July 9, 2019

There are lots of gross and prurient aspects to the lurid case unfolding around Jeffrey Epstein, a mysterious, well-connected, and evidently very wealthy self-professed financier, convicted sex offender, and alleged sexual abuser and trafficker of young girls, but there are also lots of basic questions. For one: Where did Epstein get all his money?

Until Epstein flew former President Bill Clinton to Africa with Kevin Spacey and Chris Tucker in 2002, few people paid him any heed. Then a 2002 profile of Epstein in New York laid out his origin story: Born and raised in Coney Island, Brooklyn; attended but did not graduate from Cooper Union and NYU; was recruited to Bear Stearns while teaching high school calculus and physics at the tony Dalton School; worked his way up to partner; left Bear Stearns under mysterious circumstances in 1981; founded his own wealth management company in which he would take on only billionaire clients who agreed to hand him total control of their money; yada yada yada multiple mansions, a fleet of private jets, his own island, and powerful friends.

In 2003, a Vanity Fair profile by Vicky Ward tore a few holes in that story, and in 2015, Ward wrote in The Daily Beast that in her extensive reporting on Epstein "no one I spoke to believed" that "the hidden source of his wealth" was "managing the money of billionaires and taking a commission." Some of Epstein's friends "speculated that retailer Les Wexner was the real source of Epstein's wealth," Ward wrote, but while the billionaire founder of Victoria's Secret is Epstein's only known client — or former client — Wexner wouldn't comment on the idea.

A decade ago, Epstein's lawyers said his wealth was in the nine-figure range, but "today, so little is known about Epstein's current business or clients that the only things that can be valued with any certainty are his properties," including the $77 million Manhattan mansion federal agents raided over the weekend and his properties in New Mexico, Paris, Palm Beach, and the U.S. Virgin Islands, where his "black box" of a company is now incorporated, Bloomberg News reports. There's even mystery about the Manhattan mansion: The only New York property record on the 1990s transfer of the mansion from Wexner to Epstein was filed in 2011, with a transfer price of $0, Bloomberg says. "Epstein signed for both sides of the transaction." Peter Weber

12:07 a.m.

It was a big day for Michael Orlando Clark Jr., and he wanted all of his kindergarten classmates to be a part of it.

Clark was adopted on Thursday, and his entire class came to the hearing in Grand Rapids, Michigan, filling up the court room benches and holding up paper hearts. They introduced themselves to Judge Patricia Gardner, and told her how much they loved Clark. As soon as Gardner banged the gavel, making the adoption official, the kids burst into applause.

"We began the school year as a family," Clark's teacher told WZZM. "Family doesn't have to be DNA, because family is support and love." Clark was one of 36 children who were adopted during Kent County's 23rd annual Adoption Day, and he couldn't stop smiling throughout the hearing. After the event, as his father spoke to WZZM about the adoption, he was no longer able to contain his excitement. "I love my daddy," he told the reporter. "I love him so much." Catherine Garcia

December 5, 2019

A sad milestone was reached this week, with the Ray Pfeifer Foundation reporting that 200 New York City firefighters have now died from "9/11 illness."

The foundation, which provides assistance to 9/11 first responders with medical bills not covered by insurance, said that Dennis Gilhooly, a retired FDNY captain, and Brian Case, a retired firefighter, are the 199th and 200th FDNY deaths related to the attacks on the World Trade Center, CBS News reports.

Toxins were released when the World Trade Center towers collapsed, and more than 50,000 people who were exposed have become sick, CBS News says. Studies have found a high number of deaths from non-Hodgkin's lymphoma and brain malignancies among 9/11 first responders and others who were exposed to the dust cloud after the towers fell. Catherine Garcia

December 5, 2019

Uber released a startling 84-page review on Thursday outlining how many reports of sexual abuse the ride-hailing service received in 2018.

In the United States, there were 235 reports of rape, 280 reports of attempted rape, 1,560 reports of groping, and 970 reports of unwanted kissing. "Each of these incidents represents an individual who has undergone a horrific trauma," Tony West, Uber's chief legal officer, told NBC News.

Uber says the victims included both drivers and riders, with passengers accused of sexual assault in 45 percent of cases. "We do four million rides a day," West said. "And when you're operating at that kind of scale, thankfully, 99.9 percent of those rides end with absolutely no safety incident whatsoever." Uber said it has enacted stricter background checks for drivers and added more safety features in the app, including a button that lets users call 911. Catherine Garcia

December 5, 2019

A satellite image captured Thursday shows activity at a rocket launching site that North Korea had previously dismantled, CNN reports.

The image of Sohae Satellite Launching Station, obtained by CNN and analyzed by experts, shows a large shipping container at the facility's test stand, said Jeffrey Lewis, director of the East Asia Nonproliferation Program at the Middlebury Institute. This was the first time analysts have seen this container, he added, and it could indicate that North Korea will soon start conducting engine tests at the site again. These engines would be used to power satellite launchers and intercontinental ballistic missiles, CNN reports.

While at the NATO summit in London on Tuesday, Trump mused that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un "really likes sending rockets up, doesn't he? That's why I call him Rocket Man." Trump also said he has a "good relationship" with Kim, but his remarks still irked Choe Son Hui, North Korea's first vice-foreign minister. According to North Korean state media, Choe declared that "if any language and expressions stoking the atmosphere of confrontation are used once again on purpose at a crucial moment as now, that must really be diagnosed as the relapse of the dotage of a dotard." Catherine Garcia

December 5, 2019

Several West Virginia Division of Corrections and Rehabilitation employees have been suspended following the leak of a photo showing more than 30 members of a basic training class giving a Nazi salute, WCHS reports.

Basic Training Class #18 was held Oct. 21 through Nov. 27, and WCHS recently obtained a copy of the photo, with blurred faces, from the office of Gov. Jim Justice (R). In a statement released Thursday, Justice said he has ordered "the termination of all those that are found to be involved in this conduct. This will not be tolerated on my watch, within the Division of Corrections and Rehabilitation or within any agency of state government."

Jeff Sandy, the cabinet secretary for the West Virginia Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety, sent a letter on Wednesday to employees of the Division of Corrections and Rehabilitation, condemning the photo. "It is distasteful, hurtful, disturbing, highly insensitive, and completely inappropriate," he said. Sandy also announced that Betsy Jividen, the commissioner of the state Division of Corrections, has directed that all copies of the photo "be destroyed, sent to this office, or otherwise taken out of circulation to keep its harm from spreading." Catherine Garcia

December 5, 2019

If you want to get shredded like Star-Lord, why not cut out the middleman?

Guardians of the Galaxy and Jurassic World star Chris Pratt has opened his own Amazon storefront hawking a wide variety of health and fitness products, including rowing machines, boxing gloves, and protein powders. Unfortunately for those who really want to get motivated for their next run, the lineup of products doesn't currently include any live dinosaurs.

Read more at People. Scott Meslow

December 5, 2019

Earlier this year, superhero fans faced the terrifying possibility of a world where the seemingly limitless roster of Marvel Cinematic Universe superheroes didn't include Spider-Man, who was caught up in the messy web of a rights and profit-sharing dispute between Sony and Disney.

Spider-Man has since been added back into the Marvel fold — and as it turns out, the hero in this story is none other than Spider-Man himself, Tom Holland, who says he sealed the deal by getting drunk and crying in a phone call with Disney CEO Bob Iger.

For a superhero, it's an admittedly unconventional strategy for saving the day, but hey, who can argue with the results? Read more at Indiewire. Scott Meslow

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