Most former Dalton School students agree on at least one thing: Jeffrey Epstein was charismatic.
“If you had had him [as a teacher] then, you would’ve liked him, too,” says Eve Scheuer Lubin, who was Epstein’s student during his brief tenure as a teacher in the mid-70s. The Dalton School, where he taught, is a private school in Manhattan with a reputation for attracting talented students and affluent parents.
Decades later, Epstein is known for having friends in high places — from Washington to Hollywood. Now he’s in jail, awaiting trial on allegations that he sexually abused dozens of underaged girls.
Beyond the charisma, former students paint divergent portraits of the young, soon-to-be financier.
Some remember a skilled educator, intelligent and quick-witted. Others recall a too-young teacher who was smarmy, unqualified and casually social with students.
The New York Times first reported last week that eight former Dalton students said the way Epstein interacted with teenage girls had stuck with them since high school.
Several former students told NPR they remember seeing Epstein surrounded by female students at Dalton, though none recalled any incidents of misconduct.
“It was just kind of a general circle of girls,” says Scott Spizer, who graduated from Dalton in 1976. “He was much more present amongst the students, specifically the girl students, during nonteaching hours … it seemed just, it was kind of inappropriate.”
“There was a mild sense of creepiness,” says Kerry Lawrence, also in the class of 1976. “When you had a faculty member that girls were paying attention to, it was somewhat disconcerting.”
But Scheuer Lubin, who was Epstein’s student for three years, remembers it differently.
“He didn’t touch girls or anything — they all hung out around him because he was handsome in his sleazy polyester pants,” she says.
Today, Epstein is at the center of a high-profile sex trafficking case that, according to prosecutors, involved dozens of girls. Epstein was charged last week with sex trafficking of minors in a federal court in Manhattan. NPR reached out to Epstein’s lawyers for this story, but they did not respond to requests for comment.
None of these charges are connected to his brief stint at the Dalton School, though prosecutors have raised the question in the past. In a 2009 deposition, an attorney asked Epstein if he ever had any “sexual contact” with female students he was teaching at Dalton. Epstein returned the question with his own: “While I was a teacher?”
When Epstein answered ‘No,’ the prosecutor asked if he’d had any sexual encounters with students after he left the school. Epstein responded, “Not that I remember.” Then he was asked if he had dated anyone who was previously his student at Dalton. Epstein invoked the Fifth, Sixth and 14th Amendments and declined to answer. The Dalton School did not respond to NPR’s request for comment on this story.
That deposition came two years after Epstein avoided prison time for charges in Florida after a lenient plea deal with then-U.S. Attorney Alex Acosta, who resigned last week from his post as U.S. secretary of labor.
Now, prosecutors say access to money and influential contacts — the type of which Epstein encountered at Dalton — aided him in his alleged crimes. On Thursday, Epstein’s request for bail was rejected, in part because his vast wealth and ties to prominent people the world over make him a “flight risk.”
At the Dalton School, Epstein encountered the rich and powerful; their children were all around him, taking classes and walking the halls.
Among the students attending Dalton while Epstein was there were Rupert Murdoch’s daughter, Prudence Murdoch, and soon-to-be actresses, such as Dirty Dancing’s Jennifer Grey.
It wasn’t just the students; the leadership at Dalton was star-studded, too. Around the time Epstein arrived at the school, Donald Barr — Attorney General William Barr’s father — was ending his tenure as the school’s headmaster.
Susan Semel, who taught social studies at Dalton from 1965 to 1988 and wrote a book on the school’s history, says Barr made several unconventional hires during his time as the head of the school, though it’s unclear if he hired Epstein.
“Donald Barr would hire young people, and not necessarily young people who had a lot of credentials,” Semel says.
Epstein was 21 when he started teaching at the school and had no college degree.
“If you look through … my senior class,” says Lawrence, a former Dalton student, “I think you could have plugged his picture in there, and he could have easily passed for a high school student.” Lawrence, an attorney, used to be a federal prosecutor in the office now prosecuting Epstein.
Other students remember Epstein as a good teacher, regardless of age. “I made sure I was in his algebra class,” Scheuer Lubin says.
But Millicent Young says Epstein was an aberrant hire for Dalton, and lacked the authoritativeness she associated with most teachers. “That clear distinction between who is an adult here, and who is a child here, was not what resonated in my observations of him,” says Young, who didn’t have Epstein as a teacher but remembers watching him in the hallways and in the math lab.
Peter Branch, who served as interim headmaster after Barr, told The New York Times that Epstein was eventually dismissed because his teaching “didn’t come up to snuff.” He added that he doesn’t remember getting any complaints about Epstein’s behavior with students.
After Dalton, Epstein went on to work at the investment bank Bear Stearns. According to the Miami Herald, Epstein got the job because an impressed parent told one of the bank’s executives, Alan Greenberg, to hire Epstein. “Give Jeff credit. He was brilliant,” Lynne Koeppel, Greenberg’s daughter, told the Miami Herald. “He was very smart and he knew how to woo people, how to schmooze.”
Semel told NPR she remembers Epstein being taken with the “glitz and ritz” at Dalton; the school’s wealthy and influential student and parent body.
“You have people who are the movers and shakers of New York sending their kids to a school where teachers are making modest salaries,” she says.
The Dalton footprint is certainly a large one. Famous alumni include Anderson Cooper and Claire Danes, according to Forbes‘ prep school ranking.
Even two of the U.S. district judges who might have been assigned to Epstein’s case went to Dalton. But on Thursday morning, it was Judge Richard Berman — who didn’t attend the Manhattan prep school — who rejected Epstein’s request to be detained on house arrest at his mansion on the Upper East Side. Instead, Epstein will await trial in jail.