Mixed messages from MIT Media Lab regarding Epstein money

The director of the M.I.T. Media Lab received at least $1.7 million from Epstein, including $1.2 million for his own outside investment funds.

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Although the director of M.I.T.’s Media Lab resigned in disgrace on Saturday for accepting $1.7 million in donations from convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein and falsely listing his contributions as “anonymous,” the cofounder and former director, Nicholas Negroponte, publicly admitted that he had no problem taking the dirty money and would do it again if he had the chance. Negroponte is the younger brother of the former Director of National Intelligence John Negroponte.

In 2008, Epstein pleaded guilty and was convicted by a Florida state court of soliciting a prostitute and procuring an underage girl for prostitution. He served less than 13 months in jail with work release as part of his plea deal.

On July 6, Epstein was arrested again and charged with one count of sex trafficking of minors and one count of conspiracy to engage in sex trafficking of minors. According to the indictment, he sexually exploited and abused dozens of minor girls at his homes in Manhattan, Palm Beach, and other locations.

On August 10, Epstein was found dead in his jail cell at the Metropolitan Correctional Facility in New York.

On Friday, The New Yorker reported that Joichi Ito, the director of the M.I.T. Media Lab, had received at least $1.7 million from Epstein, including $1.2 million for his own outside investment funds. Ito attempted to conceal Epstein’s identity by listing the donations as “anonymous” and by accepting at least $7.5 million in donations secured by Epstein but listed under other donors, including Microsoft founder Bill Gates.

Due to the fact that Ito was named director of the M.I.T. Media Lab in 2011, his emails revealed that he was well aware that Epstein was a convicted sex offender who was listed as “disqualified” in M.I.T.’s official donor database. According to his emails, Ito referred to Epstein as Voldemort or “he who must not be named.”

On August 22, M.I.T. president L. Rafael Reif issued the following statement in an email to the M.I.T. community: “Over the course of 20 years, MIT received approximately $800,000 via foundations controlled by Jeffrey Epstein. All of those gifts went either to the MIT Media Lab or to Professor Seth Lloyd. Both Seth and Media Lab Director Joi Ito have made public statements apologizing to Jeffrey Epstein’s victims and others for judgments made over a series of years.”

Reif added, “I know some members of our community are now struggling with the fact that they unknowingly or without full understanding accepted funding that came from Epstein, or worked in labs that received such support. Because the accusations against Jeffrey Epstein are so shocking, it can be difficult to maintain a fair understanding about what individuals at MIT could have been expected to know at the time, but I hope we can offer these members of our community the reassurance of our compassionate understanding.”

Reif concluded by promising to commit an amount equal to the funds MIT received from any Epstein foundation to an appropriate charity that benefits his victims or other victims of sexual abuse.

But during an internal meeting on September 4, Nicholas Negroponte, who cofounded the Media Lab in 1985 and was its director for 20 years, openly admitted he had recommended that Ito take Epstein’s money and would give him the same advice today. At that point, Kate Darling, a research scientist at the MIT Media Lab, shouted, “Nicholas, shut up!”

Negroponte ignored her and continued to speak for a few more minutes until Darling repeated, “Shut up!”

After the meeting, Ito reportedly sent an email to Negroponte complaining that the cofounder and former director of the M.I.T. Media Lab was undercutting his ability to make amends.

Although Ito initially refused to resign, he announced his resignation on Saturday in response to The New Yorker article releasing his emails concerning Epstein’s donations and his attempts to conceal them. Ito also left the boards of three other organizations: the MacArthur Foundation, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, and The New York Times Company, where he had been a board member since 2012. He also left a visiting professorship at Harvard.

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