s had hundreds and hundreds of victims, if not thousands. He’s purported to have abused three girls a day at some times.”
“This is a very elaborate sex trafficking ring,” Bloom continued. “Why shouldn’t his entire estate go to those victims?”
Epstein’s estate has purview over which former associates cannot be sued by the women who accepted settlement money. Alleged victims have been told they include two lawyers who act as his executors and his ex-girlfriend, Maxwell, who is slated to stand trial for sex trafficking later this year. The lawyers, Darren Indyke and Richard Kahn, have been accused by the Attorney General of the U.S. Virgin Islands Denise George in court filings as being “indispensable captains” of Epstein’s alleged trafficking enterprise.
Daniel Weiner, a lawyer for the Epstein estate, said in an email that there was “no monetary limit on amounts awarded” by the fund and said the notion that the fund protected money for other interests “is completely off-base.”
“The Co-Executors owe a fiduciary duty to ensure that the Estate’s assets are protected for the benefit of all relevant parties,” which includes debtors and more than two dozen women who are separately seeking lawsuits against Epstein. Some victims’ lawyers gave input into the fund, Weiner said, as did Attorney General George, who was initially critical of the fund.
Indyke and Kahn “emphatically deny” the accusation that they were part of Epstein’s alleged wrongdoing, Weiner said.
Still, plaintiffs lawyers say the estate created the compensation fund in part because it served its own interests.
“A compensation fund did not fall out of the sky,” said Mitchell Garabedian, a lawyer who represented hundreds of sex abuse cases against the Catholic Church, which later turned to Feinberg’s team to compensate victims in an arrangement similar to that of the Epstein fund. “It was created by the institution to compensate victims who were sexually abused while perpetrators were associated with the institution.”
“There are mixed emotions” among sex abuse survivors about compensation funds, Garabedian added.
Feinberg, Biros, and Feldman, who have dedicated much of their lives to dispensing compensation funds, argue the funds are a way to help as many people as possible while avoiding lawsuits, which can be expensive and grueling for victims. Feinberg referred questions about the Epstein fund to Biros and Feldman. In administering the Epstein fund, Feldman said in an interview that she had total independence from the estate.
“This is an imperfect exercise, an imperfect substitute for undoing the wrong. There’s no way to do that,” Feldman said. “There is value in the process of coming forward, and having someone acknowledge and validate suffering. We designed this process to create a safe space for victims to resolve their claims in a compassionate, non-adversarial way.”
For some of the survivors of Epstein’s abuse, the compensation fund did not bring feelings of resolution, but of confusion, anger and even regret.
“It makes me so angry that these women know these things about me without me getting anything,” said one former model who met with Feldman and the other people administering the Epstein victims compensation fund late last year.
The former model said she was 21 years old when she met Epstein while on a photo shoot in Tortola, not far from Epstein’s Virgin Islands estate. A friend on the shoot knew Epstein, who sent a boat to pick up the woman and her friend and take them to his island, she said. Later that day, Epstein and their mutual friend assaulted her, she said.
“He started touching me. She did too. I didn’t think that was going to happen when I got there,” she said.
She didn’t talk to Epstein for a year after the initial assault, but Epstein repeatedly reached out and they eventually reconnected, she said. Epstein introduced her to the head of a prestigious modeling agency, she said. She said she became part of Epstein’s social crowd, and estimates she had 10 sexual encounters with him.
The former model said she hesitated to participate in the compensation fund because she had buried the memories of Epstein for years and didn’t want to revisit them. But after being encouraged by lawyers to help bring Epstein’s abuses to light, she decided to file a claim: Last September, she spent two hours on a Zoom call with Feldman and the other administrators laying out the details of the time she spent with Epstein and presented evidence, like cards he had sent her and affidavits from friends whom she said she had told about the abuse when it happened. The conversation felt like talking to supportive friends, she said.
Her claim was denied a few months later. Per the rules of the compensation fund, she didn’t receive an explanation for why, and she can’t appeal the decision.
