Editor's note: Jeffrey Epstein was arrested in New York on July 6, 2019, and faced federal charges of sex trafficking and conspiracy to commit sex trafficking. On August 10, 2019, he died in an apparent jailhouse suicide. For more information, see The Daily Beast's reporting here.
A Russian model who advocates for women entrepreneurs funded her nonprofit with help from billionaire sex offender Jeffrey Epstein, a review of tax records shows.
Lana Pozhidaeva is president of a New York-based charity called Education Advance, which received a majority of its $56,000 in revenues from Epstein in 2017. According to its now-disabled website, Education Advance’s mission is to “support education in the STEM field.”
“Our mission is to increase the diversity of the American education system by providing scholarships to minority students to study STEM (science technology engineering and mathematics). Our purpose is to increase the number of students studying STEM, both at undergraduate and graduate levels,” the website stated.
Pozhidaeva, who was recently profiled on Forbes’ website, as well as Vogue Ukraine and the Italian version of Maxim, declined to answer a list of questions about her charity from The Daily Beast. In an email sent on Saturday, Pozhidaeva said Epstein did make a donation, and $50,000 of it “helped develop an impactful program at MIT.” Pozhidaeva’s boyfriend, with whom she runs the nonprofit, said she didn’t know much about the allegations against Epstein when she took his donation.
Epstein’s attorney Darren Indyke—who also represents Pozhidaeva’s business, WE Talks, in a trademark application—didn’t return emails or voice messages.
Last October, Epstein tried donating to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee—only to see his money returned three days later. “Without second thought, the DCCC immediately refunded this unsolicited donation,” one committee spokesperson told The Daily Beast at the time.
A hedge-funder who counted Donald Trump, Bill Clinton and Prince Andrew as friends, Epstein has seen his reputation nosedive amid accusations that he sexually assaulted scores of underage girls at his Palm Beach mansion over a period of years, only to receive a slap on the wrist through a secret plea agreement. Epstein faced life in prison for his sex acts with minors, but under a sweetheart deal inked with former U.S. attorney and current Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta, he spent only 13 months of his 18-month sentence in a county jail. Most of that time was on “work release,” records show.
Epstein is a registered sex offender in New York and Florida. He’s apparently kept a low profile in recent years and in his annual sex offender registrations listed his primary address as Little St. James, his private island in the Virgin Islands.
In New York, Epstein is listed as a level 3 offender, a designation given to those who are at a “high risk of repeat offense and a threat to public safety exists,” according to the state’s Division of Criminal Justice Services.
In February, a federal judge ruled Acosta violated the law by keeping Epstein’s victims in the dark about the non-prosecution agreement, and the Department of Justice launched an investigation into possible “professional misconduct” by prosecutors.
The bad press surrounding Epstein has also prompted some charities to decline his money. In 2015, Reuters reported that a handful of nonprofits and researchers said they would stop accepting funds from the 66-year-old financier, in light of one accuser’s claims that Epstein forced her to have sex with several men, including Prince Andrew, while she was underage. (The victim has now been identified as Virginia Roberts Giuffre. Prince Andrew has adamantly denied Giuffre’s claims.)
But, according to a review of public records, Epstein has continued to bestow funds on at least one congresswoman in the Virgin Islands, and Pozhidaeva’s nonprofit in New York City.
Education Advance’s latest and only annual tax return reveals Epstein provided $55,000 in funding in 2017. Most of that money, records show, went to a Buddhist organization at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
The group’s total revenues were $56,500 for the tax year beginning Jan. 1, 2017 and ending Dec. 31, 2017. And the only “substantial contributor” listed was “J Epstein Virgin Islands FD Inc” for a total of $55,000, tax records show.
According to the group’s IRS 990 Form, Education Advance provided $50,000 to Prajnopaya at MIT and listed the religious organization under “Our Partners” on its now-defunct website. In an email to The Daily Beast, the Prajnopaya Institute said it returned Education Advance’s funds.
“We immediately responded by investigating internally,” the email stated. “We discovered that our records do show that Prajnopaya Institute received a one-time contribution of 50K USD from Education Advance in 2017 to support STEM learning related projects. There was no listing of who funded Education Advance. We have returned the contribution.”
