- (Photo by Joe Schildhorn/Patrick McMullan via Getty Images)
- These billionaires were involved in some of the most talked about scandals of the decade.
- Elizabeth Holmes’ net worth plummeted from $4.5 billion to $0 after it emerged her blood-testing company was being investigated by federal agencies.
- Billionaire financier Jeffrey Epstein was facing sex trafficking charges when he died at a Manhattan jail.
- While some billionaires emerged unscathed after paying hefty fines or reaching settlements, others have never recovered.
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The saying goes that the bigger you are, the harder you fall.
These billionaires all experienced public scrutiny and the impact of a widely known scandal – brought on by personal issues, business-related turmoil, or even federal crimes.
From the highly publicized Jeffrey Epstein scandal to the demise of notorious Ponzi schemer Allen Stanford, here are 13 of the wildest billionaire scandals that defined the 2010s.
In 2011, George Soros’ 28-year-old girlfriend sued him for $50 million, saying he refused to buy her an apartment. At the time, he was 80 years old.
- Getty Images / Andia / Contributor
Adriana Ferreyr sued the billionaire for emotional distress, claiming he’d reneged on his promise to buy her a multimillion-dollar apartment. According to Ferreyr, Soros promised to buy her a “dream apartment” on New York’s Upper East Side, worth $1,995,000, only to give it to another girlfriend.
A judge threw out her lawsuit in 2015.
In 2012, Allen Stanford was convicted and given a 110-year sentence in federal prison for running the second-largest Ponzi scheme in US history.
According to CNBC, many of Stanford’s victims were retirees who were promised “safe investments,” making this case of investor fraud even more nefarious. Stanford conned more than 18,000 people out of their money. The scheme – second in size only to Bernie Madoff’s – culminated in investor losses totaling $7 billion, and many of Stanford’s victims have yet to be returned any of the money they lost.
Chick-fil-A president, chairman, and CEO Dan Cathy, son of the chain’s founder Truett Cathy, came under fire by LGBTQIA activists in 2012 after voicing support for “traditional marriage.”
- Cyrus McCrimmon/The Denver Post/Getty Images
While Chick-fil-A is perhaps best known for its crispy chicken sandwiches, the company is also known for its controversies surrounding LGBTQIA+ rights. Chick-fil-A and its president Dan Cathy, whose current net worth is $5.2 billion, were scandalized after the company revealed its support for Christian organizations such as Fellowship of Christian Athletes, the Salvation Army, and the Paul Anderson Youth Home, which have all held “anti-gay” beliefs over the years.
In 2012, Cathy gave an interview to the Baptist Press in which he said he believed in the “biblical definition of the family unit,” that is, that marriage should only be between a man and a woman. Backlash ensued, and while Cathy claimed it was his own personal religious belief and that the company did not have an “anti-gay agenda,” activists went as far as to boycott the chain.
The chain has since stopped donating to these organizations, choosing instead to donate to “education, homelessness, and hunger.”
French luxury fashion tycoon Francois-Henri Pinault became embroiled in a child support scandal with his ex-girlfriend, Linda Evangelista, in 2012.
- DAMIEN MEYER / Staff / Getty Images
Francois-Henri Pinault, the fashion magnate, owner of PPR, and second-richest person in France, landed in hot water in 2012 when his ex-girlfriend, supermodel Linda Evangelista, demanded child support she said she never received. The couple briefly dated and their son, Augustin, was born in 2007. According to court proceedings, Evangelista sought $46,000 a month from Pinault in order to cover the costs for caring for Augustin, which included his education, security, and a full-time nanny.
The pair later reached an amicable settlement but the details were not made public.
In 2013, billionaire Jacqueline Mars’ car struck another vehicle, killing a woman and an unborn baby.
Jacqueline Mars, the heiress to the Mars candy fortune and company co-owner, was involved in a 2013 car accident that killed a woman and an unborn child. The Washington Post reported that, according to authorities, Mars had told a witness at the scene of the accident that she had fallen asleep while driving.
