Sep 16, 2019

How Jeffrey Epstein supported Harvard after his conviction

Felix Salmon, author of Edge

Photo: Rick Friedman/Corbis via Getty Images

Harvard's association with Jeffrey Epstein did not end in 2008, when the financier was convicted of sex crimes in Florida.

The big picture: Between 1998 and 2007, Epstein gave about $8.9 million to Harvard, mostly in the form of a $6.5 million 2003 gift to Martin Nowak's Program for Evolutionary Dynamics. After the conviction, Harvard "specifically rejected a gift from Epstein," according to a letter from the university's current president, Lawrence Bacow. But Epstein continued to come and go freely on campus.

  • In 2012, for instance, he attended a meeting in Nowak's office with financier Leon Black and other men including Henry Rosovsky, the dean of Harvard's faculty of arts and sciences. He even put photos of the meeting on his website.

"To date, we have uncovered no gifts received from Epstein or his foundation following his guilty plea," writes Bacow. But Epstein found indirect ways to support Harvard financially after that date.

Joscha Bach is a cognitive scientist who worked closely with Nowak. But from 2013 to 2016, he was also a research fellow at the MIT Media Lab.

  • In September 2014, MIT Media Lab director Joi Ito wrote to Jeffrey Epstein saying that the money in "the account for Joscha" was running out, and that he needed another $100,000 to extend his contract for another year.
  • Epstein replied within 10 minutes, agreeing to provide the money.

The bottom line: Bach was working at Harvard, but the money to pay him was coming from Epstein, via the MIT Media Lab. It was an indirect way for Epstein to support Harvard's work.

  • UC Davis professor Jonathan Eisen has uncovered multiple occasions where Nowak thanked Epstein for funding his work after 2008. (See this Twitter thread.) Nowak also wrote in 2014 that "Epstein is actively involved in the Program for Evolutionary Dynamics and regularly participates in lectures and academic events."
  • Both Nowak and Bach were close to Epstein, according to sources, and were certainly aware of how Bach was being funded. It's not clear whether Harvard's central administration knew about the arrangement.

Epstein used his money to build ties with other Harvard-related institutions, too, after he was barred from donating to the university directly. As previously reported by WBUR, Epstein gave $50,000 in 2016 to the Hasty Pudding Institute of 1770, a non-profit that supports 3 Harvard clubs. He also gave $110,000 to Verse Video Education, a nonprofit run by Elisa New, who is married to former Harvard president Lawrence Summers.

  • New told WBUR that she was "profoundly troubled" by the latest allegations against Epstein; she didn't respond to a further request for comment from Axios. Nowak and Bach also did not respond to requests for comment.
  • A Harvard spokesman, Jonathan Swain, said in an email: "At the University Central Administration level, we would not be in a position to know to how often or how many times Epstein may have visited the PED [Program for Evolutionary Dynamics] offices or met with faculty or researchers."
  • Swain added: "In terms of funding for PED researchers after 2008, I can simply refer you back to President Bacow’s message from last Thursday, and in particular, his statement that it is something the University is looking into as part of our ongoing review."

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