MIT President Reif Says He Acknowledged Gifts From Epstein

(Bloomberg) -- Massachusetts Institute of Technology President Rafael Reif said he and some members of his administration were aware of donations made to the school by Jeffrey Epstein four years after the disgraced financier was convicted of soliciting prostitution from a minor.

Reif said a fact-finding effort led by an outside law firm shows he signed a letter thanking Epstein for a gift to Seth Lloyd, a member of the faculty, weeks after Reif was promoted to president in 2012. Senior members of the administration were also aware of gifts Epstein made to MIT’s Media Lab between 2013 and 2017, and required that Epstein not make them public, he said.

“I am aware that we could and should have asked more questions about Jeffrey Epstein,” Reif said in a letter to the MIT community on Thursday. “We did not take time to understand the gravity of Epstein’s offenses or the harm to his young victims.”

MIT has been roiled by its connection to Epstein since Joi Ito, the former head of its famed Media Lab, revealed last month that he had solicited donations from Epstein after the conviction despite being warned not to by faculty. MIT subsequently said it planned to examine $800,000 of donations it identified from foundations Epstein controlled.

Separately, Harvard University President Lawrence Bacow said Thursday that an ongoing review has shown that Epstein made about $9 million in donations to the university between 1998 and 2007. The largest was a $6.5 million gift in 2003 to the Program for Evolutionary Dynamics, according to a letter posted on the Harvard website.

The review hasn’t found any donations by Epstein after his 2008 guilty plea and the university rejected a gift from Epstein following his conviction, Bacow said. Harvard will also be looking at gifts made by donors at Epstein’s suggestion, according to Bacow.

“Epstein’s behavior, not just at Harvard, but elsewhere, raises significant questions about how institutions like ours review and vet donors,” Bacow said. “I will be convening a group here at Harvard to review how we prevent these situations in the future.”

MIT’s Reif said senior members of his team “knew in general terms about Epstein’s history -- that he had been convicted and had served a sentence and that Joi believed that he had stopped his criminal behavior.”

Ito, who also got Epstein to invest in some of his venture capital funds, quit the Media Lab over the weekend after news reports emerged that he had allegedly sought to hide the relationship. Epstein was found dead last month in a New York prison, with a medical examiner ruling the death a suicide, after being charged with sex trafficking of minors.

The fact-finding effort by Goodwin Procter is continuing, Reif said.

School representatives didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.

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