September 10, 2019

Director of MIT's Media Lab Steps Down over Ties to Jeffrey Epstein

CAMBRIDGE, MASSACHUSETTS—Joichi “Joi” Ito, the director of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s esteemed Media Lab, has resigned following controversy that stemmed from his connections to millionaire Jeffrey Epstein, the American financier who was arrested on federal sex-trafficking charges in July and who took his own life while in police custody last month.

On August 15, Ito had issued a public apology for accepting funding from Epstein on behalf of the media lab as well as for his own private venture capitalist funds. The statement was an attempt by Ito to be transparent about his affiliations with the convicted sex offender. “I met Epstein in 2013 at a conference through a trusted business friend and, in my fundraising efforts for MIT Media Lab, I invited him to the Lab and visited several of his residences,” Ito wrote. “I want you to know that in all of my interactions with Epstein, I was never involved in, never heard him talk about, and never saw any evidence of the horrific acts that he was accused of.” It concluded with a pledge to donate the amount Epstein gave to the lab to various nonprofit organizations that support survivors of sex trafficking.

The apology has not prevented Ito from coming under intense scrutiny. On Friday, September 6, the New Yorkerpublished an article that alleged “the financial entanglement revealed in documents goes well beyond what has been described in public statements by MIT and Mr. Ito.” The article claims that the lab attempted to hide Epstein’s involvement in soliciting donations—Epstein has helped secure at least $7.5 million for the lab—and recorded several of his direct donations as anonymous. It also revealed that current and former staff members were asked to help conceal Epstein’s funding. On Saturday, less than a day later, Ito tendered his resignation. He also stepped down from his position on the boards of the MacArthur Foundation, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, and the New York Times Company, and resigned his visiting professorship at Harvard University.

In response to the New Yorker’s investigation, MIT’s president L. Rafael Reif said that the institute will hire a law firm to review the allegations and the lab’s ties with Epstein. He wrote: “The acceptance of the Epstein gifts involved a mistake of judgment. We are actively assessing how best to improve our policies, processes, and procedures to fully reflect MIT’s values and prevent such mistakes in the future. Our internal review process continues, and what we learn from it will inform the path ahead.”

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