Jeffrey Epstein, the financier who this week begins a jail term for soliciting prostitution, is an enigma. The standard question: how could the 55-year-old have been so obsessed by the teenaged girls who gave him erotic massages that he'd jeopardize the lifestyle of a billionaire and the status that attached to friendships with former president Bill Clinton and others? (Answer: entitled men do stupid things.) But more intriguing is the origin of his seeming wealth.

Monday's creepily gentle profile in the New York Times suggested that Epstein charged annual fees upward of $25m a year for "superelite financial advice"-leading Portfolio's Felix Salmon to remark on the profitability of private banking. Bullshit. Epstein's wealth is built on a "bizarre relationship" with single acknowledged client, Abercrombie & Fitch creator Leslie Wexner, one of America's most successful retailers.

Now that loaded quote comes only from an unnamed Wall Street acquaintance of Epstein who spoke to New York magazine for a profile of the money manager in 2002. There is no evidence whatsoever that their relationship went beyond that of aide to mentor. Epstein is pretty obviously heterosexual, or else going to extreme lengths to prove the point. The Limited owner Wexner himself is married with four children. It's bizarre to imagine any romantic connection between two men who are now 70 and 55 years old, a right-wing Ohio tycoon and a sex offender.

But no clients other than Wexner have ever emerged despite detailed profiles of Epstein in New York and Vanity Fair; the most plausible explanation is that Wexner has been Epstein's sole patron. And Epstein himself has done more than a normal money manager would: New York reported in the late 1980s Epstein even helped arrange a visit to Wexner's home by the crew of Cats. So close were they that Epstein was allocated a house near Wexner's in New Albany, Ohio; and he later took over the fashion mogul's vast Upper East Side townhouse.

Socialite and columnist Taki Theodoracopulos wrote last year: "Epstein got his start when Lesley Wexner, the Limited department store tycoon, took him under his wing and showed him the ropes, so to speak. Needless to say, there were a hell of a lot of rumours flying around about the tutelage, but what is certain is that Epstein ended up becoming a multi-billionaire financial adviser and close friend to Bill Clinton and Ghislaine Maxwell."

It's no wonder that Manhattan gossips have long wondered whether Wexner's attachment to Epstein was at one point romantic, even if unrequited. Wexner only married at the age of 56, several years after he first met Epstein. And blue-eyed Epstein wasn't always the weary pervert portrayed in his mugshot photographs. It would be ironic if the teen-loving masturbator had himself-two decades ago-got a little hand from an older and richer patron.

And who came out best from this bizarre relationship? Polly Adler said it best: "The women who take husbands not out of love but out of greed, to get their bills paid, to get a fine house and clothes and jewels; the women who marry to get out of a tiresome job, or to get away from disagreeable relatives, or to avoid being called an old maid — these are whores in everything but name. The only difference between them and my girls is that my girls gave a man his money's worth."