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Sci-Tech

MIT reveals Jeffrey Epstein donated $800K to its Media Lab and a professor

The elite university promised to review all future donations.

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Media Lab got some of the $800,000 donations from Jeffrey Epstein's foundations.

Jon Skillings/CNET

MIT received around $800,000 in donations from Jeffrey Epstein over 20 years, the university said in a statement Thursday. The money came from foundations controlled by the disgraced financier, who took his own life earlier this month as he was being held in jail on federal charges of sex trafficking, and went to MIT's Media Lab and Professor Seth Lloyd. Two professors have already severed ties with the Media Lab over Epstein's donations. 

"To my great regret, despite following the processes that have served MIT well for many years, in this instance we made a mistake of judgment," L. Rafael Reif, the elite university's president, wrote in the statement.

"In response, I have asked Provost Marty Schmidt to convene a group to examine the facts around the Epstein donations and identify any lessons for the future, to review our current processes and to advise me on appropriate ways we might improve them."

The Media Lab, known for research into domestic robots and Black Mirror-esque online social experiments, got drawn into scandal over its links to Epstein. 

Director Joi Ito apologized for accepting Epstein's money on behalf of the research center and his personal tech startup funds in an open letter last week. He acknowledged that he invited Epstein to the Media Lab and visited the financier's residences. Ito said he met Epstein in 2013, five years after Epstein pleaded guilty to "soliciting and procuring" a minor for prostitution.

In a deposition unsealed earlier this month, a woman testified that she was told to have sex with Marvin Minsky, an artificial intelligence pioneer who founded the Media Lab, when he visited Epstein's island in the US Virgin Islands. Minsky died in 2016.

Lloyd, a professor of mechanical engineering and physics, on Thursday posted an apology "to Jeffrey Epstein's victims" and acknowledged that he met the financier at a 2004 dinner. They met several times in the years that followed, and Epstein's foundation gave Lloyd a grant. Lloyd also said he accepted grants in 2012 and 2017, despite Epstein's conviction.

"These were professional as well as moral failings," he wrote. "By continuing to participate in discussions he had with me and other scientists and by accepting his donations, I helped Mr. Epstein protect his reputation, and I disempowered his victims. I should have focused on them instead of him."

He noted that he'd "committed financial resources" to aid Epstein's accusers and other survivors of sexual abuse.