Education Advance deleted its website on Monday after The Daily Beast contacted a director of the nonprofit, Pendleton King, who is Pozhidaeva’s boyfriend.
For his part, King told The Daily Beast that Education Advance would return Epstein’s $55,000 donation. He said Pozhidaeva knew very little about the allegations against Epstein when the foundation accepted his donation. “She’s never been involved in anything shady,” King said of Pozhidaeva.
“The money went to something positive,” King added. “Why would you focus on something that’s going to a good cause?”
While King claimed Pozhidaeva had little contact with Epstein after meeting him at a charity event six or seven years ago, public records show they, at the very least, share the same attorney.
Darren K. Indyke—an attorney for Epstein who in October 2015 represented the billionaire during a deposition of Alan Dershowitz—filed trademark paperwork for Pozhidaeva’s latest project, WE Talks. The company bills itself as a monthly event series for female entrepreneurs and recently hosted a media mixer for media professionals who’ve been laid off, and a competition to win $10,000 from investors.
Documents filed with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office show WeWork Companies Inc., which provides work space for startups, is opposing WE Talks’ trademark.
In the trademark filings, Indyke’s Lexington Avenue address is the same as Education Advance’s address listed in IRS documents. That address also matches one for the Jeffrey Epstein VI Foundation on Epstein’s website.
Pozhidaeva was represented by MC2 Model Management, which was accused in court papers of supplying minor girls to Epstein. In one January 2015 court filing, Giuffre said she had sex with MC2 owner Jean Luc Brunel multiple times, when she was 16 through 19 years old. “He was another of Epstein’s powerful friends who had many contacts with young girls throughout the world,” Giuffre stated in the declaration.
Soon after, Brunel issued a statement denying Giuffre’s accusations: “I strongly deny having participated, neither directly nor indirectly, in the actions Mr Jeffrey Epstein is being accused of. I strongly deny having committed any illicit act or any wrongdoing in the course of my work as a scouter or model agencies manager.”
Brunel's name was discovered on message pads Palm Beach cops pulled from trash bins outside Epstein’s home, an attorney for Epstein’s victims, Brad Edwards, said in a 2010 court filing called a “statement of undisputed facts.”
The model kingpin filed a lawsuit against Epstein, claiming his “illegal actions” cost his agency business because of “false links” between the men in press reports.
When registering WE Talks’ web domain in April 2018, Pozhidaeva listed her contact address as an E. 66th Street building in Manhattan where Epstein rents units and was accused of housing underage models. “Jeffrey rents several apartments there where he keeps his girls, alleged models for the MC2 agency,” Edwards told Page Six in 2009.
Edwards’ court document said Epstein provided MC2 with “financial support,” and that MC2 employees told Edwards that Epstein’s condos at East 66th Street were used to house young models.
The filing was part of a court battle between Epstein and Edwards, whom Epstein accused of bringing bogus lawsuits by accusers to help his former colleague, convicted Ponzi schemer Scott Rothstein.
Edwards countersued Epstein for malicious prosecution, claiming Epstein was retaliating against him for representing women in lawsuits against the billionaire.
The case was settled just before trial in December. Three of Epstein’s accusers were expected to testify. Epstein, through one of his attorneys, issued a public apology saying his accusations against Edwards were false.
In a profile by Vogue Ukraine last year, Pozhidaeva said she moved to New York seven years ago. Her LinkedIn profile says she studied politics at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations, received a master’s degree at the ICN Business School in France, and studied accounting and business management at Harvard’s online business school.
Pozhidaeva told Vogue that choosing the right team members is key to launching a business. “Most startups fall apart precisely because of a wrong or ineffective team,” she said. “It is also quite important to find advisors with extensive experience and a good reputation in the industry. It is better to choose those people who… will be ready to give you time (for example, five hours a month), and not just be a person on your site.”
Two former Education Advance board members contacted by The Daily Beast, Daniel Streeter and Margaret White, said they had no knowledge of the Epstein donation and were no longer associated with Education Advance.
“Lana is a very earnest and very caring person,” White told The Daily Beast.