The announcement Thursday suggests that decisions about whether and how to accept money from Epstein were more central, and intentional, than previously known.
In 2008, Epstein pleaded guilty to two felony offenses, including procuring a person under 18 for prostitution. Epstein was arrested in July on new federal charges of sexually abusing dozens of girls in the early 2000s and later found dead while in federal custody.
MIT President L. Rafael Reif wrote in a letter to campus that the investigation had turned up a 2012 letter signed by Reif thanking Epstein for a donation to Seth Lloyd, a mechanical engineering professor. The letter was a standard gift acknowledgment signed in the early weeks of his presidency and he does not remember it, Reif wrote, but it bears his signature.
Reif also revealed that senior members of his administration were aware of gifts the Media Lab received between 2013 and 2017 from Epstein’s foundations, according to Goodwin Procter, the law firm the university had hired to investigate.
In 2013, when senior members of Reif’s team learned of the first gift to the Media Lab, Ito asked for permission to keep the donation, Reif wrote.
“They knew in general terms about Epstein’s history — that he had been convicted and had served a sentence and that Joi believed that he had stopped his criminal behavior,” Reif wrote. “They accepted Joi’s assessment of the situation. Of course they did not know what we all know about Epstein now.”
Ito sought the gifts for general research, Reif wrote. “Because the members of my team involved believed it was important that Epstein not use gifts to MIT for publicity or to enhance his own reputation, they asked Joi to agree to make clear to Epstein that he could not put his name on them publicly. These guidelines were provided to and apparently followed by the Media Lab,” he wrote.
Epstein’s gifts were discussed during at least one of MIT’s regular senior team meetings and Reif was present at the meeting, according to the update given Wednesday night by members of the law firm to Reif and the executive committee of the MIT Corp.
MIT faculty officers and student government leaders did not immediately return messages seeking comment Thursday.
On social media, some expressed outrage at the revelations.
Reif wrote that “we could and should have asked more questions” about Epstein. “We did not see through the limited facts we had, and we did not take time to understand the gravity of Epstein’s offenses or the harm to his young victims. I take responsibility for those errors.”