Soon after the sex criminal Jeffrey Epstein died in August, a mysterious man met with two prominent lawyers.
Towering, barrel-chested and wild-bearded, he was a prodigious drinker and often wore flip-flops. He went by a pseudonym, Patrick Kessler — a necessity, he said, given the shadowy, dangerous world that he inhabited.
He told the lawyers he had something incendiary: a vast archive of Mr. Epstein’s data, stored on encrypted servers overseas. He said he had years of the financier’s communications and financial records — as well as thousands of hours of footage from hidden cameras in the bedrooms of Mr. Epstein’s properties. The videos, Kessler said, captured some of the world’s richest, most powerful men in compromising sexual situations — even in the act of rape.
Kessler said he wanted to expose these men. If he was telling the truth, his trove could answer one of the Epstein saga’s most baffling questions: How did a college dropout and high school math teacher amass a purported nine-figure fortune? One persistent but unproven theory was that he ran a sprawling blackmail operation. That would explain why moguls, scientists, political leaders and a royal stayed loyal to him, in some cases even after he first went to jail.
Kessler’s tale was enough to hook the two lawyers, the famed litigator David Boies and his friend John Stanley Pottinger. If Kessler was authentic, his videos would arm them with immense leverage over some very important people.
Mr. Boies and Mr. Pottinger discussed a plan. They could use the supposed footage in litigation or to try to reach deals with men who appeared in it, with money flowing into a charitable foundation. In encrypted chats with Kessler, Mr. Pottinger referred to a roster of potential targets as the “hot list.” He described hypothetical plans in which the lawyers would pocket up to 40 percent of the settlements and could extract money from wealthy men by flipping from representing victims to representing their alleged abusers.
The possibilities were tantalizing — and extended beyond vindicating victims. Mr. Pottinger saw a chance to supercharge his law practice. For Mr. Boies, there was a shot at redemption, after years of criticism for his work on behalf of Theranos and Harvey Weinstein.
In the end, there would be no damning videos, no funds pouring into a new foundation. Mr. Boies and Mr. Pottinger would go from toasting Kessler as their “whistle-blower” and “informant” to torching him as a “fraudster” and a “spy.”
Kessler was a liar, and he wouldn’t expose any sexual abuse. But he would reveal something else: The extraordinary, at times deceitful measures elite lawyers deployed in an effort to get evidence that could be used to win lucrative settlements — and keep misconduct hidden, allowing perpetrators to abuse again.
Mr. Boies has publicly decried such secret deals as “rich man’s justice,” a way that powerful men buy their way out of legal and reputational jeopardy. This is how it works.
7 men and a headless parrot