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Jeffrey Epstein Gave MIT $850,000, and Senior Staff Kept Quiet

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Jeffrey Epstein Gave MIT $850,000, and Senior Staff Kept Quiet

  • University releases 61-page fact-finding report from law firm
  • Famed Media Lab had received gifts from convicted sex offender
A protest group holds up signs of Jeffrey Epstein in front of the Federal courthouse in New York in 2019.

A protest group holds up signs of Jeffrey Epstein in front of the Federal courthouse in New York in 2019.

Photographer: Stephanie Keith/Getty Images
A protest group holds up signs of Jeffrey Epstein in front of the Federal courthouse in New York in 2019.
Photographer: Stephanie Keith/Getty Images

Senior Massachusetts Institute of Technology administrators knew for years they were accepting donations from convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein but decided to keep it quiet, and one professor even took money personally, a report by an outside law firm found.

Epstein, a financier, gave a total of $850,000 and visited the Cambridge, Massachusetts, campus nine times between 2013 and 2017, according to the report, published Friday. At times, Epstein arrived with one or two female assistants who appeared to be in their twenties, something that made observers uncomfortable, witnesses told the investigators.

Seth Lloyd, a professor of mechanical engineering, was placed on paid administrative leave because he didn’t disclose that Epstein was the source of two donations to support his research in 2012, and he received a personal gift of $60,000 from Epstein in 2005 or 2006, the university said.

The scandal has roiled MIT since Joi Ito, the former head of its famed Media Lab, revealed last August that he had solicited donations from Epstein after he was convicted of soliciting prostitution from a minor. Ito did so, despite warnings from the faculty to shun Epstein. The university said then it planned to examine donations it identified from foundations that Epstein controlled. Ito stepped down in September after the revelations.

That month, Rafael Reif, MIT’s president, said he and some members of his administration were aware of donations that Epstein made to the school and that he had sent a letter thanking Epstein for a gift. In the latest report, law firm Goodwin Proctor, which MIT hired for the fact-finding review, said Reif was unaware he was accepting donations from a “convicted sex offender and accused pedophile and had no role in approving MIT’s acceptance of the donations.”

‘Serious Errors’

But the report said three senior administrators -- including Israel Ruiz, MIT’s treasurer -- let the Media Lab accept gifts from Epstein as long as they were anonymous, came from Epstein’s foundation and weren’t too large. It says that Ruiz agreed that “donations less than $10 million would be acceptable, so long as they were anonymous.”

“If the amounts were to be larger, we should discuss again,” Ruiz wrote in a 2014 email. Ito subsequently emailed Epstein that gifts under $10 million “should be no problem,” according to the report.

The report called that decision “the result of collective and serious errors in judgment that resulted in serious damage to the MIT community.” The law firm said the school still has no formal policy for handling controversial donors. In a statement, Reif said the administrators “were acting in good faith” but “this moment stands as a sharp reminder of human fallibility and its consequences.” He said that MIT has instituted better procedures to review donors while two committees review guidelines.

MIT announced last month that Ruiz was stepping down. “I am confident that the MIT leadership will work with the MIT community to reflect on this episode and create an effective and successful path forward that reflects the values and goals of this great institution,” Ruiz said in a statement.

‘He’s Awesome’

Using emails, the report details how Ito came to justify cultivating Epstein as a donor in 2013 despite evidence about his crimes and pariah status with other institutions.

Referring to tech exec and Media Lab adviser Linda Stone, Ito wrote to his predecessor at the lab Nicholas Negroponte, “Linda assures me he’s awesome.” Negroponte responded, “I would take Berlusconi’s money, so why not Jeff,” referring to the former Prime Minister of Italy. Stone declined to comment and Negroponte didn’t respond to a message. The report also says Ito met other influential individuals, including director Woody Allen, when meeting with Epstein.

The law firm conducted 73 interviews with 59 witnesses and reviewed 610,000 emails. It found nine donations totaling $750,000 after the 2008 conviction, $525,000 to the media lab and $225,000 to Lloyd for research. In an email, Lloyd declined to comment.

Goodwin Procter found no evidence that Epstein arranged for donations to MIT from other wealthy individuals. In 2014, Epstein claimed that he had arranged an anonymous $2 million gift from Microsoft Corp. co-founder Bill Gates and an anonymous $5 million donation from Leon Black, chairman of private equity firm Apollo Global Management -- both to the media lab. The report said it found no evidence that those gifts were Epstein’s money or “that Gates and Black acted to ‘launder’ Epstein’s money.”

Epstein killed himself in his prison cell in August weeks after he was arrested on sexual trafficking charges. He was accused of abusing and exploiting dozens of girls.

Friday’s report shows that Epstein will continue to haunt powerful institutions and people who had long courted his connections and money. In September, Harvard University said an ongoing review showed Epstein made about $9 million of donations between 1998 and 2007, though it didn’t find any gifts after his 2008 conviction.

(Updates throughout with detail from report. An earlier version of this story corrected amount of the gifts.)