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Les Wexner Denounces Epstein At L Brands Shareholders Meeting

 In this April 4, 2018, file photo, shoppers walk past the Victoria's Secret store on Broadway in the Soho neighborhood of New York.
Mary Altaffer
Associated Press
In this April 4, 2018, file photo, shoppers walk past the Victoria's Secret store on Broadway in the Soho neighborhood of New York.

Les Wexner, CEO of Columbus-based retailer L Brands, began a shareholders meeting Tuesday by denouncing now-deceased financier and accused sex trafficker Jeffrey Epstein.

“I wanna just take a few words, a few moments to talk about a sensitive subject. About more than a decade ago, I severed relationships with a personal financial advisor,” Wexner said, without mentioning names. “I raise this for several reasons. In my mind, it did happen a long time ago, and the distraction of that was something that happened a long time ago.”

Wexner's comments about Epstein led off the morning shareholders meeting for the up-scale retailer, which has seen stock prices fall 35% in the past year.

“At some point in your life, we are all betrayed by friends,” Wexner said. “If we haven’t, we’re really fortunate to have lived a perfectly sheltered life... Being taken advantage of by someone who was so sick, so cunning, so depraved is something I'm embarrassed I was even close to. But that is in the past.”

Lagging Sales

At Tuesday's shareholder meeting, discussion moved quickly from Epstein to financial challenges at L Brands.

L Brands chief financial officer Stuart Burgdoerfer said the company’s first priority is boosting lagging sales at Victoria’s Secret by changing marketing and improving the in-store experience.

“At peak, this business was among the most profitable in retailing globally,” Burgdoerfer said. “We've been through a set of challenges that I think are well understood. We'll spend more of our time focused on how we're gonna grow from this point going forward.”

Victoria’s Secret recently hired two new CEOs: John Mehas for the lingerie line and Amy Hauk for the PINK branch.

Burgdoerfer says Bath & Body Works is performing best out of the company's portfolio, with a 38% increase in revenue from 2014-2018. Victoria’s Secret Lingerie is performing the poorest, with only a 4% revenue increase in those same years.

Wexner And Epstein

Wexner's relationship with Epstein was thrust into the spotlight soon after Epstein's arrest by federal authorities in July. Investigators charged Epstein with trafficking and abusing dozens of underage girls in Florida and New York in the early 2000s.

Wexner sent an email to L Brands employees in July, denying knowledge of the accusations and calling Epstein's behavior "egregious" and "sickening."

Epstein served as alongtime financial adviser for Wexner beginning in the 1980s, and at some point was given power of attorney over Wexner's vast fortune. Epstein also served as a trustee of the Wexner Foundation, and both men were once listed as presidents of the New Albany Foundation.

Wexner last month said that he cut ties with Epstein in 2007 once he discovered that the financier had “misappropriated vast sums of money from me and my family.” Epstein donated $47 million to the Wexner Foundation the next year, which Wexner said was reimbursement for a portion of that misappropriated money. It's unclear if Wexner reported the allegations to law enforcement.

Around the same time, Epstein signed a non-prosecution deal in Florida pleading guilty to state charges of soliciting a minor for prostitution. He served a 13-month jail sentence and registered as a sex offender.

Epsteincommitted suicide last month in a Manhattan jail.

Adora Namigadde was a reporter for 89.7 NPR News. She joined WOSU News in February 2017. A Michigan native, she graduated from Wayne State University with a B.A. in Broadcast Journalism and a minor in French.