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MIT Media Lab director quits after outcry over Epstein ties

Joichi Ito admits taking US$525,000 of Epstein's money for the lab and US$1.2m for his personal investment funds

Mr Ito, who took over the Media Lab in 2011, had strong support in the lab, where he had helped raise over US$50m in donations over the years. But the Epstein revelations eroded his support.

New York

THE director of MIT's prestigious Media Lab stepped down Saturday after an outcry over his financial ties with the disgraced financier Jeffrey Epstein, whose contributions to the proudly contrarian lab roiled and divided its members.

"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," the director, Joichi Ito, wrote in an e-mail to the provost of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Martin A Schmidt.

Mr Ito acknowledged this past week taking US$525,000 of Epstein's money for the lab, as well as US$1.2 million for his personal investment funds. He stepped down less than a day after an article in The New Yorker described the measures that officials at the lab took to conceal its relationship with Epstein, who killed himself in jail last month while facing federal sex trafficking charges.

In a separate e-mail to the lab community, Mr Ito again apologised. "While this chapter is truly difficult, I am confident the lab will persevere," he wrote.

Mr Ito shared the e-mails with The Times after repeated requests for comment. He was a board member of The New York Times Co since 2012, but on Saturday, the company announced that he had resigned from the board.

Mr Ito, who took over the Media Lab in 2011, had enjoyed strong support inside the lab, where he had helped raise more than US$50 million in donations over the years. But the revelations in The New Yorker article eroded his support. Names began disappearing on Saturday from an online petition in support of him that had been put up last month.

The internal lab e-mails, which a former lab employee shared with The New York Times, described donations that Epstein made and solicited over the years - including from Leon Black, founder of the private equity firm Apollo Global Management, and a US$2 million gift from Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates.

In an e-mail in October 2014 - six years after 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 e-mail: "For gift recording purposes, we will not be mentioning Jeffrey's name as the impetus for this gift."

A spokesman for Mr Gates issued a statement on Saturday afternoon, saying: "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."

Mr Cohen, now the director of development for computer and data science initiatives at Brown University, did not respond to messages seeking comment on Saturday.

Signe Swenson, who served as a development associate and alumni relations coordinator at the lab from 2014 to 2016, shared the internal e-mails concerning Epstein with The Times. She said she had told supervisors at the lab several times of her "disgust" at 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 learnt of Epstein's connection with the lab when she interviewed for a position in March 2014. She said she later told Mr Cohen that MIT listed Epstein as "disqualified" as a donor, but Mr Cohen replied that Mr Ito had a relationship with the wealthy financier.

In one 2014 e-mail shared by Ms Swenson, Mr Ito wrote about a US$100,000 donation from Epstein, asking the development staff members to "make sure this gets accounted for as anonymous".

Mr Cohen wrote in a subsequent e-mail that the donation was "Jeffrey money, needs to be anonymous".

Other e-mails suggest that Epstein sought out donations from others. Mr Ito acknowledged receiving money from Epstein in an online apology on Aug 15. That prompted MIT to begin an internal review. NYTIMES