“It’s like saying to me, ‘Your story wasn’t valid. We don’t believe you,’” the former model said.
POLITICO spoke to four women about their experiences with the compensation fund, as well as half a dozen lawyers representing alleged Epstein victims who spoke about their clients’ experiences. Two of the women said they were satisfied with the settlements they’d been offered, one had been offered no settlement, and one said she had not heard back from the fund after her interview. The fund said that it received 225 applications overall and gave settlements to approximately 150 women. The fund issued payments that ranged from low-six figure settlements to more than a million dollars, lawyers representing Epstein’s alleged victims said, and gave out more than $121 million in all.
Because the compensation fund didn’t explain its decisions about how much money it handed out and who received it, the experience left women who were dissatisfied with questions they had no way of getting the answer to: Had the fund denied them money because they continued to see Epstein after the initial abuse? Did the fund operators not believe their stories? Were they offered less money if they applied for money later in the process, after the fund had handed out millions? Such questions weren’t purely financial — they spoke to whether the women were being heard and believed when they spoke with the fund about painful experiences with Epstein, sometimes for the first time, women and their lawyers told POLITICO.
Feldman, the administrator in charge of the estate, said she took a “ground-up” approach, looking at the women’s cases claim by claim to make a determination.
“The compensation is determined based on the information that’s available to me, based on my experience, and my independent judgment,” Feldman said. Her decisions were based on factors such as the impact of the abuse on the claimants and the credibility of their claims, and not on factors that weigh on civil lawsuits such as whether the women were outside the statute of limitations to sue the estate, she said.
Gloria Allred, who represents 20 alleged Epstein victims and has represented clients in abuse cases against men such as Bill Cosby, said she believed Epstein’s victims “should have been compensated with a much larger share of Epstein’s estate.”
Given that the estate was at one point valued at $635 million, the $121 to $125 million provided by the Epstein victims compensation fund “seems to be a very small amount paid to victims for the harm that they suffered,” Allred said. “The amount awarded to many of them was insufficient and undervalued the sexual abuse that they suffered, the fact that many of them were sex-trafficked to him when they were underaged girls and the damage inflicted on them.”
“There’s no appeal from the [Epstein fund] award and there are no reasons or findings of fact provided when an award is made,” Allred said. “That means some victims are left wondering about the basis for their award, and that also means the awards do not always seem consistently tied to the potential claims or the actual harms experienced.”
Allred noted there were positive components to the Epstein fund. The women who applied for funding were treated respectfully when they met with the administrators, for example — a markedly different tone from a tough, drawn-out courtroom battle. And, as Feldman noted, it is significant that the fund allowed all women to apply, not only those who were within a statute of limitations for a lawsuit.
But ultimately, the settlements offered to women who had been allegedly abused by Epstein seemed scattershot in their amounts and, multiple lawyers said, were surprisingly small given Epstein’s vast wealth.
“There could be a lot of money left in the estate,” said Spencer Kuvin, a lawyer representing alleged Epstein victims. “At the end of the day, they compensated the victims — I don’t think they compensated them overly well.”
“Overall, we’re disappointed,” said Bloom, the lawyer who is representing eight alleged Epstein victims.
Bloom, who once came under criticism herself for having advised accused sex offender Harvey Weinstein, said she had multiple Epstein clients whom she expected to be offered settlements but were offered nothing.
In the past, Feinberg has been open about the fact that victims are often dissatisfied with the results of a compensation fund. People come to a fund hoping it can fix horrible wrongs that they experienced — but it’s difficult for money to do that, he has argued.
“I’ve never done a program where anybody was happy. Money is a poor substitute for joy and happiness in these cases,” he told news host Charlie Rose in 2012.
People are inclined to look over their shoulder at what the next person is getting, Feinberg further warned: “It’s not just what I am going to receive from Mr. Feinberg as a result of this program. What did my neighbor get?”
Born in the small city of Brockton, Mass., about 25 miles from Boston, Feinberg landed in Washington in the late 1970s as an aide to the late Massachusetts Sen. Ted Kennedy. There, he grew close to future Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer, who became a lifelong friend.
