It’s been widely reported that Gates had flown on Epstein’s plane at least once, and visited his home multiple times — but the depth of their relationship is not fully known, and more details are emerging. The media is rife with speculation that one cause of Gates’ recent divorce from his wife Melinda was his relationship with Epstein.
When asked about how they met, a spokesperson for the Gates Foundation told me that many people encouraged Gates to meet with Epstein, suggesting that Epstein would help bring funds into the software entrepreneur’s famed philanthropic organization.
In 2019, Gates was quoted as saying, at the New York Times DealBook conference, “I made a mistake in judgment in that I thought those discussions would lead literally to billions of dollars going to global health. Turned out that was a bad judgment, that was a mirage.” He also admitted, “I gave him some benefit by the association.”
So, here’s what I know from my reporting that takes this story further.
In Bill Gates’ case, one conduit to him was a protégé of Epstein’s: Her name is Melanie S. Walker.
Walker is a neuroscientist and neurosurgeon who became a top adviser to Gates at his Foundation and after that, became a senior adviser at the World Bank. The Gates Foundation placed her at the international financial institution in a somewhat-common arrangement called a secondment. What that means is the Foundation paid her salary — even though she was working for the World Bank.
She found herself in such echelons in an intriguing way: Walker came from a working class family in Texas; as she reached adulthood, she was beautiful and bright. Having finished her undergraduate studies at the University of Texas, she was on a sightseeing trip to New York in 1992. She was having tea in the main dining room of the Plaza Hotel when Jeffrey Epstein approached, because, says a source with knowledge, he thought she was attractive. With him was Donald Trump, who was busy shaking hands with people in the room. (Trump was then the Plaza’s owner.) Trump also introduced himself to Walker.
Epstein then became a mentor to Walker. Walker told the Times that Epstein offered her a modeling opportunity — but the person familiar says Epstein told her not to go into modeling, and he encouraged her to finish medical school, which she did.
From 1992 to 2000, the time period when she went to medical school in Texas, records show that she listed an address in a New York apartment building that Epstein owned. This was a place she could use for occasional meetings in New York, according to the person familiar with her. But, this person says, she didn’t live there.
According to a source with knowledge, in 1998, while she was pursuing a post-doctoral study at Cal Tech, Epstein hired her as his “Science Advisor.” She would later tell people who then spoke to me, that she felt a deep gratitude toward Epstein, both for his advice and for the job.
A source who was friendly with Epstein then recalls her role as providing Epstein with introductions to interesting faculty members at Cal Tech and elsewhere — people whose work he might be interested in funding. This person recalls meeting her at a dinner at Epstein’s house in New York. Her relationship with Epstein seemed only professional to this observer.
Around the same time, she and Prince Andrew became close friends. But not through Epstein, at least according to a source with knowledge. The story goes, according to that source, that Walker received a spare ticket to a Broadway show from a different friend and sat next to Prince Andrew.
In the early 2000s, she found herself in Seattle, and for the first time, the orbit of Bill Gates — this was after she moved in with an executive at Microsoft. His name is Steven Sinofsky. According to an eyewitness, Sinofsky brought Walker to Microsoft events, and at a company barbecue, she met the Microsoft founder.
In 2006, she was hired by the Gates Foundation, partly so she would stay in Seattle along with Sinofsky, says a person familiar. A separate source says during this time Walker talked highly about Epstein.
Meanwhile, two other people close to Gates and to Walker — the physician Boris Nikolic and the scientist Nathan Myhrvold — had also met Epstein and also talked up Epsein to Gates, says this source. In 2010 Gates announced the Giving Pledge: a commitment by the world’s richest individuals and families to give away the majority of their wealth – and he wanted to connect with as many of these types of people as possible.
At this time some of the people at the Gates Foundation had gotten the impression from Epstein that he was a billionaire and therefore a potential contributor to the Giving Pledge and that his time in prison in 2009 was mostly undeserved. Epstein had told them that he simply caught a bad rap for an experience with women who had lied about their age.
Sources say Nikolic was impressed with Epstein’s ideas for fundraising, as was Gates, who met Epstein in early 2011 at a dinner, according to the New York Times. Sources say Gates wasn’t aware that Epstein did not have the sort of money he claimed to have, until much later.
Gates and Epstein worked together on a global health fund. Everything went well — until, according to the New York Times’ description of a pitch document, Epstein asked a cut of any donations that he had helped facilitate from high-net-worth individuals. Gates and the people around him never finalized the plans because, according to someone with knowledge, once the lawyers looked at it, all sorts of warning bells went off. This may have been a factor in Gates ultimately dropping Epstein.
But, Epstein apparently wasn’t so easy to shake off. Sources describe him like a mollusk at elite global philanthropic gatherings — to which he wasn’t invited.
Nikolic would subsequently run into Epstein a few times a year — either at Davos World Economic Forum, which Epstein wouldn’t attend but rented a chalet nearby; or at Ted conferences, where he was also wouldn’t enter, but where Epstein, regardless, set up camp; or at Harvard, where Nikolic worked. The encounters, according to the source, were brief and pleasant.
Nothing materialized from his outreach to Gates; sources say Epstein made a final “fuck you” to Gates two days before he died. At this moment, he appointed Nikolic as a substitute executor of his will. Nikolic says he had had no meaningful contact with Epstein for years — so, the move could have been designed to shine a light on the Gates/Epstein relationship, with the full knowledge that it could be extraordinarily damaging to Gates’ reputation. I reached out to Nikolic who told me in an email exchange he had fainted at his mother’s wake when heard of his appointment and that “it was absolutely a retaliatory move”.
He added: “Over the past few years, we have all learned that Epstein was a master deceiver. I now see that his philanthropic proposals were designed to ingratiate himself with my colleagues and me in an attempt to further his own social and financial ambitions. When he failed to achieve his goals, he started to retaliate.” Nikolic sought legal advice and declined his executor duties.
Walker, meanwhile, has got on with her work as a neurosurgeon, and Gates, as we know, has gotten divorced. But the story serves as a warning perhaps that one should assume that the world of philanthropy is every bit as susceptible to high-flying power-plays as the for-profit world — and that a determined crook like Jeffrey Epstein can get a lot of undeserved credibility by associating with distinguished people on the inside.
Vicky Ward is the host of audible.com/ghislaine Chasing Ghislaine, an Audible Original podcast, executive-produced by James Patterson, released on July 15th.