Although Epstein’s donations were long ago spent on other projects, the council, which made no move to oust Epstein as a result of his 2008 conviction on sex crimes, said Monday that it will give $100,000 to two nonprofits that help victims of human trafficking, Safe Horizon and Girls Educational & Mentoring Services. In addition, the council will spend $250,000 to launch its own project exploring how “to develop more robust legal standards and enforcement mechanisms to combat trafficking” and to identify how the United States and other countries can detect and halt trafficking operations, said Lisa Shields, a council spokeswoman.
“While the Council was not aware of Epstein’s behavior when we received these donations, after extensive consultations with members of the board as well as individual CFR members, we have concluded it would be right to allocate his donations in a way that is consistent with our values,” Shields said in a statement.
A number of other academic and charitable organizations that had received large gifts from Epstein moved to return or redirect his donations either after his 2008 conviction or after his arrest last summer. MIT, for example, announced in August that it would donate an amount matching the $800,000 he had given the university to charities for Epstein’s victims or other sexual abuse victims.
Although Harvard received far more money from Epstein — about $9 million, including one donation of $6.5 million in 2003 — the university made no move to redirect his gifts after his conviction. Harvard stopped accepting gifts from Epstein after his 2008 conviction, a spokesman said earlier this fall. And in September, Harvard president Lawrence Bacow said the school would review its procedures for vetting donors and would redirect the unspent portion of Epstein’s gifts — $186,000 — “to organizations that support victims of human trafficking and sexual assault.”
The Council on Foreign Relations, which has about 5,000 members including many prominent figures in politics, business and media, is also changing its rules so that it will move more quickly to toss out members “who have committed serious crimes,” Shields said.
Although Epstein pleaded guilty in 2008 to two felonies, including soliciting a minor, and served 13 months in a county jail, the council did not revoke his membership because of his criminal offenses. Rather, at least two years after he came under investigation for sexual abuse of minors, the council erased him from its membership roll “on the basis of nonpayment of dues,” according to a memo that council president Richard Haass wrote to members in August.
Many nonprofits have established procedures for returning or redirecting gifts from convicted or otherwise tainted sources, but others handle such cases individually.