The director of MIT's Media Lab resigned on Saturday over his financial ties with Jeffrey Epstein - whose financial contributions to the lab sharply divided its members, according to the New York Times.
Joichi Ito - also a NYT board member since 2012, wrote in an email to the provost of MIT, Martin Schmidt: "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."
Last week Ito acknowledged accepting a $525,000 donation from Epstein, "as well as $1.2 million for his personal investment funds."
Ito's departure comes less than a day after a New Yorker article by Ronan Farrow spotlighted his efforts to conceal his relationship with Epstein.
Dozens of pages of e-mails and other documents obtained by The New Yorker reveal that, although Epstein was listed as “disqualified” in M.I.T.’s official donor database, the Media Lab continued to accept gifts from him, consulted him about the use of the funds, and, by marking his contributions as anonymous, avoided disclosing their full extent, both publicly and within the university. Perhaps most notably, Epstein appeared to serve as an intermediary between the lab and other wealthy donors, soliciting millions of dollars in donations from individuals and organizations, including the technologist and philanthropist Bill Gates and the investor Leon Black. -New Yorker
Ito, who took over the lab in 2011, also apologized in an email to the lab community, writing "While this chapter is truly difficult, I am confident the lab will persevere."
Over his tenure at MIT, Ito helped raise over $50 million in donations - making him a highly supported rockstar within the university. After the New Yorker article hit, however, "Names began disappearing on Saturday from an online petition in support of him that had been put up last month."
The internal lab emails, which a former lab employee shared with The New York Times, described donations that Mr. Epstein made and solicited over the years — including from Leon Black, the founder of the private equity firm Apollo Global Management, and a $2 million gift from the Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates.
In an email in October 2014 — six years after Mr. Epstein had pleaded guilty to a sex charge involving a minor in Florida — Mr. Ito wrote that the gift from Mr. Gates was “directed by Jeffrey Epstein.” Peter Cohen, then a development official at the lab, wrote in a subsequent email, “For gift recording purposes, we will not be mentioning Jeffrey’s name as the impetus for this gift.” -New York Times
A Gates spokesman said on Saturday: "Epstein was introduced to Bill Gates as someone who was interested in helping grow philanthropy. Although Epstein pursued Bill Gates aggressively, any account of a business partnership or personal relationship between the two is simply not true. And any claim that Epstein directed any programmatic or personal grant making for Bill Gates is completely false."
No word on why Gates flew on Epstein's "Lolita Express" in 2013 - long after Epstein admitted to being a pedophile.
The Times reviewed internal MIT Lab emails provided by Signe Swensen - a development associate and alumni relations coordinator at the lab from 2014 to 2016.
She said she had told supervisors at the lab several times of her “disgust” at Mr. Epstein’s involvement with the lab.“That was never listened to,” Ms. Swenson, who worked under Mr. Cohen, said in an interview on Saturday that also included an attorney from the group Whistleblower Aid.
Ms. Swenson said she learned of Mr. Epstein’s connection with the lab when she interviewed for a position in March 2014. She said she later told Mr. Cohen that M.I.T. listed Mr. Epstein as “disqualified” as a donor, but Mr. Cohen replied that Mr. Ito had a relationship with the wealthy financier.
In one 2014 email shared by Ms. Swenson, Mr. Ito wrote about a $100,000 donation from Mr. Epstein, asking the development staff members to “make sure this gets accounted for as anonymous.” Mr. Cohen wrote in a subsequent email that the donation was “Jeffrey money, needs to be anonymous.”
Other emails suggest that Mr. Epstein sought out donations from others. In the correspondence about the donation from Mr. Gates, Mr. Cohen wrote that Mr. Ito “did not talk with Bill Gates” and that the lab “did not solicit this money.” -New York Times
In an August 15 email, Ito acknowledged receiving money from Epstein, prompting MIT to launch an internal probe. On Saturday, University president Rafael Reif said he asked MIT's general counsel to conduct "an immediate, thorough and independent investigation" using outside counsel.
"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 M.I.T.’s values and prevent such mistakes in the future," wrote Reif in an email to the university community. "Our internal review process continues, and what we learn from it will inform the path ahead."
Meanwhile, Apollo Global Management founder Conrad Black made what is believed to be a $4 million donation to the lab "in honor of a friend, who wishes to remain anonymous," according to Cohen, who later asked Ito to find out from Epstein if Black himself wanted to remain anonymous.
While the Epstein saga has failed to do much more than embarrass his associates so far, we can consider Ito a confirmed casualty of the whole affair.