Even as he was serially abusing underage girls, billionaire financier Jeffrey Epstein managed to collect a stable of powerful, famous friends: former presidents, prime ministers, lawyers, and scientists with whom he could discuss his plans to improve the human race with his own DNA. But Epstein’s closest pal appears not to have been a prominent politician or top academic, but a sleazy, scandal-prone modeling agent with virtually limitless connections to young women around the world.
Jean-Luc Brunel, 72, is the former head of Karin Models and Mc2—two well-regarded international modeling agencies that launched the careers of cover girls like Ginta Lapina, Juana Burga and Sessilee Lopez. He has also been accused by former models of drugging and date-raping them, and by former employees of recruiting foreign, underage girls to be pimped out of Epstein’s New York apartments.
Brunel and his attorney did not respond to multiple calls and emails seeking comment. The modeling agent has previously denied any sexual misconduct or involvement in Epstein’s crimes.
“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 said in a 2015 statement, adding: “I have exercised with the utmost ethical standard for almost 40 years."
For years prior to Epstein’s apparent suicide this month, Brunel was one of the financier’s most frequent male associates. The agent appears more than 15 times on flight logs from Epstein’s private plane, jetting everywhere from Paris to New York, often in the presence of young women. He visited Epstein nearly 70 times in jail, according to visitor logs, and several more times while the financier was on house arrest in Palm Beach. According to one of Epstein’s housemen, Brunel was comfortable enough to whip up his own meals in the financier’s kitchen, and was one of Epstein’s most frequent callers.
A trove of documents unsealed this month revealed several messages Brunel left for Epstein over the years, dutifully recorded by the financier's employees and later recovered by investigators. In one message, the notetaker reported that Brunel “just did a good one—18 years,” who reportedly told him, “‘I love Jeffrey.”
“He has a teacher for you to teach you how to speak Russian,” reads another note, dated September 2005. “She is 2 X 8  years old not blonde. Lessons are free and you can have 1st today if you call.”
While it is unclear how they met, Brunel and Epstein were friends since at least the launch of Mc2 in 2005, according to legal documents. In fact, Epstein and Mc2 were so closely associated that one insider referred to the financier as the silent “E” in the agency’s equation. (For those who failed high-school science, E = mc² is the formula underpinning Albert Einstein's theory of relativity.)
Representatives for Epstein and Mc2 have long denied having any business relationship. But Brunel admitted in court documents that Epstein once extended him a $1 million letter of credit, which the agent used to invest in a new venture with Elite Models in Paris. The venture, E Management, was first registered by Epstein’s attorney, who listed its address as 457 Madison Avenue—the same as Epstein’s investment firm, J. Epstein & Co.
According to Brunel, the venture fell apart after Elite Models learned of the sex-trafficking allegations against Epstein. The modeling agent even sued Epstein in 2015, claiming the allegations had tarnished his agency’s reputation and caused him a “tremendous loss of business.” But at least two people have claimed that Brunel not only knew about the trafficking—he was an active participant.
Virginia Roberts (now Giuffre)—one of the first alleged victims to speak out against Epstein after he was granted a sweetheart plea deal—claimed in legal filings that Brunel was one of many powerful men she was forced to sleep with in her years as Epstein’s “sex slave.” She also accused Brunel of using his agency to find foreign girls, obtain visas for them, and “farm them out to his friends, including Epstein.”
“A lot of the girls came from poor countries or poor backgrounds, and he lured them in with a promise of making good money,” Giuffre said in a 2015 affidavit. “Jeffrey Epstein has told me that he has slept with over 1,000 of Brunel’s girls, and everything that I have seen confirms this claim.”
Describing an orgy she was allegedly forced to participate in on Epstein’s private island, Giuffre added, "My assumption was that Jean-Luc Brunel got the girls from Eastern Europe (as he procured many young foreign girls for Epstein). They were young and European looking and sounding."
A former employee of MC2, Martiza Vasquez, also accused Brunel of similar misdeeds. Vasquez, who worked as a bookkeeper for the agency between 2003 to 2006, told the FBI that Brunel employed scouts to bring in teenage models from South America, Europe and the former Soviet Union. The most desirable of those teens were housed in Epstein’s Upper East Side apartments and loaned out to wealthy clients for up to $100,000 a night, Vasquez alleged. If they refused to be “molested,” she said, they would not be paid. (Brunel has denied these claims and says Vasquez was fired from his agency for embezzling company funds.)
