Disgraced financier and convicted paedophile Jeffrey Epstein donated $850,000 (£650k) to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, per a university investigation that has found ex-MIT Media Lab director Joichi Ito and mechanical engineering professor Seth Lloyd solicited the contributions.
Epstein died in a New York prison cell in August 2019 while awaiting trial on federal sex trafficking charges stemming from accounts that he abused and trafficked dozens of minors in Florida and New York. His death was ruled a suicide by New York’s chief medical examiner, though Epstein’s status as a member of the jet-set crowd who socialised with everyone from high-profile scientists to Microsoft founder Bill Gates as well as unanswered questions about his demise have fuelled conspiracy theories.
Ito resigned from the MIT Media Lab in September 2019 after his extensive financial ties to Epstein were revealed, including $850,000 (£650k) in lab funding and $1.2 million (£918k) for his personal investment fund. By that point, Epstein’s 2008 conviction in Florida on charges of procuring a minor for prostitution and subsequent sweetheart plea deal with prosecutors to escape serious consequences was a matter of public record.
The report also names Lloyd, a quantum computing expert whose deep relationship with Epstein (including visiting him in prison during his first conviction) compelled some MIT students to call for his firing. Another MIT professor, computing scientist Richard Stallman, resigned after he wrote in emails that one of Epstein’s victims, a woman who said she was forced to sleep with AI pioneer Marvin Minsky on a private estate in the U.S. Virgin Islands, must have consented willingly.
According to the Washington Post, counsel for law firms Goodwin Procter and Paul Weiss Rifkind Wharton & Garrison that carried out the investigation found that MIT President L. Rafael Reif was unaware that the university was accepting money from a known sex offender. But they also confirmed prior reports that in 2013, top officials were involved in creating a framework for the donations to be processed as coming from an anonymous source, supposedly preventing him from using the donations to rehabilitate his reputation. But in reality, accepting Epstein’s money contributed to the false public veneer of respectability and credibility that helped him avoid being recognised as a sexual predator – or created a pretense for those aware of his history to ignore it.
Ito discussed whether to accept Epstein’s donations with Media Lab founder Nicholas Negroponte, who wrote in emails that he knew the financier well and “would take [former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s] money, so why not Jeff.” The report also found that Lloyd received donations he did not report to university staff; he’s since been put on leave, MIT told the Post. Lloyd accepted $60,000 (£46k) dollars from Epstein before the 2008 conviction not in the form of a donation, but by simply pocketing the check into his personal bank account.
In 2012, the report found, Lloyd accepted two $50,000 (£38k) donations in 2012, one of which the report found was intended to test whether MIT would still take Epstein’s cash and was recorded under an assumed identity. Epstein also gave Lloyd $125,000 (£95.6k) for a “sabbatical” in 2017.
According to prior reporting by the New Yorker, Epstein also was credited with directing or otherwise securing $7.5 million (£5.7 million) in the donations to the lab, including $2 million (£1.5 million) from Gates and $5.5 million (£4.2 million) from investor Leon Black. Gates, who tried to distance himself as far as possible from Epstein, has since conceded meeting with the financier was a mistake but told the New York Times through a spokesperson there “was no intention, nor explicit ask, for the funding to be controlled in any manner by Epstein.”
Epstein’s 2019 arrest on federal charges also led to the resignation of Secretary of Labor Alexander Acosta, who in his prior occupation as a prosecutor in Florida handled the 2008 plea deal.
“This moment stands as a sharp reminder of human fallibility and its consequences,” Reif wrote in a statement on the university website. “... That it was possible for Epstein to have so many opportunities to interact with members of our community is distressing and unacceptable; I cannot imagine how painful it must be for survivors of sexual assault and abuse. Clearly, we must establish policy guardrails to prevent this from happening again.”