Jan 10, 2020

MIT puts tenured professor on paid leave over Jeffrey Epstein gifts

In this illustration, Jeffrey Epstein is surrounded by money

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

MIT announced Friday that mechanical engineering professor Seth Lloyd was placed on paid administrative leave following the school's review into donations it received from convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein.

By the numbers: MIT found that Epstein made 10 separate gifts to the school totaling $850,000 from 2002 to 2017. Nine of those donations were made after Epstein's 2008 conviction, including $225,000 to Lloyd and $525,000 to the MIT Media Lab.

  • Three MIT vice presidents learned of Epstein's gifts to the school's Media Lab in 2013 — but without "any MIT policy regarding controversial gifts, Epstein’s subsequent gifts to the Institute were approved under an informal framework," the report found.

The big picture: MIT maintained that no senior team members violated the law or breached its policy in connection with Epstein's gifts, but notes that "certain" members failed to adequately consider:

  1. "Whether accepting money from Epstein was consistent with MIT’s core values."
  2. "The impact that MIT’s acceptance of Epstein’s money would have on the MIT community should those donations become known."
  3. "Whether it was appropriate to accept donations with a requirement by MIT that they remain anonymous."

What they're saying, via the findings of the investigation, which was conducted by law firm Goodwin Procter: "Professor Lloyd knew that donations from Epstein would be controversial and that MIT might reject them."

  • "We conclude that, in concert with Epstein, he purposefully decided not to alert the Institute to Epstein’s criminal record, choosing instead to allow mid-level administrators to process the donations without any formal discussion or diligence concerning Epstein."

Worth noting: The report did not find evidence that funds donated to MIT by Apollo Global Management CEO and Chairman Leon Black or Bill Gates were actually Epstein’s money or that the men acted to launder Epstein’s money.

  • Per Axios' Felix Salmon, MIT's fundraising office devised an idea that Epstein should not donate money directly. Instead, Epstein would allegedly engineer a donation from Black, Gates or other undefiled third parties.
  • Black's gifts were understood within the Media Lab to be Epstein money, according to three MIT sources — and that understanding applied more broadly than just to Black.

Flashback: MIT Media Lab's director Joi Ito resigned, left his board seat with the New York Times Company, and resigned from the MacArthur Foundation in September following a blockbuster report from The New Yorker's Ronan Farrow that said Ito flew to Epstein's private island twice and accepted more than $8 million in donations from him.

Go deeper ... Exclusive: MIT and Jeffrey Epstein's billionaire enablers

Go deeper