Over the past four decades, private equity has become a powerful, and malignant, force in our daily lives. In our May+June 2022 issue, Mother Jones investigates the vulture capitalists chewing up and spitting out American businesses, the politicians enabling them, and the everyday people fighting back. Find the full package here.
On January 20, 2020, the day the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed the first Covid-19 case in the United States, private equity billionaire Leon Black appeared on the cover of Bloomberg Businessweek. He smiled wide in black and white under a cold, sans-serif headline: RUTHLESS. “Nobody makes money,” read the coverline, “like Apollo’s Leon Black.”
It seemed to be the perfect time to be writing about Black, whose company the authors called “Wall Street’s apex predator.” Over the last decade, the assets Apollo managed grew sixfold, and Black’s personal wealth had ballooned to $9.5 billion. The high-rolling art collector even became the chair of MoMA’s board in 2018.
But the Bloomberg profile also hinted at storm clouds ahead. Jeffrey Epstein had served on the board of Black’s family foundation, it noted, and Epstein’s arrest for sex trafficking and subsequent death had Apollo working overtime to distance itself from him. After the New York Times reported in October 2020 that Black had wired at least $50 million to Epstein, Apollo’s board hired Wall Street law firm Dechert to investigate. In January 2021, Dechert’s report said Black sent Epstein $158 million from 2012 to 2017, and Black announced he’d leave his CEO job later in the year. (The investigation did not find evidence Black was “involved in any way with Epstein’s criminal activities.”)
Then, in March, a former Russian model named Guzel Ganieva tweeted that she “was sexually harassed and abused” by Black “for years.” Five days later, Black stepped down as CEO. In an April statement, he claimed his relationship with Ganieva was consensual and that she had extorted him “for many years”; weeks later, Ganieva sued Black for defamation, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and gender-motivated violence, including rape. Black denied her claims and countersued Ganieva for defamation and racketeering. (Ganieva’s attorney declined to comment; in a statement, Black’s attorney called her allegations “completely false.”) In other legal filings, he accused his former Apollo partner Josh Harris of exploiting Black’s Epstein connections in an attempt to oust him as CEO, a claim Harris denied.
It was enough to send most companies into a spiral of damage control and litigation. But nobody makes money like Apollo: In 2021, its stock price jumped 50 percent, and it was on pace to hit its goal of managing $1 trillion in assets by 2026.