Staff members of the MIT Media Lab, including director Joi Ito, actively sought to conceal the lab’s relationship with disgraced financier Jeffrey Epstein, according to a new report by Ronan Farrow published in the New Yorker on Friday.
Ito resigned on Saturday afternoon, and the university is now promising a thorough, independent investigation.
Epstein became a frequent donor to the lab after meeting Ito in 2013. But after those financial ties became public following Epstein’s death by suicide Aug. 10, Ito apologized, saying in a statement Aug 15 that he was “deeply sorry,” and 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.”
However, Farrow reports that Ito was aware not only of the accusations of sexual misconduct, but that Epstein had been formally disqualified as a donor by the university due to his 2008 sex-trafficking conviction.
According to Farrow, Ito took active measures to ensure his colleagues at the university would not find out about the relationship with Epstein. They included instructing subordinates to list Epstein’s donations as anonymous, according to emails printed in the New Yorker.
Ito allowed Epstein to visit the lab, and he and his subordinates made certain his name was never included on any calendar, according to a former lab employee, Signe Swenson, who spoke to Farrow. Swenson told Farrow she expressed concerns about the relationship with Epstein on more than one occasion and eventually quit over it.
Farrow also reports that Ito credited Epstein with facilitating several million dollars in donations from high-profile donors including Bill Gates. A spokesperson for Bill Gates told TheWrap: “Any claim that Epstein directed any programmatic or personal grantmaking for Bill Gates is completely false,” while a spokesperson for the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation said “The foundation never had any financial dealings with Jeffrey Epstein.”
Ito did not immediately respond to a request for comment from TheWrap.
The news comes two weeks after Ethan Zuckerman resigned as director of the Media Lab’s Center for Civic Media. Zuckerman, a media scholar and internet activist, cited the group’s work on social justice and “on the inclusion of marginalized individuals” for his decision. “It’s hard to do that work with a straight face in a place that violated its own values so clearly in working with Epstein and in disguising that relationship,” he wrote in a Medium post.
Zuckerman also said he had learned the research group’s ties to Epstein “went much deeper” than had been disclosed previously.