The Gateses announced their plans to divorce last week after "a great deal of thought and a lot of work" on their 27-year marriage, spurring rumors of what caused the pair to split.
People familiar with the couple’s divorce proceedings and a former employee of their charity, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, told The Wall Street Journal that Melinda was supposedly concerned with her soon-to-be ex-husband's relationship with Epstein, a disgraced financier and convicted sex offender, in the years leading up to the divorce.
Those familiar with the matter said Melinda’s concerns regarding Epstein, who was convicted of soliciting an underage prostitute in 2008, dated back as far as 2013 when the couple first met Epstein together.
Other reports suggest that Bill Gates' ties may date back earlier than 2013. Gates reportedly met with Epstein multiple times in 2011 — just three years after his first conviction — including at least three meetings in Manhattan at Epstein's townhouse, The New York Times reported in 2019, citing interviews with more than a dozen people familiar with the relationship and documents.
Epstein, who was awaiting trial on federal sex-trafficking charges involving underage girls, was discovered dead by suicide in his cell on Aug. 10, 2019.
The financier and billionaire tech entrepreneur reportedly discussed a philanthropic partnership through the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and JPMorgan, which, at the time, were creating the Global Health Investment Fund, the Times reported. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, with an endowment of nearly $50 billion, donates about $5 billion annually to causes around the world.
"His lifestyle is very different and kind of intriguing although it would not work for me," Gates said in a 2011 email to colleagues, according to The Times.
A spokeswoman for Gates told the outlet at the time that the billionaire "was referring only to the unique décor of the Epstein residence — and Epstein’s habit of spontaneously bringing acquaintances in to meet Mr. Gates," adding that "it was in no way meant to convey a sense of interest or approval."
"Bill Gates regrets ever meeting with Epstein and recognizes it was an error in judgment to do so," the spokesperson told the Times. "Gates recognizes that entertaining Epstein’s ideas related to philanthropy gave Epstein an undeserved platform that was at odds with Gates’s personal values and the values of his foundation."
Epstein, meanwhile, described Gates as "great" in at least one email reviewed by the Times.
Sources told the Journal that Melinda told her husband she was uncomfortable with Epstein after the couple met him in 2013, but Bill reportedly continued a relationship with Epstein, despite her concerns. Gates reportedly flew on the financier's private plane in 2013 from Teterboro Airport in New Jersey to Palm Beach, Florida, where Epstein had a house that played a large role in his alleged sex-trafficking ring, according to prosecutors.
Gates' relationship with Epstein appeared to simmer around 2014, though two Gates Foundation employees kept a relationship with the financier until about 2017, the Times reported.
The Gateses’ divorce, which the couple announced last week, had been in the works since at least 2019, according to documents reviewed by the Journal.
Bill previously played down his relationship with Epstein, telling The Journal in 2019 that he had met him but "didn’t have any business relationship or friendship with him."
Court documents obtained by People magazine showed that Melinda filed for divorce and stated in the petition that their marriage was "irretrievably broken." The documents also revealed that the Gateses don’t have a prenuptial agreement in place, but will divide their assets according to a separation agreement.
Fox News' Bradford Betz, Stephanie Nolasco and The Associated Press contributed to this report.