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MIT’s damning report on Jeffrey Epstein attempts to exonerate its president

Prepared by the law firm Goodwin Procter, it appears to absolve many of MIT’s top leaders, while revealing new information about Professor Seth Lloyd’s deep involvement with the convicted sex offender.

MIT’s damning report on Jeffrey Epstein attempts to exonerate its president
A protest group called “Hot Mess” holds up signs of Jeffrey Epstein in front of the federal courthouse on July 8, 2019, in New York City. [Photo: Stephanie Keith/Getty Images]

MIT president L. Rafael Reif apologized Friday as the institution released a report outlining the $850,000 in donations the institution received from convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein between 2012 and 2017. The report investigates the ties between the late financier and two of MIT’s luminaries, professor Seth Lloyd and Media Lab director Joi Ito, who has since resigned.

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The report revealed that Lloyd, along with “purposefully [failing] to inform MIT” about Epstein’s donations, told investigators he received a “personal gift of $60,000 from Epstein in or about 2005 or 2006 that was not known to, or recorded by, MIT” and put it in his personal bank account. Lloyd has been placed on paid administrative leave pending further investigation, MIT announced Friday.

Officials also announced steps MIT is taking to prevent another such donor relationship, which the school’s executive committee called “fundamentally incompatible with MIT’s values” in a statement Friday. The link to Epstein, which the report found Ito, Lloyd, and others took steps to keep under wraps, has previously led to calls for both Reif’s and Lloyd’s resignation. Most of the measures to prevent tainted donations are still works in progress, with concrete policies to be determined by a committee at a later date.

“I profoundly regret that decisions that sustained MIT’s ties to Jeffrey Epstein occurred on my watch and created so much pain and turmoil for the people of MIT; I feel a deep responsibility to repair what has been broken,” Reif said in a statement. “I also offer a heartfelt apology to the survivors of Jeffrey Epstein’s atrocious crimes, as well as to survivors of sexual assault and abuse in our own community.”

The report, prepared as part of an investigation by the prestigious law firm Goodwin Procter, appears to exonerate many members of MIT’s senior administration, including Reif, who signed a thank-you letter to Epstein in 2012. There was no evidence that Reif “had any knowledge that Epstein had a criminal record or was controversial in any way,” according to the report, which noted that Reif signed roughly 500 letters per year. Epstein’s donations included a total of $525,000 to support Ito and MIT’s Media Lab and $225,000 to support Lloyd.

“The report findings show that President Reif was not involved in the decision to accept these funds and that he had little knowledge of and insufficient information about Epstein’s background and crimes to understand the need to intervene in the process,” MIT’s executive committee said in its statement Friday. “The Executive Committee continues to have full confidence in his leadership of MIT.”

Epstein pleaded guilty in 2008 to a Florida state charge related to soliciting an underage girl for sex and was deemed a sex offender. He died last year, reportedly by suicide, while awaiting trial on federal sex trafficking charges.

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Ito resigned in September 2019 following Ronan Farrow’s explosive story for the New Yorker that disclosed the extent of the Media Lab’s ties to Epstein, even despite warnings from staff members about his criminal history. Epstein also put $250,000 into a tech company linked to Ito and $1 million into a $9 million fund that Ito manages, according to the report. Ito told investigators he’s holding the money in “escrow” and attempting to “eject” it.

Epstein also visited the MIT campus at least nine times between 2013 and 2017, according to the Goodwin Procter report, including visits to the Media Lab, where he met with students on at least one occasion. In 2016, after reports of Epstein’s conduct and relatively light initial sentence began to surface again in the media, “it appears that Ito took some efforts to conceal Epstein’s presence on campus” during a visit linked to a memorial for the late MIT professor Marvin Minsky, according to the law firm’s report.

The visits stopped after members of the Media Lab staff and faculty complained to Ito, according to the report.

“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,” said Reif in his statement. “Clearly, we must establish policy guardrails to prevent this from happening again.”

MIT committees are reviewing MIT’s gift-handling procedures. After reports Media Lab staff tried unsuccessfully to warn about issues with taking Epstein’s money, the institute is also planning to strengthen its internal whistleblower protections. MIT leaders also plan to propose campus visitation guidelines to “to help prevent similar risks in the future,” Reif said.

After Ito’s departure, the Media Lab was placed in the hands of an executive committee. The lab, which also has recently faced criticism over limitations on its research and even alleged illegal wastewater disposal, will begin a search for a new director soon, Reif said.

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About the author

Steven Melendez is an independent journalist living in New Orleans.

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