MIT Media Lab
The MIT Media Lab building is a commanding presence on a quiet street corner in Cambridge, Massachusetts. | Jon Skillings/CNET

MIT MEDIA Lab Head Resigns After Hiding $800,000 in Donations from Epstein

The director of Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s (MIT) Media Lab, Joi Ito, resigned from his job and several other boards because he tried to hide significant donations from pedophile financier Jeffrey Epstein. (Epstein died last month after being charged with sex trafficking of children.)

It’s especially disturbing because Epstein was listed as a “disqualified” donor in MIT’s database because he was a convicted sex offender––and yet he was still able to donate hundreds of thousands of dollars. Epstein’s donations were marked as anonymous and his name was never on Ito’s calendar, according to the New Yorker.

In 2008, Epstein pleaded guilty to state charges of solicitation of prostitution AND procurement of minors for prostitution.

Ito resigned only one day after the New Yorker reported that Ito and his colleagues tried to hide Epstein’s donations and affiliation with the prestigious MIT Media Lab.

Ito was an active participant in hiding the money long before Epstein’s worst allegations sparked national outrage. In an email with the subject line “Jeffrey Epstein money,” the New Yorker reports, Ito instructed his staff to “make sure this gets accounted for as anonymous.” All while Ito and thers consulted him on how the funds should be used and allowed Ito to fundraise to the tune of $7.5MM.  It became so normal that uncovered emails showed staff in Ito’s office referred to Epstein as Voldemort or “he who must not be named.”

In a September 2014 email obtained by the New Yorker, Ito asked Epstein to help fund a researcher: “Could you re-up/top-off with another $100K so we can extend his contract another year?”

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“I want to apologize again for my errors in judgment,” Ito wrote in the email provided to The Washington Post by a graduate student at the lab. “I have spent the last days and weeks listening to all of you and I want to thank you again for sharing your insights and perspectives with me, and allowing me [to] begin to try to make amends. After giving the matter a great deal of thought, I have chosen to resign as Director of the Media Lab and as a Professor and employee of the Institute, effective immediately.”

According to MIT President L. Rafael Reif, his own employees hiding donations from Epstein was “deeply disturbing” and the school is planning to hire a law firm to conduct an internal investigation. The MIT Media Lab received around $800,000 over the course of 20 years from foundations controlled by Epstein.

Reif also called putting students in the path of a convicted sex offender a “mistake in judgment.”

“As I described in my previous letter, the acceptance of the Epstein gifts involved a mistake of judgment.”

For now, only one person from MIT has faced consequences for accepting the donations.

“A decade-long cover-up that put students in the path of a convicted sex offender is NOT a mistake in judgement. It was an intentional, disturbing decision and only one person at this ‘elite university’ will go down for it.  Where is the leadership accountability in that?” said DiversityInc CEO Carolynn Johnson.

Ito has vowed to raise and donate funds equal to Epstein’s contribution to the Media Lab to nonprofits that combat sex trafficking.

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