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MIT Media Lab director resigns over financial ties to Jeffrey Epstein

Joi Ito and Reid Hoffman
Joi Ito and Reid Hoffman. Photo: Phillip Faraone/Getty Images for WIRED25

Dozens of rich and influential men surrounded Jeffrey Epstein. They knew that what they were doing was wrong. That's why they were so secretive about it.

Driving the news: In the aftermath of a blockbuster report from The New Yorker's Ronan Farrow — which details that MIT Media Lab's director Joi Ito flew to Epstein's private island twice and accepted more than $8 million of donations from him — Ito resigned on Saturday from MIT Media Lab, left his board seat with the New York Times Company, and resigned from the MacArthur Foundation.

  • Leon Black remains the chairman and CEO of private equity giant Apollo; he's also the chairman of the board of the Museum of Modern Art. Black donated $5.5 million to the Media Lab at Epstein's behest, on top of a $10 million donation that he made directly to Epstein's own foundation in 2015.
  • Bill Gates donated $2 million to the Media Lab in October 2014; Ito claimed at the time that the gift was "directed by Jeffrey Epstein". Gates asked that his name be kept out of any public discussion of the donation.
  • Reid Hoffman, the venture capitalist and founder of LinkedIn, hosted a dinner with Epstein in attendance featuring the likes of Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg. He also funds the Media Lab's Disobedience Award. (Epstein received an orb, which looks exactly like the Disobedience Award, for his service to the Lab.) When author and Disobedience Award juror Anand Giridharadas raised questions about the award's ties to Epstein, Hoffman was the man who slapped him down.
  • Outside the Media Lab there are many other names. The UK's Prince Andrew was close to Epstein both before and after Epstein's conviction, as was lawyer Alan Dershowitz. There are multiple connections between Epstein and Harvard, including a "special connection" with Lawrence Summers. Naturally there are ties to Donald Trump and Bill Clinton, too.

Epstein's enablers flew on his jets and visited his island and did multi-million-dollar deals with him even after he was convicted and jailed on a charge of soliciting underage girls for prostitution. Now they are starting to be held to account for their complicity.

None of these men are giving straight answers to questions about their involvement with Epstein. Black and Gates, in particular, are not explaining why they gave millions of dollars to the Media Lab in secret, with Epstein claiming full credit for those donations.

The bottom line: Epstein abused children, ruining dozens or even hundreds of lives while consorting merrily with his plutocratic friends. Those friends might have looked the other way at the time, but now — finally — they're beginning to be held accountable.

Go deeper: What we know about life and death of Jeffrey Epstein