REPORT: ‘Needs to be anonymous’: Relationship with Jeffrey Epstein concealed by elite university research center
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The M.I.T. Media Lab, which has been embroiled in a scandal over accepting donations from the financier and convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein, had a deeper fund-raising relationship with Epstein than it has previously acknowledged, and it attempted to conceal the extent of its contacts with him. Dozens of pages of e-mails and other documents obtained by The New Yorker reveal that, although Epstein was listed as “disqualified” in M.I.T.’s official donor database, the Media Lab continued to accept gifts from him, consulted him about the use of the funds, and, by marking his contributions as anonymous, avoided disclosing their full extent, both publicly and within the university. Perhaps most notably, Epstein appeared to serve as an intermediary between the lab and other wealthy donors, soliciting millions of dollars in donations from individuals and organizations, including the technologist and philanthropist Bill Gates and the investor Leon Black. According to the records obtained by The New Yorker and accounts from current and former faculty and staff of the media lab, Epstein was credited with securing at least $7.5 million in donations for the lab, including two million dollars from Gates and $5.5 million from Black, gifts the e-mails describe as “directed” by Epstein or made at his behest. The effort to conceal the lab’s contact with Epstein was so widely known that some staff in the office of the lab’s director, Joi Ito, referred to Epstein as Voldemort or “he who must not be named.”
The financial entanglement revealed in the documents goes well beyond what has been described in public statements by M.I.T. and by Ito. The University has said that it received eight hundred thousand dollars from Epstein’s foundations, in the course of twenty years, and has apologized for accepting that amount. In a statement last month, M.I.T.’s president, L. Rafael Reif, wrote, “with hindsight, we recognize with shame and distress that we allowed MIT to contribute to the elevation of his reputation, which in turn served to distract from his horrifying acts. No apology can undo that.” Reif pledged to donate the funds to a charity to help victims of sexual abuse. On Wednesday, Ito disclosed that he had separately received $1.2 million from Epstein for investment funds under his control, in addition to five hundred and twenty-five thousand dollars that he acknowledged Epstein had donated to the lab. A spokesperson for M.I.T. said that the university “is looking at the facts surrounding Jeffrey Epstein’s gifts to the institute.”
The article goes on to state the following:
The documents and sources suggest that there was more to the story. They show that the lab was aware of Epstein’s history—in 2008, Epstein pleaded guilty to state charges of solicitation of prostitution and procurement of minors for prostitution—and of his disqualified status as a donor. They also show that Ito and other lab employees took numerous steps to keep Epstein’s name from being associated with the donations he made or solicited. On Ito’s calendar, which typically listed the full names of participants in meetings, Epstein was identified only by his initials. Epstein’s direct contributions to the lab were recorded as anonymous. In September, 2014, Ito wrote to Epstein soliciting a cash infusion to fund a certain researcher, asking, “Could you re-up/top-off with another $100K so we can extend his contract another year?” Epstein replied, “yes.” Forwarding the response to a member of his staff, Ito wrote, “Make sure this gets accounted for as anonymous.” Peter Cohen, the M.I.T. Media Lab’s Director of Development and Strategy at the time, reiterated, “Jeffrey money, needs to be anonymous. Thanks.”
MIT Media Lab received a total of $7.5 million from philanthropist Bill Gates and investor Leon Black, solicited by Epstein, according to the report.
“In reference to Gates’ $2 million gift, MIT Media Lab’s then-Director of Development and Strategy Peter Cohen directed staff to not mention Epstein’s connection to the donation,” the Washington Examiner reports. “‘For gift recording purposes, we will not be mentioning Jeffrey’s name as the impetus for this gift,’ Cohen said in an email.”
Farrow spoke to Signe Swenson, a former development associate and alumni coordinator at the lab, who told him the lab’s leadership said Epstein donations were to be kept a secret, explaining “we can take small gifts anonymously,” Fox News reports.
The university apologized for its relationship with Epstein. In a statement, MIT President L. Rafael Reif wrote the following:
Jeffrey Epstein and MIT
To the members of the MIT community,
I expect you know that the late Jeffrey Epstein cultivated relationships with and supplied funding to leading researchers at several institutions, including MIT.
I write to share some background on the gifts MIT received, to outline our next steps as an institution and to offer an apology.
Here are the core facts, as best as we can determine: Over the course of 20 years, MIT received approximately $800,000 via foundations controlled by Jeffrey Epstein. All of those gifts went either to the MIT Media Lab or to Professor Seth Lloyd. Both Seth and Media Lab Director Joi Ito have made public statements apologizing to Jeffrey Epstein’s victims and others for judgments made over a series of years.
However, I believe the situation also requires a broader and deeper institutional response.
MIT offers faculty great freedom in conducting and building support for their research; that freedom is and always will be a precious value of our community. Yet it is important to understand that faculty are not “on their own”; their decisions about gifts are always subject to longstanding Institute processes and principles. To my great regret, despite following the processes that have served MIT well for many years, in this instance we made a mistake of judgment.
In response, I have asked Provost Marty Schmidt to convene a group to examine the facts around the Epstein donations and identify any lessons for the future, to review our current processes and to advise me on appropriate ways we might improve them. And to any MIT faculty member who has questions or uncertainties about a funder: Please know that MIT has staff who can help you in gathering the facts and coming to an informed judgment. If you have questions now or in the future, I urge you to begin by reaching out to the Office of the Recording Secretary.
I know some members of our community are now struggling with the fact that they unknowingly or without full understanding accepted funding that came from Epstein, or worked in labs that received such support. Because the accusations against Jeffrey Epstein are so shocking, it can be difficult to maintain a fair understanding about what individuals at MIT could have been expected to know at the time, but I hope we can offer these members of our community the reassurance of our compassionate understanding.
Last and most importantly, to Jeffrey Epstein’s victims, on behalf of the MIT administration, I offer a profound and humble apology. With hindsight, we recognize with shame and distress that we allowed MIT to contribute to the elevation of his reputation, which in turn served to distract from his horrifying acts. No apology can undo that. In response, we will commit an amount equal to the funds MIT received from any Epstein foundation to an appropriate charity that benefits his victims or other victims of sexual abuse.
L. Rafael Reif
Ronan Farrow: M.I.T. Media Lab knew about Jeffrey Epstein’s sex abuse past, but accepted donations from him anyway https://t.co/knXZkgzSOK
— Newsweek (@Newsweek) September 7, 2019
BREAKING: New documents show that the M.I.T. Media Lab was aware of Epstein’s status as a convicted sex offender, and that Epstein directed contributions to the lab far exceeding the amounts M.I.T. has publicly admitted. https://t.co/PEKsFf9FVD
— Ryan Saavedra (@RealSaavedra) September 7, 2019
Documents obtained by The New Yorker reveal that the M.I.T. Media Lab had a deeper fund-raising relationship with Jeffrey Epstein than it has previously acknowledged, and it attempted to conceal the extent of its contacts with him. https://t.co/1PvXpybd0s
— The New Yorker (@NewYorker) September 7, 2019
.@ronanfarrow exclusive: The M.I.T. Media Lab had a deeper fund-raising relationship with Epstein than it has previously acknowledged, and it attempted to conceal the extent of its contacts with him. https://t.co/JM41Ec5XF2
— Michael Luo (@michaelluo) September 7, 2019
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