Today, MIT released a 63-page fact-finding report detailing the institute’s involvement with convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein. MIT says that the report focused on visits that Epstein made to campus and 10 donations made by Epstein between 2002 and 2017, totaling $850,000. Nine of the donations, totaling $750,000, were made after 2008 when Epstein pleaded guilty to solicitation of prostitution with a minor.
The report, prepared by the law firm Goodwin Procter, found that while the president of MIT, L. Rafael Reif, was not involved in accepting the money, several prominent members of the MIT community were, including three vice presidents. The report found that all donations made after Epstein’s 2008 conviction went to either MIT’s Media Lab or to engineering professor Seth Lloyd. Lloyd’s lab received two $50,000 donations from Epstein in 2012 and $125,000 in 2017. In addition, Lloyd received a gift of $60,000 from Epstein that went straight into his personal bank account and is not being counted in the totals.
Lloyd and Epstein met in 2004, and were connected by Lloyd’s book agent, and the report notes that the two remained friends after Epstein’s conviction in 2008. The report also found that the two $50,000 donations to Lloyd in 2012 were made to test the waters at MIT. “Specifically, Epstein was disappointed that other academic institutions would not accept his money following his 2008 conviction, and, as Epstein put it (using a fishing metaphor) in an email to Professor Lloyd, “im going to give you two 50k tranches to see if the line jingles,” the report says. In 2016, Lloyd asked Epstein for more money, and received $125,000 in 2017.
Lloyd was just placed on paid administrative leave by the institute in the wake of this new report.
The head of MIT’s famed Media Lab, Joi Ito, was introduced to Epstein in 2013 at a TED conference. Ito told investigators that he Googled Epstein after meeting him, and consulted with various influential people to take Epstein’s measure. According to the report, those people included “Nicholas Negroponte, Media Lab co-founder and Professor Post-Tenure of Media Arts and Sciences; members of the Media Lab Advisory Council; tech billionaires, including a former LinkedIn senior executive and co-founder; and a well-known Harvard Law School professor.”
In response to a query from Ito noting Epstein’s “tainted past,” Negroponte wrote back in an email “I know him quite well. The person who is his closest friend is Marvin Minsky, who even visited him in jail. I would take Berlusconi’s money, so why not Jeff.” The report notes that by this time “Berlusconi, the former Prime Minister of Italy, had been accused of hiring underaged prostitutes and dating underaged girls.” Marvin Minsky was posthumously accused of having sex with a trafficking victim on Epstein’s private island.
Meanwhile, the report notes, “Whatever the reason, following his due diligence, and despite acknowledging the concerns expressed by Media Lab staff and others, Ito came to Epstein’s defense.” Ito continued to accept money from Epstein and helped to arrange multiple visits of Epstein to campus. Between 2013 and 2017 Epstein visited MIT nine times, mostly visiting the Media Lab.
The report found that “It appears that Ito was aware of the risks posed by Epstein’s visits to MIT’s campus.” It calls attention to one instance in 2013 when Ito and another professor were discussing having Woody Allen and Epstein visit campus. From the report:
Ito then emailed Epstein to relay the concern, commenting that “[s]ince you two were just in the news recently, I wonder if that might be bad.” The reference to Epstein and Allen being “in the news recently” is likely a reference to a September 24, 2013, New York Post story, “Woody Allen pals around with child-sex creep,” that was picked up by several other outlets.
Ito resigned in September after news of the donations broke.
The report also found that MIT had no policies in place at the time to deal with “controversial donors.” Instead, senior MIT officials decided that Ito and Lloyd could keep Epstein’s money if it was donated anonymously, was in relatively small amounts, and wasn’t restricted. Even if accepting the donations couldn’t technically be considered a policy violation at the time — because they didn’t exist — the report notes that “it is clear that the decision was the result of collective and significant errors in judgment that resulted in serious damage to the MIT community.”
After Epstein’s arrest in 2019 on sex trafficking charges, his connections with public figures came under scrutiny, as did his financial donations to research institutes like MIT. Epstein styled himself as a science philanthropist, cultivating ties with many prominent researchers, including several at MIT. Another MIT researcher, computer scientist Richard Stallman, resigned in September 2019 after making comments about Epstein’s victims.
The report took four months to put together and involved interviews with 59 people and analyses of 610,000 emails and documents. Overall, it found that in the absence of any formal policy on controversial donors like Epstein, the senior officials at MIT acted on their own, exposing some serious gaps in judgement. The report found that while they considered the public relations nightmare that might happen if donations were made public, “they did not appropriately take into account the significant damage to the MIT community, particularly victims of sexual assault and abuse, from allowing Epstein to associate himself with MIT.” It concludes: “As MIT considers what policies to adopt going forward, it should be sure to account for this crucial factor.”
Read the full report here: