The demise of disgraced financier Jeffrey Epstein today took down another powerful person. Joichi Ito, head of the prestigious MIT Media Lab, just resigned as director, following the publication yesterday of a New Yorker report showing that he was closer to Epstein than previously disclosed.
Ito was already in hot water for accepting contributions from Epstein, whose pedophilia has been public knowledge since 2008, when the financier pled guilty to criminal charges in Florida arising from his liaisons with underage girls. After MIT already considered Epstein an unsuitable donor and would not accept his funds, the Media Lab, an interdisciplinary research facility, continued to work with the convicted sex offender. The New Yorker report shows emails between Ito and Epstein exchanged in 2014, with the lab director asking the financier to “top-off” an account by $100,000 anonymously to pay for the salary of a Media Lab researcher, for example.
Another damning accusation, based on emails Epstein and Ito exchanged, suggests the financier was fundraising on behalf of the lab, generating millions of dollars in contributions, including $2 million from Microsoft founder and billionaire philanthropist Bill Gates. The Gates Foundation denied the claims in the New Yorker account. The New York Times reports that Ito responded to its request for comment on the story by saying it was rife with factual errors and by sharing his resignation letter.
Although Ito’s resignation less than a day after the story broke seems swift, he’s had some time to think about the prospect. Earlier this week, the MIT Media Lab held a town hall where both Ito and lab co-founder and former director Nicholas Negroponte discussed their acceptance of Epstein’s money. The meeting ended with one woman in tears and another telling Negroponte to “shut up,” saying people at the lab had been cleaning up his messes for years, according to MIT Technology Review. Ito also revealed that, separately, he’d received over $1 million from Epstein for investment funds under his control.
Ito’s supporters at the lab, both students and staff, drafted and signed a petition on Aug. 26, expressing admiration for Ito, noting he was apologetic about his involvement with Epstein, and asking that he not step down. However, in light of the news that the lab director actually asked for and accepted anonymous donations from Epstein, knowing it was in contravention of MIT policy, and that he allowed millions more dollars linked to Epstein to fund the institution while keeping ties to the financier hush-hush, a disclaimer has since been added to the top of the petition stating in part, “signatures should not be read as continued support of Joi staying on as Media Lab Director following the most recent revelations in the September 6th New Yorker article by Ronan Farrow.”
Ito is not the first powerful person to resign or lose a position due to ties with Epstein. In 2011, Britain’s Prince Andrew resigned as a UK trade envoy when revelations of his continued relations with Epstein post-conviction surfaced. In July, former labor secretary Alex Acosta quit that position for his role in engineering a lenient plea deal for Epstein back in 2008 when he was a federal prosecutor in Florida. After Epstein hanged himself in federal detention last month, the Department of Justice replaced the acting Bureau of Prisons director Hugh Hurwitz. Epstein is gone, but his taint lives on and there may well be more resignations to come.