Over time, Feinberg shot up the ranks of Washington lawyers in part due to his clear-eyed ability to parse out settlements, where conversations with survivors can be laden with hurt and resentment.
“Ken is accustomed to handling these sort of issues without emotion,” former U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft told the Wall Street Journal in 2010. “He was very good at distinguishing the deserving from the undeserving.”
After leaving Kennedy’s office, Feinberg oversaw a settlement fund created by a court to hand out payments to veterans who said they had been injured by Agent Orange, the toxic herbicide used by U.S. forces in Vietnam. It led to a string of other funds for Feinberg: After the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Feinberg was appointed by Ashcroft to head up a fund to aid victims’ families. In the years that followed, the fund would dole out more than $8 billion.
The Sept. 11 fund, widely considered a success, helped spur a generation of other funds, some of them charitable and some backed by corporations. Feinberg oversaw payment programs set up after the Catholic Church sex abuse scandal, the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, the 2015 Volkswagen emissions scandal and the Boston Marathon bombing. After Congress passed TARP, which bailed out the financial industry amid the growing 2008 financial crisis, Feinberg was again called to Washington, where he was put in charge of clearing banks’ salaries for their executives.
Feinberg has spoken of himself as an agent who is tapped by policymakers to administer justice, and has often noted that most of his high-profile cases have been pro bono because of their charitable nature.
“When tragedy strikes and policy makers seek creative compensation solutions, I accept the call to public service,” he wrote in his 2012 book.
The Epstein victims compensation fund is different. Feinberg’s team was hired not by policymakers serving the public but the Epstein estate, which has a direct interest in curbing lawsuits and calming the negative fallout from the string of revelations in recent years about his sexual abuse. Unlike his pro bono work, his firm was paid $1.7 million for its work on the Epstein fund. Feldman — who prior to the Epstein fund worked at the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund — was separately paid a salary of $150,000 a month, according to the Epstein estate and figures in court records. Feinberg referred questions about the Epstein fund to Biros and Feldman.
In a settlement fund, an administrator like Feinberg “is supposed to put the principle ahead of their own interests” and have loyalty to the goals and objectives of the fund, as opposed to a traditional attorney-client relationship where that loyalty is always to a client, said Michael Downey, a lawyer who specializes in legal ethics.
That doesn’t mean that a client like the Epstein estate can’t also benefit from the process, Downey said.
“There’s a benefit for the probate estate of getting things done, there’s a public relations benefit, and there’s a benefit for everyone to getting claims paid out and keeping down costs,” continued Downey.
Garabedian, who litigated cases for Catholic Church abuse survivors, said that some survivors have doubts about applying to settlement funds because of the source of their funding and the limited results they can deliver for victims.
“Many sexual abuse victims feel compensation funds are not independent, simply because the source of income is from the institution which allowed the sexual abuser to abuse,” Garabedian said. And while many people want the swift closure that can come with applying for a settlement, “many sex abuse victims want to unearth the truth through litigation,” which can bring more accountability.
Nonetheless, compensation fund programs have proliferated in recent years in part because they can carry such benefits for an offending corporation or nonprofit that’s trying to mitigate damage.
The Sept. 11 compensation fund shows how the interests of plaintiff and defendant can mix. The fund was established by Congress as lawmakers tried to address concern among airlines that families of people who died in the attacks would sue, alleging the airlines were being negligent when terrorists got on board their planes.
Such lawsuits could have bankrupted the industry, airline representatives warned lawmakers. So Congress decided to grant a liability shield limiting lawsuits stemming from the 9/11 attacks. But to offset that protection, lawmakers created a benefit system for survivors and families of victims: A government-sponsored settlement fund meant to help heal wounds and prevent lawsuits. Victims who signed up for the Sept. 11 claims process also had to waive their rights to file other lawsuits when they entered the claims process.