The victims in the accident were identified as 86-year-old grandmother Irene Ellisor, who was sitting in the backseat, and the unborn child of Ashley Acker Blakeslee, the driver of the Chrysler minivan struck by Mars’ Porsche SUV. Five other passengers were treated at the hospital.
At the time, Mars was the second-richest woman in the US with a net worth of $20.5 billion – her net worth currently sits at $30.2 billion. She pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor reckless driving charge, resulting in a six-month suspension of her driver’s license and a $2,500 fine.
The Acker family said they never wished for Mars to spend time behind bars for the accident.
“We have only forgiveness in our hearts for her,” Sharon Acker, Ashley Blakeslee’s mother, said in a court statement. “My husband and I would like to say thank you to Mrs. Mars for her kindness thus far and hope in time that she, too, will find peace.”
Once Brazil’s richest man with a net worth of $30 billion, Eike Batista lost the majority of his wealth when his oil company, OGX, went bankrupt in 2013.
- REUTERS/Paulo Whitaker
In 2012, Batista was worth an estimated $30 billion, making him the seventh-richest man in the world.
But when Batista’s oil company failed to meet demands, and Brazil’s economy slid into a decline, the billionaire filed for bankruptcy in 2013. After authorities began investigating why Brazil’s top companies had declined so quickly, they charged Batista with money laundering and corruption in January 2017. In July 2018, he was sentenced to 30 years in prison for bribing former Rio de Janeiro Governor Sergio Cabral.
Italian media billionaire and former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi was charged and found guilty of soliciting sex from an underage sex worker in 2013.
- REUTERS/Alessandro Bianchi
The three-time Italian prime minister was charged with paying for sex with a sex worker who, at the time, was 17. He was also charged with abusing his office to release the teenager from jail at the time. The charges were later overturned after an appeals process.
However, scandal continued to follow the billionaire. In 2013, Berlusconi was convicted of tax fraud and sentenced to four years in prison, given a hefty fine, and barred from running for public office. However, he managed to evade jail time and his ban from public office was overturned prior to its expiration in 2019 after a Milan court found him “rehabilitated.”
Elizabeth Holmes fell from grace after it emerged that her medical start-up, Theranos, wasn’t everything it claimed to be.
Elizabeth Holmes was once lauded as a star on the rise in Silicon Valley. Her blood-testing startup, Theranos, gained attention in the early 2000s as an exciting investment opportunity promising to revolutionize the way patients are tested and treated for various diseases and illnesses. By the end of 2004, the company had raised roughly $6 million from private investors, some of whom had personal connections to Holmes. By 2015, she topped Forbes’ list of America’s self-made women with a net worth of $4.5 billion
However, after concerns about the validity of Theranos’ technology was raised to the FDA, things began to turn sour for the rising company.
By November 2015, Theranos had lost its two major partnerships with Safeway and Walgreens. In 2016, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services concluded Theranos’ testing might pose a safety risk to patients. After multiple lawsuits, layoffs, and a federal allegation that Holmes had conducted “massive fraud,” Theranos closed its doors in September 2018, narrowly avoiding bankruptcy. Holmes and her partner, Sunny Balwani, were charged with wire fraud by the Department of Justice, with the trial set to begin in August 2020. They have both pleaded not guilty.
Forbes lists Holmes’ personal net worth at $0.
Henry T. Nicholas III, the co-founder of Broadcom, was accused of drug trafficking and drug possession in 2018.
- REUTERS/Danny Moloshok
Henry T. Nicholas III and co-defendant Ashley Christine Fargo were both spared jail time after entering into a plea deal over two felony drug possession charges filed in 2018. Five charges of drug trafficking were also dropped.
