Former Ohio State wrestlers support Jeffrey Epstein accuser

The ex-wrestlers who say they were abused by Dr. Richard Strauss support Epstein accuser Maria Farmer.
Image: A protester holds up a placard with a photo of Jeffrey Epstein in front of the federal courthouse
A protester holds up a photo of Jeffrey Epstein in front of the federal courthouse on July 8, 2019 in New York.Stephanie Keith / Getty Images file

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By Corky Siemaszko

Five former Ohio State University wrestlers who accused their alma mater of failing to protect them from Dr. Richard Strauss are pushing local authorities to investigate the reported rape of a woman by another sexual predator — Jeffrey Epstein.

The quintet formally asked Ohio State and federal officials to probe allegations by New York City artist Maria Farmer that she was sexually assaulted by Epstein in 1996 at a property they say was “owned and secured” by two of OSU’s biggest and best-known benefactors, Abigail and Leslie Wexner.

“We are all victims of the sexual assaults committed by Dr. Richard Strauss while varsity athletes at Ohio State University and victims of Ohio State’s multi-decade coverup of that abuse,” the wrestlers wrote in a letter dated Thursday. “The allegations raised by Ms. Farmer are terrifying and bear directly on our own fight for justice.”

Holly Hollingsworth, a spokeswoman for Ohio Attorney General David Yost, said they will review the letter “and determine an appropriate course of action.”

“This office takes all allegations of sexual assault seriously,” Hollingsworth said in an email. “In Ohio, primary criminal jurisdiction rests with local prosecutors and police agencies — the Attorney General only has authority over such matters when invited in by local authorities.”

U.S. Attorney David Devillers was also sent a letter. “The U.S. Attorney’s Office cannot confirm, deny or discuss any potential investigations,” spokeswoman Jennifer Thornton said in an email.

The letters to Yost and DeVillers were sent almost a month after Farmer filed a complaint in New York City federal court alleging that she was “violently sexually assaulted” by Epstein and his “co-conspirator” Ghislaine Maxwell “while she was working on an art project at Epstein’s guest house on Les Wexner’s Ohio estate.”

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Farmer’s complaint said she called the local police for help after the alleged attack but they did not respond.A spokesman for the local sheriff's office told the Washington Post they had no record of Farmer calling them because they are automatically expunged if they are more than two years old.

She said in her suit that Wexner’s security team discouraged her from leaving the property for 12 hours and only relented when her father arrived from Kentucky to rescue her.

In a subsequent interview with the Washington Post, Farmer said that during her two-month stay she never met the Wexners, but she had to get permission from Abigail Wexner by calling her at the main house any time she wanted to leave the property.

In their letter, the wrestlers contend Farmer had been “held captive by the Wexners” and noted that Abigail Wexner sits on Ohio State’s board of trustees.

“It defies comprehension that Mrs. Wexner is still on the Board of Trustees given the credible allegations of her complicity in keeping Ms. Farmer captive for Jeffrey Epstein in 1996, while, at the same time, Ohio State grapples with how to atone for its complicity in allowing a monster to prey on its students for nearly two decades,” the letter states. “Simply put, given the allegations, it appears Mrs. Wexner is as guilty as Ohio State was in facilitating the crimes of a serial sexual predator.”

Farmer told NBC News on Friday that, "I will be forever grateful that these courageous men took a stand for me in our shared fight against sexual abuse."

In response, a Wexner family spokesman released this statement:

“Mr. and Mrs. Wexner have condemned Jeffrey Epstein’s abhorrent behavior in the strongest possible terms and severed all ties with him more than a decade ago. Prior to the recent news coverage of Ms. Farmer, Mr. and Mrs. Wexner had no knowledge of her, never met her, never spoke with her, and never spoke with Mr. Epstein or anyone else about her.”

The spokesman also insisted the house where Farmer says she was assaulted "is not a Wexner guest house, was not on land owned by the Wexners, and was nearly one half mile away from the Wexner home.”

Epstein was the primary investor and money manager for Leslie Wexner, the founder of Limited Brands, which is now called L Brands Inc. and owns Victoria’s Secret, PINK and Bath & Body Works. Their relationship was close that the mogul gave Epstein power of attorney and made him a trustee of the Wexner Foundation.

In September, Leslie Wexner condemned Epstein’s crimes as “abhorrent” and claimed he was used. He said he severed ties with Epstein in 2007 after allegations that he was trafficking in and sexually abusing young women first emerged. A year later, Epstein pleaded guilty in Florida to state charges of procuring a person under 18 for prostitution and felony solicitation of prostitution.

“Being taken advantage of by someone who is…so depraved is something I’m embarrassed I’m even close to,” Wexner said. “In the present, everyone has to feel enormous regret for the advantage that was taken of so many young women.”

Epstein was found dead in August in his federal jail cell in Manhattan. Strauss died in 2005. Both deaths were ruled suicides.

Currently, Ohio State is grappling with a series of lawsuits filed by around 350 men who contend that the university did not protect them from Strauss, who was a staff physician at the school from 1978 to 1998. Those include the wrestlers who sent the letter.

The legal barrage accelerated after a report prepared for Ohio State by the independent law firm Perkins Coie, which was released in May, said that what Strauss was doing to male athletes and students was an “open secret” and that coaches and administrators failed to sound the alarm or stop him. In the majority of cases, Strauss used the excuse of giving physicals or medical treatment to sexually abuse the young men.

The former OSU wrestlers who signed the letter were Dunyasha Yetts, Mark Coleman, William Knight, Eric Smith and Mike Rodriguez.