Over the years, several outlets reported that the FBI was investigating Brunel, but no charges ever emerged. In fact, the modelizer managed to avoid being deposed in a single civil suit against Epstein—of which there were more than a dozen. In a lawsuit filed by Brad Edwards, an attorney for several Epstein accusers, the lawyer claimed Brunel skirted depositions by saying he was living in France, when he was in fact staying at Epstein’s Palm Beach mansion.
Brunel, in his 2015 suit, claimed Epstein had pressured him into skipping the depositions, and said he regretted missing the chance to clear his company's name. He also claimed to have lost millions of dollars in potential business due to the “notoriety and tremendous publicity surrounding Epstein’s criminal charges”—charges he claimed to have nothing to do with. The suit included emails from several agents and talent scouts saying they could not work with Brunel because of the sexual misconduct allegations.
“I have decided to bring judicial proceedings in France and in the United States against allegations which cause considerable damage to me personally and to my models agencies,” Brunel said in a statement at the time. “I strongly deny having participated, neither directly nor indirectly, in the actions Mr. Jeffrey Epstein is being accused of.”
But charges of sexual misconduct have followed Brunel since before he met Epstein. In Michael Gross’ 1995 book Model, several of Brunel’s peers described him as a dangerous playboy known for preying on young women. Elite Models founder John Casablancas—who himself has been accused of sexual misconduct—told Gross that Brunel and his friends were known for roaming Paris nightclubs to “invite girls and put drugs in their drinks.”
In Ian Halperin’s Bad and Beautiful, one former Karin model accused Brunel and his friends of inviting more than a dozen models to a private party at one of their apartments, then forcing some of the young women to have sex with them. “Most of the women felt they had been raped,” the former model said. “But they were afraid to report it to the police because Brunel would ruin their careers.”
In a 60 Minutes feature from 1988, several American models who worked with Brunel in Paris described a culture in which young models were plied with drugs and taken to parties with older men. At the parties, women said, they would be denied work if they declined the men’s sexual advances. Two women in the feature accused Brunel of drugging them; one accused him of raping her while she was unconscious.
According to Craig Pyes, one of the reporters on the piece, the story did not end there. Pyes said he spoke with three more women over the course of his six-month investigation who said they were drugged and raped by Brunel or his friends, but who did not feel comfortable coming forward on-air.
“My sense, based upon the allegations, is that Jean-Luc was a predator, his group was a predator, and they used their tools of power and leverage to force sex from women who otherwise might not be willing to engage in it,” Pyes told The Daily Beast.
Brunel declined to be interviewed by 60 Minutes at the time, but later denied the allegations. Christy Turlington, a top model and close friend of Brunel’s, later told Halperin she thought some of the stories were exaggerated. “In this business you never know who to believe,” she said.
Just this week, New Zealand model Zoë Brock told French publication Liberation she briefly lived in Brunel’s apartment at age 17, but left after he insisted they would “have to sleep together eventually.” (The allegations are similar to those Brock made in a 2017 Medium piece.)
Thysia Huisman, a Dutch model, claimed she wasn’t so lucky: After initially resisting Brunel’s advances, she said, the agent gave her a drink that made her feel dizzy, then brought her into his bedroom and assaulted her.
“I remember he was on me, I tried to push him away and the noise when he ripped my clothes,” she told Liberation. “Then it's the black hole. I woke up in bed. I was totally disoriented. I went to collect my belongings in the room where I slept and I went directly to the station to leave Paris.”
The prior allegations seem not too have hampered Brunel's business too much: In recent years, Mc2 has counted major department stores like Nordstrom, Macy’s and Saks Fifth Avenue as clients, according to a letter from Brunel's business partner first obtained by Bloomberg. A Nordstrom executive even wrote a letter expressing her “full and unqualified” support of Brunel’s visa application in 2014.
Sara Ziff, the founder of the advocacy organization Model Alliance, said behavior like Brunel's is often overlooked in the modeling industry.
“Unfortunately, predatory behavior has been normalized and, in turn, even enabled by some modeling agents, who may lack the judgment or training to address or prevent these abuses from happening,” Ziff told The Daily Beast.
Today, however, Brunel's influence over his modeling empire appears to be diminishing. Mc2 announced in 2012 that Brunel would be moving to a scouting and consulting role for the company. On Friday, a spokesperson for Mc2 in New York told The Daily Beast that Brunel was “basically retired” and living out of the country. Asked for specifics about Brunel’s role, the spokesperson said, “He doesn’t really have one.”
Ruth Malka, who took over Karin Models from Brunel in the early 2000s, told Liberation she hadn’t worked with him in years. Malka told the website she never witnessed any improper behavior on Brunel’s part, but added, “I'm shocked at everything I hear. It disgusts me.”