Billionaire Leon Black is being plagued by questions about his ties to alleged sex trafficker Jeffrey Epstein everywhere but the Museum of Modern Art, where he is chairman, The Post has
Billionaire Leon Black is being plagued by questions about his ties to alleged sex trafficker Jeffrey Epstein everywhere but the Museum of Modern Art, where he is chairman, The Post has learned.
Trustees of the Midtown Manhattan museum have been reluctant to act on reports that their chairman since 2018 funneled millions in consulting fees to Epstein for years after he pleaded guilty to child prostitution in 2008, sources said.
MoMA trustees have told The Post they expect the board to address the sticky situation only if it ends up hurting the museum’s ability to raise money — or if Black is found to have engaged in wrongdoing, which he vehemently denies.
One trustee said he believes the founder, chairman and chief executive of Apollo Global Management when he says he regrets “any involvement” with Epstein, who killed himself in prison last year while awaiting trial for sex trafficking.
“Leon’s been extremely good to the museum and he takes his work seriously,” the trustee said of Black, who donated tens of millions to the well-heeled museum before being named its chairman. “I hope he gets through this.”
A second trustee said, “The news about Leon and Epstein is a bit surprising,” before predicting that the museum’s stewards will let the scandal “play out.”
“I suppose for the moment people [MoMA trustees] will not do anything. I think it will play itself out in the press and in investigations,” the trustee said.
When Black took over the MoMA chairman role in 2018, he vowed to not cause trouble and live up to his predecessor, real estate mogul Jerry Speyer, sources said. Black even put the promise to song in July 2018 in the form of a rap he performed for his new art pals at the palatial, Renaissance-styled four-story townhouse he owns on 19 East 70th St., a former art gallery itself.
The guests were enjoying pre-dinner drinks in the living room when Black handed out sheets of paper containing lyrics. He then stood opposite Edvard Munch’s painting “The Scream,” for which he paid $125 million in 2012, to perform.
A pianist accompanied him.
“You know we’ve been so lucky to entrust it with Speyer; you know that dude builds things higher and higher,” Black sang.
Some of the MoMA trustees exchanged glances, not knowing what to think as the song continued. A few sang along, a source said.
“And you know when Leon’s in charge, you know he’ll keep us from disasters, ‘cause that guy keeps up with all the modern masters.
“Dali. O’Keefe and Mark Rothko.
“Oldenburg, Kusama and Velasco.
“We need you to tell us the truth.
“For the world you’re like a fountain of youth,” he belted out, according to sources and a lyrics sheet reviewed by The Post.
“He was really into it and was enjoying the spotlight,” one attendee told The Post, adding that the lyrics now seem ironic as Black is hardly keeping MoMA clear of trouble.
After the sing-along, the trustees enjoyed a buffet and cookies adorned with the faces of Speyer, MoMA’s outgoing chair, and President Marie-Josée Kravis, according to sources.
MoMA didn’t return a request for comment. Black, through a spokeswoman, reiterated his statements disavowing Epstein, including that Black “was completely unaware of, and continues to be appalled by,” the conduct that led to Epstein’s 2019 arrest.
The 69-year-old financier and avid art collector has been under pressure to explain his Epstein ties since the pervy money manager was charged last year with exploiting dozens of underage girls as young as 14 for sex between 2002 and 2005 — allegations that dogged him both before and after his 2008 guilty plea.
The US Virgin Islands district attorney — in investigating allegations that Epstein broughts hundreds of young women to a private island located in that territory — has filed for subpoenas aimed at Black. She also filed to subpoena fellow MoMA trustee Glenn Dubin and the financier’s wife Eva Andersson-Dubin, who were pals with Epstein. The couple has also denied any wrongdoing.
The pressure mounted last month when the New York Times reported that Black funneled some $50 million in consulting fees to Epstein between 2012 and 2017.
He has said he paid Epstein for tax advice and estate planning and that Apollo never did any business with him. The $312 billion firm is now independently investigating the relationship in hopes of putting investors at ease.
Experts say they would recommend MoMA’s board consider protecting itself from any potential fallout, including by asking Black to take a leave of absence.
“One could imagine a situation where Black says, ‘All I did was make a foolish decision but for the time being I am willing to step off as a member of the board,’ ” said Richard Marker, expert on philanthropic ethics and founder of the Institute for Wise Philanthropy, an advisory group.
“That would be a reasonable response.”