MIT Media Lab Director Joi Ito resigned from his position Saturday after The New Yorker revealed the research center tried to hide donations tied to disgraced multi-millionaire Jeffrey Epstein for years.
The financier was labeled as a “disqualified” donor in official MIT documents after the elite science and technology school became aware of his history as a convicted sex offender after 2008, but the Media Lab continued to accept donations from Epstein and mark them as “anonymous,” emails obtained by The New Yorker revealed Friday.
“After giving the matter a great deal of thought over the past several days and weeks, I think that it is best that I resign as director of the media lab and as a professor and employee of the Institute, effective immediately,” Ito said in an email Saturday, the New Yorker reported.
And there we have it. Still anxious to hear what this means for Joi’s board seat at Tech Review. I’m not going to rest easy until I get full confirmation that he’s off. https://t.co/5gXcVSAsPy
— Karen Hao (@_KarenHao) September 7, 2019
MIT President L. Rafael Reif announced on Saturday that the school’s general counsel would open an investigation into the case “because the accusations in the story are extremely serious” and “demand an immediate, thorough and independent investigation.”
— Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) (@MIT) September 7, 2019
Epstein garnered $7.5 million in donations for the Media Lab — $2 million of which was solicited from Bill Gates and $5.5 million was solicited from investor Leon Black, The New Yorker reported, citing records and accounts from current and former Media Lab faculty.
The donations from Black and Gates were described as “directed” by Epstein or made on his behalf.
Ito asked Epstein to “re-up/top-off with another $100K so we can extend his contract another year,” in a 2014 email obtained by The New Yorker, to which Epstein replied, “Yes.” He then forwarded Epstein’s response to a colleague making sure the donation was “accounted for as anonymous.”
MIT Media Lab Director of Development and Strategy Peter Cohen similarly wrote in an email, “Jeffrey money, needs to be anonymous. Thanks.”
Reif apologized for the donations in an August statement but did not describe the extent of Epstein’s donations or mention how they were hidden under an “anonymous” donor label.
“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 wrote.
Epstein hanged himself in August after he was sentenced to life in prison on sex trafficking charges in July. The charges came about 11 years after he was given a plea deal to avoid federal charges in 2008, after pleading guilty to charges of solicitation of prostitution and procurement of minors for prostitution.
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