Joichi Ito, head of the Media Lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), has resigned after it was revealed that he and other Media Lab staff had attempted to conceal financial contributions from convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein.
The New Yorker reported last Friday that Ito and MIT Media lab – which hosts a number of innovation programs including a Digital Currency Initiative – had accepted donations from Epstein even though the financier was on the university’s “disqualified” donors list and attempted to keep the source of the funds a secret.
Ito had disclosed last Wednesday that he had accepted $525,000 from Epstein for the lab, as well as $1.2 million for his investment funds.
However, the New Yorker published MIT emails sent by Ito that appear to illustrate how he had attempted to veil the donations from the university and the public.
After Epstein funded a researcher at the lab, Ito penned one message that said: “Make sure this gets accounted for as anonymous.”
Reportedly, the fact that the links to Epstein were widely known in the lab and he was known as Harry Potter villain Voldemort, “he must not be named,” among staff.
Epstein had also allegedly encouraged other notable figures to back the lab, including Bill Gates and investor Leon Black. When Gates made a $2 million contribution, Peter Cohen, the lab’s then Director of Development and Strategy reportedly said in an MIT email:
“This is a $2M gift from Bill Gates directed by Jeffrey Epstein For gift recording purposes, we will not be mentioning Jeffrey’s name as the impetus for this gift.”
A spokesperson for Gates denied that Epstein had a role in directing any funding by the Microsoft billionaire.
Ito resigned from his role at MIT a day after the New Yorker report. MIT President L. Rafael Reif said in a message to the MIT community:
“Because the accusations in the story are extremely serious, they demand an immediate, thorough and independent investigation. This morning, I asked MIT’s General Counsel to engage a prominent law firm to design and conduct this process.”
Ito is also reported by the New York Times as having stepped down from positions at the MacArthur Foundation, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and The New York Times Company, as well as a visiting professorship at Harvard.
It’s not yet clear if the scandal will affect the operations of lab’s various programs, including the Digital Currency Initiative.
Joi Ito image via CoinDesk archives