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MIT Media Lab Director Joi Ito resigns amid Jeffrey Epstein scandal

The move follows a New Yorker report that the lab had a deeper funding relationship with the convicted sex offender than previously acknowledged and that it worked to disguise contacts with Epstein.

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The MIT Media Lab building is a commanding presence on a quiet street corner in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Jon Skillings/CNET

The director of the MIT Media Lab, Joi Ito, resigned Saturday amid a scandal over the Media Lab's ties to convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein. Ito's resignation follows a Friday night report in The New Yorker that said the Media Lab had a deeper funding relationship with Epstein than it had previously acknowledged and worked to disguise its contacts with the disgraced financier.

"Because the accusations in the story are extremely serious, they demand an immediate, thorough and independent investigation," MIT President L. Rafael Reif said Saturday in a letter to the MIT community. "This morning, I asked MIT's general counsel to engage a prominent law firm to design and conduct this process. I expect the firm to conduct this review as swiftly as possible, and to report back to me and to the Executive Committee of the MIT Corporation, MIT's governing board."

Reif said Ito had submitted his resignation as director on Saturday afternoon and that Ito had also stepped down as a professor and employee of MIT. When asked to comment on The New Yorker article and Ito's resignation, a representative of the Media Lab pointed to Reif's letter.

The New Yorker report says Epstein helped secure donations from parties including Microsoft founder Bill Gates and that the lab's cover-up effort was an open secret among staff, some of whom gave Epstein the nickname Voldemort or "he who must not be named."

The Media Lab has been under scrutiny for its ties to Epstein, who last month committed suicide in jail while facing federal sex-trafficking charges. In late August, Ethan Zuckerman, director of the Center for Civic Media at MIT and an associate professor at the MIT Media Lab, said he was moving his work out of the Media Lab due to its ties with Epstein. Visiting professor J. Nathan Matias also said he'd be leaving the lab, which is known for wide-ranging research on everything from futuristic personal robots to online social experiments.

Shortly after those departure announcements, the Media Lab said in a statement that MIT had received around $800,000 in donations from Epstein over 20 years. This week Ito acknowledged taking $525,000 from Epstein for the Media Lab, as well as $1.2 million for his personal investment funds, according to The New York Times.

The New Yorker report, which cites internal MIT records and information from present and former Media Lab faculty and staff, says Epstein secured at least $7.5 million in lab donations, including $2 million from Gates and $5.5 million from investor Leon Black, founder of private-equity firm Apollo Global Management.

The report also says that "although Epstein was listed as 'disqualified' in MIT's official donor database, the Media Lab continued to accept gifts from him, consulted him about the use of the funds, and, by marking his contributions as anonymous, avoided disclosing their full extent, both publicly and within the university."

A spokesperson for Gates told The New Yorker that "any claim that Epstein directed any programmatic or personal grantmaking for Bill Gates is completely false." Gates' philanthropic foundation didn't respond to CNET's request for comment.

A spokeswoman for Apollo Global Management didn't have a comment. Black has said his dealings with Epstein were for the most part limited to estate planning, philanthropic advice and tax strategy, that Apollo has never done business with Epstein and that Black was unaware of the conduct alleged in the federal charges against Epstein.

Originally published Sept. 7, 1:15 p.m.
Updates, 1:54 p.m.: Adds detail; 2:53 p.m.: Includes further detail.
Correction, 2:02 p.m.: An earlier version of this story misstated part of Reif's letter. Ito has also stepped down as a professor and employee of MIT.