According to the LA Times, Nicholas called resort security officers after he was locked out of a room at a Las Vegas Strip hotel room. After breaking into the room, officers said they found Fargo “unresponsive” after reportedly inhaling nitrous oxide or “laughing gas,” which is legal. Suitcases found in the room contained drugs, but the defendants argued that there was no way to prove they belonged to either Nicholas or Fargo as people had entered and left the hotel room several times over the days between Fargo and Nicholas’ arrival.
Kylie Jenner was named the youngest “self-made” billionaire by Forbes in 2018, but critics had a problem with calling the already-famous beauty entrepreneur “self-made.”
Forbes faced backlash after featuring newly minted billionaire Kylie Jenner on its cover and referring to her as “self-made.” Critics claimed that without Jenner’s prior success on “Keeping Up With the Kardashians” and online social platforms, as well as the help of her mother and manager Kris Jenner, she would not have been able to make such a jaw-dropping profit from her makeup line, Kylie Cosmetics.
In an interview with The New York Times, Jenner admitted she was not completely “self-made” in that she didn’t accomplish everything on her own, but that by definition she was.
“If they’re just talking finances, technically, yes, I don’t have any inherited money,” she said. “But I have had a lot of help and a huge platform.”
Elon Musk has had a number of controversies over the years, including being charged with fraud by the SEC in 2018.
- Getty Images
Not only did Elon Musk smoke marijuana on camera in the last decade, but the Tesla and SpaceX founder also found himself in hot water when the SEC charged him with fraud in September 2018. He had claimed on Twitter he was considering taking Tesla private and that he had “funding secured,” causing shares of the automaker to fall more than 13%.
The billionaire settled the case for $40 million in fines and stepped down as chairman while retaining his position as CEO.
The SEC also filed a complaint in May 2019 after they claimed Musk had violated his securities fraud settlement after providing “inaccurate information about Tesla to 25 million people” on Twitter. The billionaire had tweeted out that Tesla would be manufacturing “around 500,000” cars in 2019 – which went against Tesla’s own predictions for 2019.
Mark Zuckerberg faced criticism after 2018 comments about Holocaust deniers’ posts on Facebook, as well as the social network’s mishandling of user data in the Cambridge Analytica scandal.
- Aaron P. Bernstein/Reuters
Facebook, as well as its CEO Mark Zuckerberg, have both come under fire in the last couple of years over user security concerns and fact-checking on the social media platform. Zuckerberg was criticized in July 2018 after the CEO said he didn’t think Facebook should take down posts from Holocaust deniers because he didn’t think they were “intentionally getting it wrong.” After receiving outrage over his comments, Zuckerberg clarified saying, “I personally find Holocaust denial deeply offensive, and I absolutely didn’t intend to defend the intent of people who deny that.”
Zuckerberg was also scandalized when Facebook was fined $5 billion by the FTC after the social network was found guilty of mishandling user data. It is the largest penalty fine to ever be handed down to a technology company.
Billionaire Jeffrey Epstein’s sex trafficking charges and subsequent death by suicide in jail made international headlines in 2019.
The case of Jeffrey Epstein captured – and continues to enthrall – the nation in 2019. Billionaire financier Epstein was arrested in July 2019 in New York City on suspicion of sex trafficking underage girls in the 2000s. The billionaire had previously evaded charges for child sexual abuse in 2007 after cutting a “secret deal” with then-US Attorney Acosta. Epstein was granted immunity from federal prosecution but pleaded guilty to solicitation of prostitution and the procurement of minors for prostitution.
He served a 13-month jail sentence. However, according to The New York Times, the financier was reportedly allowed to work from his Palm Beach office six days a week.
As accusers spoke out against Epstein, the billionaire’s high-profile connections to President Donald Trump, former President Bill Clinton, and Prince Andrew were also scrutinized.
While being held at Manhattan’s Metropolitan Correctional Center over sex trafficking charges involving girls as young as 14-years-old, Epstein died by suicide on the morning of August 10.
The scandal, however, is far from over as prosecutors and victims try to discover who, if anyone, could have also been involved in the alleged scheme. The case against Epstein himself has been dismissed.
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