Sordid case takes bizarre twist after mystery ‘hacker’ emerges
Shortly after Jeffrey Epstein’s August death in a Manhattan detention facility, a shadowy figure claiming to have set up encrypted servers for the convicted sex offender told several attorneys and the New York Times he had a vast archive of incriminating evidence against powerful men stored on overseas servers, including several years worth of the financier’s communications and financial records which allegedly showed he had vast amounts of Bitcoin and cash in the Middle East and Bangkok, and hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of gold, silver and diamonds.
Going by the pseudonym Patrick Kessler, self-described ‘hacker’ said he had “thousands of hours of footage from hidden cameras” from Epstein’s multiple properties, which included former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak, lawyer Alan Dershowitz, and Prince Andrew, along with three billionaires and a prominent CEO, according to the Times.
It has been long speculated that Epstein recorded his high-profile guests as part of an international blackmail operation.
Armed with nothing more than blurry photos of what he claimed were high-profile individuals in compromising situations, Kessler approached lawyers representing several Epstein accusers, John Pottinger and David Boies – the former of whom suggested that billionaire Sheldon Adelson – an ally of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu – might pay for the alleged footage of Barak.
According to excerpts viewed by The Times, Mr. Pottinger and Kessler discussed a plan to disseminate some of the informant’s materials — starting with the supposed footage of Mr. Barak. The Israeli election was barely a week away, and Mr. Barak was challenging Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The purported images of Mr. Barak might be able to sway the election — and fetch a high price. –New York Times.
After several weeks, the attorneys invited the New York Times to speak with Kessler in mid-September. Then things got even more unbelievable. Following a mid-September meeting with The Times in the Boies Schiller offices, Kessler went rogue – contacting the paper and accusing Boies and Pottinger of an extortion plot against the subjects of said tapes.
Barely an hour after the session ended, the Times reporters received an email from Kessler: “Are you free?” He said he wanted to meet — alone. “Tell no one else.”
Kessler complained that Mr. Boies and Mr. Pottinger were more interested in making money than in exposing wrongdoers. He pulled out his phone, warned the reporters not to touch it, and showed more of what he had. There was a color photo of a bare-chested, gray-haired man with a slight smile. Kessler said it was a billionaire. He also showed blurry, black-and-white images of a dark-haired man receiving oral sex. He said it was a prominent C.E.O.
“At one point, he showed what he said were classified C.I.A. documents,” writes the Times.
Weeks after the meeting, the lawyers struck a deal with the Times during the last Friday in September. They would send a team overseas to download Kessler’s evidence from his servers (and had alerted the FBI and the US Attorney’s Office in Manhattan of their intention to do so), and would then share all the evidence with the paper on the condition that they would have discretion over which men could be written about, and when.
Separately, Kessler had arranged to give the Times his evidence using a convoluted series of steps. On the day the data was to be transmitted, Kessler canceled at the 11th hour, claiming ‘a fire was burning’ and he had to flee to Ukraine.
In early October, Kessler said he was ready to produce the Epstein files. He told The Times that he had created duplicate versions of Mr. Epstein’s servers. He laid out detailed logistical plans for them to be shipped by boat to the United States and for one of his associates — a very short Icelandic man named Steven — to deliver them to The Times headquarters at 11 a.m. on Oct. 3.
Kessler warned that he was erecting a maze of security systems. First, a Times employee would need to use a special thumb drive to access a proprietary communications system. Then Kessler’s colleague would transmit a code to decrypt the files. If his instructions weren’t followed precisely, Kessler said, the information would self-destruct.
Specialists at The Times set up a number of “air-gapped” laptops — disconnected from the internet — in a windowless, padlocked meeting room. Reporters cleared their schedules to sift through thousands of hours of surveillance footage.
On the morning of the scheduled delivery, Kessler sent a series of frantic texts. Disaster had struck. A fire was burning. The duplicate servers were destroyed. One of his team members was missing. He was fleeing to Kyiv.
Except two hours later, Kessler contacted Pottinger and didn’t mention any emergency. Instead, he asked Pottinger to formulate two schemes for prying up to $1 billion from potential targets with the footage which the Timessuggested may have been a trap.
Pottinger obliged, describing two options for capitalizing on the evidence. The first, a “standard model” for legal settlements, would include splitting the money among Epstein’s victims, a charitable foundation, Kessler, and the lawyers – who would get up to 40%.
