Jeffrey Epstein’s money bought a coverup at the MIT Media Lab

Jeffrey Epstein at a bail hearing for a sex trafficking case.
Jeffrey Epstein at a bail hearing for a sex trafficking case.
Image: Reuters/Jane Rosenberg
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Disgraced financier and convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein left behind his many mortal woes when he hanged himself in a federal detention center in Manhattan last month while awaiting trial on sex trafficking charges. The still-living individuals and institutions who associated with him, including MIT’s prestigious Media Lab and its leaders, are just beginning to contend with the problems created by their ties to Epstein, however.

A new report in the New Yorker, published Sept. 6, shows that leaders at the university’s interdisciplinary research lab actively covered up contributions from Epstein, recording them as anonymous, and took more money than previously disclosed. The news comes just days after MIT Technology Review reported on a meeting at the Media Lab over Epstein’s contributions that became unusually acrimonious when the lab’s co-founder and former director, Nicholas Negroponte, admitted that he recommended taking Epstein’s money to the current director, Joi Ito. “If you wind back the clock, I would still say, ‘Take it,'” Negroponte said.

Based on Media Lab emails obtained by Ronan Farrow at the New Yorker, the lab had closer contacts with Epstein than it admitted. The Media Lab continued to allow Epstein to use his influence and money on its behalf behalf after Epstein’s cash was deemed no good at the university that spawned it. MIT considered the disgraced financier “disqualified” for being a pedophile after he pleaded guilty to criminal charges in Florida in 2008. But Ito at the Media Lab accepted and requested Epstein’s contributions and directed employees to record them as anonymous long after that.

Farrow also notes that Epstein claimed to be the impetus for a $2 million donation from the philanthropic billionaire Bill Gates, among others. An email from a “Jeffrey E” to Ito in 2014 states, for example, that “Gates would like a write up on our one science program for tues next week.” The Gates foundation denied that Epstein was behind any of the Microsoft founder’s contributions.

The university MIT in August apologized for accepting $800,000 from Epstein, pledging to give the same amount to fund a charity for victims of sexual abuse. But the latest investigation into Epstein’s contributions, aided by whistleblower and former MIT and Media Lab development associate Signe Swenson, shows that Ito and other Media Lab bigwigs communicated with Epstein regularly, directly asked him for money, hosted him at the institution, and amassed more than $7 million in funding thanks to the financier’s efforts. Reportedly, employees at the lab were aware of Epstein’s involvement and urged not to interfere.

Meetings with Epstein on Ito’s public calendar years after the financier was known to be involved with underage girls were marked only as “JE,” although full names were used for everyone else. And people at the Media Lab reportedly referred to the donor internally as “he who shall not be named.” Swenson, whose willingness to help cover up involvement with Epstein was tested in her interview for a job there, she says, noted that taking money from Epstein wasn’t “a great idea.” Still, she accepted an offer of employment and participated in the coverup.

At a Media Lab town hall this week, Ito said he accepted $525,000 from Epstein, money which was spent on everyone at the lab and a slew of different activities. But the New Yorker report indicates that there is likely much more to this unseemly story.