MIT review of Epstein donations finds “significant mistakes of judgment”

Massachusetts Institute of Technology suspends professor who accepted research funding from sex offender Jeffrey Epstein.

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Massachusetts Institute of Technology campus

MIT's executive committee commissioned a review in August 2019 of Jeffrey Epstein's donations to the university.Credit: Yiming Chen/Getty

Sex offender and alleged sex trafficker Jeffrey Epstein donated US$850,000 to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) between 2002 and 2017, and visited the prominent US university at least nine times.

Those are the findings of a lengthy investigation of Epstein’s interactions with MIT, conducted by international law firm Goodwin Procter and commissioned by university leaders. MIT released the report on 10 January.

MIT president Rafael Reif did not know that the university was accepting money from Epstein while it was taking place, the report concluded, but three senior administrators knew about the donations and drew up an “informal framework” in 2013 to accept money from Epstein, fully aware of his criminal record.

In 2008, Epstein pleaded guilty in Florida to two felony charges of soliciting a minor for prostitution. He served more than a year in prison.

Epstein visited the campus, in Cambridge, at least nine times between 2013 and 2017, the report stated, but the “central administration” was not aware that these visits took place.

“We find that no Senior Team member violated any law, breached any MIT policy, or acted in pursuit of personal gain in connection with Epstein’s donations,” the report states. “Certain Senior Team members, however, made significant mistakes of judgment in deciding to accept Epstein’s post-conviction donations.”

Donation details

Epstein’s first donation to MIT, in 2002, was $100,000 to Marvin Minsky, an artificial-intelligence pioneer at the MIT Media Lab who died in 2016. Epstein himself died by suicide in August 2019 in a New York City jail. He was awaiting trial in federal court on charges of running a sex-trafficking ring of underage girls.

The bulk of Epstein’s donations to MIT — $750,000 of the $850,000 — occurred after his 2008 guilty plea, and went to the MIT Media Lab and mechanical engineering professor Seth Lloyd. The report found that former Media Lab director Joi Ito, who resigned in September, and Lloyd were key to maintaining the relationship with Epstein.

“We find that the post-conviction donations to MIT were driven either by former Media Lab Director Joi Ito or by Professor Lloyd, not by MIT’s central administration (including its central fundraising group, the Office of Resource Development),” the report stated.

Lloyd received $225,000 in research funding from Epstein, and an additional $60,000 as a personal gift. The report stated that Lloyd “purposefully failed to inform MIT” that Epstein was funding his work. Lloyd, who has tenure, has been placed on paid administrative leave, the university said.

“Just heard myself and so can't comment right now,” Lloyd told Nature. Ito has not yet responded to a request for comment on the report.

MIT’s executive committee said in a statement that it was “disappointed by the errors in judgment in accepting donations from Epstein and in keeping them secret”. The group added: “The fact that Epstein — a convicted felon and a registered Level 3 sex offender — was allowed to visit the MIT campus at least nine times between 2013 and 2017 without, at a minimum, anyone alerting campus police or putting in place measures to protect the MIT community is completely unacceptable.”

The report was informed by 73 interviews of 59 people and more than 610,000 documents and e-mails, according to Goodwin Procter. MIT still does not have a formal policy for accepting donations from controversial sources, the report said.

doi: 10.1038/d41586-020-00072-x

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