FILE - In this Oct. 21, 2015, file photo, students walk on the Massachusetts Institute of Technology campus in Cambridge, Mass. Disgraced financier Jeffrey Epstein donated more than $700,000 to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and visited campus at least nine times after being convicted of sex crimes in 2008, according to new findings from a law firm hired to investigate Epstein's ties with the elite school, Friday, Jan. 10, 2020. MIT President L. Rafael Reif called the findings “a sharp reminder of human fallibility and its consequences.” ( AP Photo/Michael Dwyer, File)

Epstein gave $850,000 to MIT, visited 9 times, report finds

January 10, 2020 - 6:42 pm

BOSTON (AP) — Disgraced financier Jeffrey Epstein donated $750,000 to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and visited campus at least nine times as he sought to rehabilitate his image following a 2008 sex crimes conviction, according to findings released Friday by a law firm hired to investigate Epstein's ties with the school.

The firm's report finds that at least three senior leaders at MIT approved Epstein's donations but demanded that they be kept out of the public spotlight in an attempt to protect the elite school's reputation. They recorded his gifts as anonymous donations, the report found, even as Epstein continued to flaunt his MIT ties online and in press releases.

Investigators concluded that MIT's leaders made “significant errors of judgment” but did not violate any laws or school policies in accepting gifts from a convicted sex offender. At the time, the school had no formal policy on accepting gifts from controversial donors, leaving officials to make “ad hoc determinations,” the report found. MIT says it will now develop clearer policies around such gifts.

MIT President L. Rafael Reif, who was largely cleared in the report, called the findings “a sharp reminder of human fallibility and its consequences.”

"An enduring MIT value is the willingness to face hard facts, and as community voices have made clear, this situation demands openness and transparency,” Reif wrote in a campus letter on Friday.

In total, investigators found that Epstein made 10 donations totaling $850,000 to MIT between 2002 and 2017. Nearly all of it went to the MIT Media Lab or to Seth Lloyd, a mechanical engineering professor and former friend of Epstein.

Former Media Lab director Joi Ito resigned last year amid uproar over his ties to Epstein. He issued a public apology and vowed to raise money for nonprofits that help victims of trafficking.

Lloyd, who has also apologized, was placed on paid administrative leave Friday amid findings that he “purposefully failed to inform MIT" about $100,000 he accepted from Epstein in 2012. He did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Investigators said Epstein contacted Lloyd in 2012 as he tried to refurbish his image following his sex crimes conviction. Epstein was disappointed that other universities were rejecting his money, the report says, and sent an email to Lloyd as a test. In an email, he told Lloyd, “im going to give you two 50k tranches to see if the line jingles.”

Lloyd chose not to alert officials about Epstein's criminal past because he knew it would jeopardize the gift, the report found. He later acknowledged to investigators that he had been “professionally remiss.” The report says Lloyd also accepted $60,000 as a personal gift from Epstein in 2005 or 2006, and he received $125,000 from the financier in 2017 to support a sabbatical.

In August, Reif announced that MIT would donate an amount equal to its donations from Epstein to a charity that supports victims of sexual violence. Reif has acknowledged that his signature was on a 2012 letter thanking Epstein for a donation, but Reif said he does not recall signing it. The review found that Reif was not involved in discussions over Epstein's donations until 2019.

Epstein, 66, killed himself in his New York City prison cell in August after he was arrested on sex trafficking charges. The wealthy financier had pleaded not guilty to sexually abusing girls as young as 14 and young women in New York and Florida in the early 2000s. In lawsuits, women say the abuse spanned decades.

Certain senior leaders at MIT became aware of Epstein's philanthropy after he gave $100,000 to the Media Lab in 2013. That donation triggered discussions among at least three executives who initially decided to return the money but later accepted Epstein as a donor as long as his gifts were kept quiet.

A 2013 memo from Jeffrey Newton, who was then vice president for resource development, requested that officials “please mark all of Epstein's gifts as anonymous.”

“We do not want his name appearing on any list of supporters or donors in any form,” Newton wrote. “No acknowledgment letters from the president. I think this is the best we can do right now.”

Along with Newton, who has since retired, the donations were approved by R. Gregory Morgan, senior vice president; and Israel Ruiz, executive vice president and treasurer. Morgan has also retired, and Ruiz "has expressed deep regret, which we believe is sincere, for what he believes was a collective and continued error of judgment," the report found.

MIT officials told investigators they knew of no other case in which a donor's gifts were marked as anonymous at the request of the school. Such demands are typically made by donors, but the report found that Epstein made no effort to conceal his gifts, and even publicized them on his websites despite objections from MIT officials.

As the Media Lab sought more donations from Epstein, it regularly invited him to campus to talk with faculty and researchers. From 2013 through 2017 he visited campus at least nine times, the review found, usually at the invitation of Ito. But from early on, staff had concerns. In 2013, Ito wrote in an email that some people in the office were “weirded out” by Epstein.

Some staff secretly called him “Voldemort” or “he who must not be named,” investigators found. Some said Epstein's presence made them feel uncomfortable, especially when he brought female assistants who appeared to be in their 20s. The visits were arranged without the knowledge of senior officials, the report found, and Ito stopped inviting Epstein in 2017.

Epstein's last donation to the school was in 2017. He gave $25,000 to the Media Lab. MIT rejected $25,000 that Epstein tried to donate in February 2019 as he was being investigated for trafficking. The $25,000 was a gift that Arizona State University had recently returned to Epstein as he faced new scrutiny.

On Friday, Reif promised a slate of changes in response to the findings. He said the school will create policies guiding decisions on gifts from controversial donors, and he called for new rules to help keep the campus safe from visitors “who could pose a direct threat.”

“As all of you demonstrated, there is a great deal that is right with MIT,” Reif wrote in his campus letter. “We must fix what needs fixing and improve what needs improving. And we must make room for many more voices and perspectives."

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