The director at Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Media Lab has resigned after becoming embroiled in a scandal over the lab’s financial ties to mysterious multimillionaire and convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein.
“After giving the matter a great deal of thought over the past several days and weeks, I think that it is best that I resign as Director of the Media Lab and as a Professor and employee of the Institute, effective immediately,” Ito wrote in an email to the university’s provost and president, which was first reported by the New York Times.
The Media Lab has been rocked by ties to Epstein, with the lab admitting in August that it received $800,000 in donations from the deceased financier. Ito has said he was deeply sorry for “bringing such a person into our network,” while also disclosing that he had accepted $1.2 million from Epstein for personal investments.
Ito also stepped down from the board of The New York Times Company on Saturday, according to a spokesperson, who said in a statement that the resignation would be “effective immediately.”
Ito’s resignations come a day after the New Yorker revealed that the Media Lab’s financial relationship to Jeffrey Epstein was more deeply entangled than what was previously known or Ito had disclosed to the public.
In a letter to members of the MIT community that was released to the public Saturday afternoon, university president Rafael Reif confirmed that Ito submitted his resignation, severing all ties with MIT.
Reif said he found the new details about Media Lab’s financial ties to Epstein “deeply disturbing” and has asked MIT’s general counsel to hire a prominent law firm to help launch an independent investigation.
“Because the accusations in the story are extremely serious, they demand an immediate, thorough and independent investigation,” Reif said. “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 reiterated what he has previously said that accepting Epstein’s gifts “involved a mistake of judgment” and an internal review of the processes and procedures is continuing.
Epstein had been on a university list of “disqualified donors” when Ito accepted some of the sex offender’s donations. In one email, according to the New Yorker, Ito wrote of an Epstein gift, “Make sure this gets accounted for as anonymous.” One of his deputies reiterated the sentiment: “Jeffrey money, needs to be anonymous. Thanks.”
In an email from October 2014 obtained by the New Yorker, Ito wrote that Epstein had directed a $2 million donation from billionaire philanthropist Bill Gates. Peter Cohen, then a development official at the lab, wrote in a subsequent email, “For gift recording purposes, we will not be mentioning Jeffrey’s name as the impetus for this gift.”
Ito told the New York Times that the New Yorker report was “full of factual errors.”
On Wednesday, Media Lab co-founder Nicholas Negroponte defended Ito’s decision to take money from Epstein, MIT Technology Review reported he said at an internal meeting that he would accept the funds even now.
“If you wind back the clock,” he said, even knowing about the allegations against Epstein now, “I would still say, ‘Take it,’” he said. He repeated, “‘Take it.’”
Two Media Lab members have cut ties since August, after the connections to Epstein came to light. Ethan Zuckerman, director of the lab’s Center for Civic Media, resigned in August, and visiting scholar J. Nathan Matias said that he would be ending his affiliation with the lab at the end of this academic year.
MIT isn’t the only university to court Epstein’s wide-ranging donations. Epstein’s shadowy charity, Gratitude America, Ltd., donated $6.5 million to Harvard’s Program for Evolutionary Dynamics, a check the university kept even after media outlets revealed the money’s origin. Harvard’s prestigious Hasty Pudding Institute of 1770 included Epstein among its top donors in 2018.
Epstein, a millionaire and convicted sex offender who killed himself in August inside the federal jail where he was housed while awaiting trial on federal sex trafficking charges, socialized with a glittering array of politicians and scientist over the years, often in an effort to launder his own reputation.
As new allegations against him surfaced in recent months, his associates from those accused of helping him to those who have hobnobbed with him over the years have been caught up in the backlash.
The fallout from the new allegations includes Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta, who resigned in the weeks following Esptein’s arrest. Acosta, who was U.S. Attorney in the Southern District of Florida when Epstein was under investigation for similar allegations in the state, has faced scrutiny of his handling of a plea deal, which allowed the financier to go to work while in prison and which many saw as too lenient.