Settlement funds, including the Epstein fund, frequently require that victims forfeit their rights to file a lawsuit when they accept a payment. But in his book, Feinberg suggested that the funds don’t even need to explicitly bar victims from suing — he believes that just having a fund helps curb anger and create goodwill, making people less likely to take legal action. This is even more true when the payments come from charity funds, like a victims compensation fund that Feinberg ran after the 2007 Virginia Tech shooting, Feinberg said.
“The Virginia Tech story has important implications for policy makers considering similar compensation programs in the future,” Feinberg wrote in his book. While many funds required Feinberg to hand out settlements on a person-by-person basis, after the Virginia Tech shooting, victims and their families received the same amounts of money from a charitable fund, which “appealed to the deeply ingrained American value that ‘all men are created equal,’” he wrote.
“As a result, lawsuits were largely avoided even without requiring a formal promise not to sue,” Feinberg wrote. The two hundred claimants after the Virginia Tech shooting were still allowed to sue even after receiving their money — but only two chose to do so, Feinberg wrote.
There are other, more discrete ways that Feinberg’s work could help an organization tied up in scandal, like restoring its image or staving off the attention of angry lawmakers. When Feinberg was working to establish victims compensation funds for the Catholic Church, a leaked transcript of a conversation between him and church leaders revealed him touting those benefits.
In a closed-door 2017 teleconference with church leaders in upstate New York, a transcript of which was later obtained by ABC News, Feinberg argued that the compensation fund could help the Catholic Church dissuade New York state legislators from considering reopening the statute of limitations for minors who had experienced sexual abuse.
Such a change in state law — which later passed — would allow many adults who had been abused as children to come forward and sue the church. But with a compensation fund, Feinberg told the church leaders, lawmakers may stand down.
“One very important principle that is guiding that various Dioceses in Manhattan and Long Island is the fear that if the statute is reopened, and there are people who did not participate earlier and sign a release in this program, some of the allegations may resolve on the courthouse steps with a $5 million demand or a $2 million demand,” Feinberg told the upstate church leaders. “Right now, we have not paid any claim, however horrific, at more than $500,000.”
Biros, who was also on the call, indicated that — though the fund boasted of its independence and said Biros and Feinberg had “complete autonomy” in their settlement decisions — they were in touch with the church as they ran their programs.
“I just want everyone to be aware that once we take over and implement the program, it remains an open dialogue with the Diocese,” Biros said during the call, according to the transcript. “We are constantly on the phone with New York, Brooklyn and now Rockville Center. If we have any questions about the priests, the file, the claimant, they are an incredible resource to us.”
Feinberg and Biros did not respond to questions about the ABC News story.
Asked about her relationship with the Epstein estate, Feldman — the fund administrator — said she had operated independently of Epstein estate and took steps to ensure the estate was not involved in the fund, such as not giving the estate any access to claims files from alleged Epstein victims.
“I understand the skepticism, I too was initially skeptical. When I was offered the position as the administrator, the total independence of the administrator was a key thing I insisted on,” Feldman said. “I did have complete autonomy over the program, and insisted that the estate had no authority to interfere with claims decisions.”
“My credibility is why I’m hired for these programs.” Feldman added.
There was one thing, Feldman said, that she did not have autonomy over: The scope of the release signed by women who accepted settlements promising they would not sue Epstein’s estate or people he’d employed in his alleged sex trafficking ring.
The number of people who could be shielded from future lawsuits could be long. Women who accepted money would not be able to sue Maxwell, who is expected to stand trial later this year for her alleged role in Epstein’s enterprise, according to one applicant. Maxwell has been accused of helping recruit women for Epstein and, at times, participating in forced sexual encounters with them.
Other former Epstein allies could still see a windfall of cash from his estate, which estimated it contained $190 million at the end of June, but whose beneficiaries are still unknown.
A court filing by the Epstein estate after his death listed only one person — his brother Mark — as a potential beneficiary of Epstein’s money had he left no will. But Epstein had signed a will just days before he died, and it moved all of his money into a trust whose beneficiaries are secret. Two Epstein lawyers, Indyke and Kahn, are executors of the estate, and — though former acquaintances speculate over friends or former romantic partners Epstein may have wanted to reward — it’s not known who is slated to receive his money.
