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Billionaire Leon Black made a $158 million payment to Jeffrey Epstein. Senators want to know why

<i>Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg/Getty Images/FILE</i><br/>The investigation into the dealings between Leon Black (above) and Jeffrey Epstein began in June 2022
Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg/Getty Images/FILE
The investigation into the dealings between Leon Black (above) and Jeffrey Epstein began in June 2022

By Elisabeth Buchwald, CNN

New York (CNN) — The Senate Finance Committee is looking into whether billionaire investor Leon Black’s $158 million payment to disgraced financier Jeffrey Epstein was part of a greater strategy to avoid paying over $1 billion in federal gift and estate taxes.

Black, the co-founder and former CEO of Apollo Global Management, paid Epstein in several installments between 2012 and 2017, according to findings from an ongoing investigation led by Senator Ron Wyden, the Oregon Democrat who heads the Senate Finance Committee.

Wyden revealed Tuesday that the investigation into Black’s dealings with Epstein began in June 2022 and was “prompted by inconsistencies” in a report led by Dechert LLP, a law firm the Apollo board of directors hired to examine Black’s ties to Epstein. “The payments were inexplicably large; well in excess of what Black paid any other financial advisors and far higher than the median compensation of Fortune 500 CEOs at the time,” Wyden said in a statement released Tuesday.

“At every stage of the committee’s investigation, Black has refused to answer questions or provide any documents that could demonstrate how Epstein’s compensation for tax and estate planning services was determined or justified,” Wyden said in the statement.

Black’s “inadequate responses” to the Committee “only raise more questions than answers, and fail to address a number of tax issues my staff has uncovered over the course of this investigation,” Wyden said in the 16-page letter sent to Black on Monday requesting more information.

Black’s legal team responded to Wyden in a letter shared with CNN saying that Black “declines” to share additional information with the Committee “at this time.”

The latest questions Wyden is asking Black to answer “are inappropriately invasive and ask for information and documents that no individual taxpayer should have to disclose without assurances of confidentiality,” they claimed in the letter, going on to say that the Committee “explicitly declined” to provide confidentiality.

Black’s legal team also shared in the letter that he “voluntarily answered more than a dozen of the Committee’s questions and also voluntarily produced more than 150 pages of personal taxpayer and estate planning documentation — answers and documentation that he was not legally required to provide.”

“Mr. Black has cooperated extensively with the Committee, providing detailed information about the matters under review,” Whit Clay, a spokesman for Black, said in a statement to CNN. “The transactions referenced in the Committee’s letter were lawful in all respects, were conceived of, vetted and implemented by reputable law firms and tax and other advisors, and Mr. Black has fully paid all taxes owed to the government.”

Epstein pleaded guilty to two state prostitution charges in 2008 and served 13 months in prison. He was arrested again in 2019 on charges of sex trafficking minors. He died in prison soon after his arrest in what authorities have ruled to be a suicide.

Representatives from Dechert didn’t immediately respond to CNN’s request for comment. Joanna Rose, a spokesperson from Apollo, declined to comment, stating that Black “has not been with the firm since 2021.”

Black, 71, stepped down as CEO of Apollo in 2021 shortly after a New York Times report revealed that he allegedly regularly dined with Epstein and paid him for consulting and other services. An internal Apollo investigation that documented his $158 million payment to Epstein following the New York Times’ reporting, however, found no wrongdoing.

Black previously said, “I deeply regret having had any involvement with [Epstein].”

Wyden said in the letter that the investigation into Black’s payment to Epstein is “part of an ongoing set of investigations by the Committee into the means by which ultra-high net worth persons avoid or evade paying federal taxes, including gift and estate taxes.”

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