The bulk of Jeffrey Epstein’s donations to MIT came after three university vice presidents learned about his status as a sex offender, an investigation found.
Epstein, the deceased financier who was convicted in 2008 of sex crimes involving underage victims, made 10 donations to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology between 2002 and 2017, totaling $850,000, according to the findings of a report by the law firm Goodwin Procter commissioned by the university. That was $50,000 more than university officials had previously said. Epstein also visited MIT nine times between 2013 and 2017.
Nine of those donations came after Epstein’s conviction, the four-month investigation found. Those post-conviction gifts were all driven by either former MIT Media Lab director Joi Ito or Seth Lloyd, a professor of mechanical engineering, according to the report. Ito resigned in September, and MIT President L. Rafael Reif has placed Lloyd on paid administrative leave.
Epstein donated $525,000 to the Media Lab and $225,000 to Lloyd. Investigators found that two gifts of $50,000 each to Lloyd in 2012 were “a trial balloon to test MIT’s willingness to accept donations following his conviction.”
Lloyd “purposefully failed” to tell MIT that Epstein made two donations toward his research in 2012, according to the report. He also received $60,000 as a personal gift from Epstein in 2005 or ’06, which also wasn’t reported to MIT.
“Professor Lloyd knew that donations from Epstein would be controversial and that MIT might reject them,” the report states. “We conclude that, in concert with Epstein, he purposefully decided not to alert the institute to Epstein’s criminal record, choosing instead to allow mid-level administrators to process the donations without any formal discussion or diligence concerning Epstein.”
Administrators learned about Epstein’s criminal record and status as a sex offender in 2013. When he was making his first donation to the Media Lab they created “an informal framework” to determine whether his gifts could be accepted. They decided that the donations should remain small and unpublicized, the report found. None of them broke any laws or any MIT policies in accepting the donations, investigators said.
“But it is clear that the decision was the result of collective and significant errors in judgment that resulted in serious damage to the MIT community,” the report states.
For his part, Epstein didn’t follow the non-publicity rule and even claimed credit in 2014 for two donations he didn’t actually make to MIT.
The Media Lab rejected an additional $25,000 donation Epstein offered in February 2019, by which time his crimes and other alleged crimes had been widely reported.
Also, investigators said they didn’t find any evidence to support claims that Epstein arranged for other wealthy people like Bill Gates or Leon Black to donate to the Media Lab.
In an open letter to the MIT community, Reif promised to “take responsibility for correcting the policy void” that allowed Epstein access to the institute.
“This moment stands as a sharp reminder of human fallibility and its consequences,” Reif wrote. “However, I believe this day can also mark the start of a new process of shared learning, reflection, repair and rebuilding.”