More Epstein Fallout at MIT

MIT puts professor on leave over new revelations about his ties to Jeffrey Epstein as it issues anticipated report.

January 13, 2020
 
Seth Lloyd

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology said Friday that Seth Lloyd, Nam Pyo Suh Professor of Mechanical Engineering and Physics, is on paid leave for deliberately failing to report donations from the late sex offender Jeffrey Epstein.

Lloyd also was found to have received $60,000 from Epstein in 2005 or 2006, which he acknowledged he deposited into a personal bank account without notifying MIT.

The revelations come from a new fact-finding report commissioned by MIT to better understand Epstein’s interactions with MIT before and after his conviction in 2008. (Epstein faced additional sex-trafficking charges prior to his death in federal custody last summer.) MIT committed to the external review following the resignation of Joi Ito as director of the Media Lab in September over reports that he’d deliberately concealed donations from Epstein.

Epstein gave Lloyd two $50,000 donations in 2012 and $125,000 in 2017, according to the new report. Allegedly knowing that these gifts would raise red flags, Lloyd let midlevel administrators process them without discussing the move with senior administrators first.

Goodwin Procter, the law firm behind the investigation, also found that Epstein had visited MIT’s campus nine times since 2013.

Alan G. Spoon, a member of the MIT Corporation, the university’s governing board, said during a news conference that he found the campus visit information to be “very disturbing.”

Fellow board member Denis A. Bovin said that MIT allows its professors to invite whomever they wish to campus, but that that may change. The question, he said, is “where do you draw the line?” Noting that the courts deemed Epstein a Level-3, or highest-level sex offender, Bovin suggested that that was a good place to start.

MIT, working with faculty members, also plans to review its various donor policies. The new report says that the Epstein donations violated no university policy on controversial donors because no such policy exists. But the report accuses those involved in hiding the donations of exercising poor judgment. It recommends a review of conflict of interest and other gift guidelines.

President Rafael Reif has faced internal and external scrutiny over the Epstein case -- including questions about how much he knew, when. The report found that while some of Reif’s vice presidents knew about the donations and tried to cover them up, he did not. Two of those colleagues left MIT several years ago, and the third, Israel Ruiz, previously announced that he is stepping down as executive vice president and treasurer.

Reif had already admitted that he signed a standard gift acknowledgment letter involving Epstein in 2012. The report determined that he did not know who Epstein was at the time. 

Spoon said the board retains “full confidence” in Reif’s leadership.

Reif said in an all-campus memo Friday that “if we can face the institute’s flaws with honesty and build on its great strengths, we can not only make our community stronger, more equitable, more inclusive and more effective, we can offer a model for deliberate self-assessment, growth and change.”

Underscoring recommendations from the MIT Corporation’s executive committee, Reif pledged action on creating guidelines on controversial donors and encouraging whistle-blowers to come forward. He also promised to keep the campus safe from visitors who may pose a threat, to support the Media Lab that accepted Epstein funds via Ito in its path forward, and to work on broader campus climate issues.

Via email, Lloyd said he couldn't comment at the moment but planned to later this week. Spoon and Bovin said he is facing the standard faculty disciplinary process. 

Under mounting pressure, MIT said last year that Epstein had made donations totaling $800,000 and that it would donate the same amount to sexual abuse survivors. It also pledged to provide more details after a full review. 

Goodwin Procter’s investigators found that Epstein’s donations in fact totaled $850,000, starting with a $100,000 gift in 2002 to Marvin Minsky, a professor who died in 2016. Nine other donations were made after 2008, according to the report, amounting to $525,000 to the Media Lab and $225,000 to Lloyd.

The Media Lab reportedly rejected a $25,000 gift from Epstein last year, as he attracted more media attention.

Epstein reportedly said in 2014 that he’d arranged major donations to MIT from Bill Gates and Leon Black of Apollo Global Management. But the report found no evidence to support that. The Gates Foundation also denied the claim.

Those MIT administrators involved in concealing Epstein’s donations reportedly developed an acceptance “framework” that involved smaller, unpublicized donations. But Epstein repeatedly ignored that requirement, the report found, and even claimed credit in 2014 for gifts he did not make to MIT.

Investigators also determined that Ito in 2016 tried to get Robert Millard, chair of the MIT Corporation, to woo him as a donor. Epstein invited Millard to dinner, but he declined.

MIT is working with faculty members to determine where it will donate the new figure of $850,000 to abuse survivors. 

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