At the time of his death, Epstein’s wealth was staggering: He had $194,986,301 in “hedge funds and private equity investments,” $18,551,700 worth of “aviation assets, automobiles and boats,” properties in Paris, Palm Beach, New Mexico and the Virgin Islands, and his historic seven-story, 21,000 square-foot Upper East Side townhouse, valued at nearly $56 million, according to an accounting of his assets by the estate filed in probate court in the Virgin Islands. His personal property, which included artwork by Pablo Picasso and Paul Cézanne, had yet to be appraised, according to the accounting provided in court.
The Epstein estate valued itself at $635 million at the end of 2019, according to documents filed in court in the Virgin Islands. Within a year the estate paid $190 million in estate taxes to the federal government, according to reports at the time. The Epstein victims compensation fund paid out a fraction of his wealth — $121 million in all, the fund said. And maintaining the estate and fighting court battles, several of which are still being waged in New York state, the Virgin Islands and Florida, can cost multiple millions of dollars a month, accounting provided by the estate to probate court shows.
George, the attorney general for the U.S. Virgin Islands, has accused the Epstein estate of squandering its resources. In the winter of 2021, after the Epstein estate reported a drop in funds, she asked the court to freeze the estate’s assets.
“This failure to provide promised compensation for Epstein’s victims is one entirely of the Estate’s and its Co-Executors’ making,” George wrote in court documents filed in the Virgin Islands. The Epstein executors “have mismanaged the Estate’s assets” by paying for their own lawyers fees, “for the lawyers’ fees and litigation expenses of persons alleged to be involved in and/or to have knowledge of” Epstein’s alleged sex abuse, and for landscaping Epstein’s properties and covering maintenance for his aircraft, George wrote.
Indyke and Kahn, who as co-executors proposed the victims compensation fund and hired Feinberg and his team to run it, are not just administrators for Epstein but “indispensable captains” of his enterprise, George also alleged in court filings. In three cases, they “knowingly facilitated the fraudulent and coerced marriages” between foreign women Epstein was abusing and other women in order to allow the foreigners to stay in the United States, George wrote, “enabling a fraud that would further bind Epstein’s victims to him and enable Epstein to continue to control and abuse these victims sexually.”
Other times, they “obtained large and frequent stocks of cash for Epstein which, based on public knowledge, would have funded Epstein’s cash payments for ‘massages’ — code for forced sex,” and signed $300,000 worth of checks made out to young women, George wrote.
Weiner, the lawyer representing the estate, refuted the notion that the estate had squandered funds, and that the executors were involved in Epstein’s alleged wrongdoing.
“The Co-Executors disagree strongly with any suggestion that they have in any way wasted the Estate’s assets,” Weiner said. Both the Superior Court of the United States Virgin Islands and a special master appointed by that court “have specifically recognized the Co-Executors’ need to continue to maintain the Estate’s real estate and other properties as they marshal the Estate’s non-liquid assets for ultimate sale or disposition,” Weiner said.
Asked about the allegations that and Kahn were part of Epstein’s alleged trafficking, Weiner said, “The Co-Executors emphatically deny those allegations. Neither Mr. Indyke nor Mr. Kahn engaged in any misconduct of any kind, at any time.”
According to numbers released by the victims compensation fund, 92 percent of women who were offered settlements accepted them and waived their right to press further charges. Several other lawsuits against the Epstein estate are still pending.
One claimant, who said she was assaulted by Epstein, and asked for anonymity because her case with the fund has not been resolved yet, expressed mixed feelings. She said she worries that Maxwell and others who helped Epstein will not be held to as much account after nearly 140 women accepted settlements from the fund.
“They told me early on that if you receive monetary compensation, and you file a lawsuit you have to drop the lawsuit — that was a condition they made me aware of,” the woman said. “That made me question the morality behind this compensation fund.”