In the second hypothetical, the lawyers would approached the high-profile men, convince them to hire them to ensure they wouldn’t get sued, and then “make a contribution to a nonprofit as part of their retainer.”
Pottinger would effectively represent a victim, settle their case, and then represent the victim’s alleged abuser – a legal, yet morally questionable practice for an attorney to engage in.
Dershowitz and the weird recorded phone call
In late September, Dershowitz’s secretary related a message that Kessler wanted to speak with him about Boies – with whom Dershowitz has a long-running feud. Dershowitz recorded the call, during which Kessler said he no longer trusted Boies and Pottinger.
“The problem is that they don’t want to move forward with any of these people legally,” said Kessler, adding “They’re just interested in trying to settle and take a cut.”
“Who are these people that you have on videotape?” Mr. Dershowitz asked.
“There’s a lot of people,” Kessler said, naming a few powerful men. He added, “There’s a long list of people that they want me to have that I don’t have.”
“Who?” Mr. Dershowitz asked. “Did they ask about me?”
“Of course they asked about you. You know that, sir.”
“And you don’t have anything on me, right?”
“I do not, no,” Kessler said.
“Because I never, I never had sex with anybody,” Mr. Dershowitz said. Later in the call, he added, “I am completely clean. I was at Jeffrey’s house. I stayed there. But I didn’t have any sex with anybody.”
As the Times asks, “what was the purpose of Kessler’s phone call? Why did he tell Mr. Dershowitz that he wasn’t on the supposed surveillance tapes, contradicting what he had said and showed to Mr. Boies, Mr. Pottinger and The Times? Did the call sound a little rehearsed?”
Dershowitz told the Times he has no idea why Kessler called him.
Holding out hope
In a November 7 email, Boies told the Times “I still believe he is what he purported to be,” adding “I have to evaluate people for my day job, and he seemed too genuine to be a fake, and I very much want him to be real.”
That said, he also noted “I am not unconscious of the danger of wanting to believe something too much.”
Ten days later, Mr. Boies arrived at The Times for an on-camera interview. It was a bright, chilly Sunday, and Mr. Boies had just flown in from Ecuador, where he said he was doing work for the finance ministry. Reporters wanted to ask him plainly if his and Mr. Pottinger’s conduct with Kessler crossed ethical lines.
Would they have brokered secret settlements that buried evidence of wrongdoing? Did the notion of extracting huge sums from men in exchange for keeping sex tapes hidden meet the definition of extortion?
Mr. Boies said the answer to both questions was no. He said he and Mr. Pottinger operated well within the law. They only intended to pursue legal action on behalf of their clients — in other words, that they were a long way from extortion. In any case, he said, he and Mr. Pottinger had never authenticated any of the imagery or identified any of the supposed victims, much less contacted any of the men on the “hot list.”
When the Times showed Boies text exchanges between Kessler and Pottinger, he “showed a flash of anger and said it was the first time seeing them.”
Eventually, Boies concluded that Kessler was probably a con man.
“I think that he was a fraudster who was just trying to set things up,” adding that he had probably baited Pottinger into writing things that were more nefarious than they really were.
Pottinger, meanwhile, claims he was stringing Kessler along – “misleading him deliberately in order to get to the servers.”
Despite Kessler’s story falling apart, the Times asks if his claims are plausible.
Did America’s best-connected sexual predator accumulate incriminating videos of powerful men?
Two women who spent time in Mr. Epstein’s homes said the answer was yes. In an unpublished memoir, Virginia Giuffre, who accused Mr. Epstein of making her a “sex slave,” wrote that she discovered a room in his New York mansion where monitors displayed real-time surveillance footage. And Maria Farmer, an artist who accused Mr. Epstein of sexually assaulting her when she worked for him in the 1990s, said that Mr. Epstein once walked her through the mansion, pointing out pin-sized cameras that he said were in every room.
“I said, ‘Are you recording all this?’” Ms. Farmer said in an interview. “He said, ‘Yes. We keep it. We keep everything.’”
During a 2005 search of Mr. Epstein’s Palm Beach, Fla., estate, the police found two cameras hidden in clocks — one in the garage and the other next to his desk, according to police reports. But no other cameras were found.
So – it appears that Kessler was either a fraud or an operative, and the entire saga may have been designed to cast doubt over whether tapes actually exist. Or, Kessler is for real – and for some reason hasn’t found a way to release the videos. That said, since he says he’s not interested in extortion, what’s the hold-up?