Media Lab Director Joi Ito resigns after efforts to hide his ties with Epstein are revealed

The New Yorker reports that Epstein helped to solicit $7.5 million for the lab

Media Lab Director Joi Ito resigned Saturday afternoon following weeks of escalating revelations and outrage over his financial ties with Jeffrey Epstein. 

“After giving the matter a great deal of thought, I have chosen to resign as Director of the Media Lab and as a Professor and employee of the Institute, effective immediately,” Ito wrote in an email to Media Lab members obtained by The Tech

An article in The New Yorker Friday reported that the Media Lab’s relationship with Epstein, the late financier accused of sex trafficking, is far deeper than what President L. Rafael Reif described in his apology email to the MIT community Aug. 23. 

“[A]lthough Epstein was listed as ‘disqualified’ in M.I.T.’s official donor database, the Media Lab continued to accept gifts from him, consulted him about the use of the funds, and, by marking his contributions as anonymous, avoided disclosing their full extent, both publicly and within the university,” the article said. 

Most of the emails quoted in the article are between Ito, Epstein, and Peter Cohen, the then-director of development and strategy for the Media Lab, and they demonstrate a deliberate, concerted effort to keep Epstein’s donations anonymous. 

For example, in a 2014 email chain regarding a $100,000 donation from Epstein solicited by Ito, Ito wrote, “Make sure this gets accounted for as anonymous.” Cohen emphasized in his reply, “Jeffrey money, needs to be anonymous. Thanks.” 

The Tech reported Aug. 15 that Epstein Interests, one of Epstein’s foundations, donated $50,000 to MIT in 2012.

Reif then wrote in his Aug. 23 email that MIT received about $800,000 from Epstein or foundations controlled by Epstein over a 20-year span. All of the money went to either the Media Lab or Seth Lloyd, professor of mechanical engineering, according to Reif. 

At a meeting Wednesday, Ito said he accepted $1.2 million from Epstein for his investment funds, The New York Times reported

Now, according to The New Yorker’s article, Epstein is “credited with securing” an additional $7.5 million for the Media Lab by helping to solicit donations.

Ito described a $2 million gift from Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates as “directed” by Epstein, according to The New Yorker. Cohen wrote in an email, “For gift recording purposes, we will not be mentioning Jeffrey’s name as the impetus for this gift.” A spokesperson for Gates denied that Epstein directed his donations, the article said. 

Further emails appear to indicate that Epstein was the “point person for communication” with Gates and Apollo Global Management founder Leon Black, who donated $5.5 million to the lab, the article said. 

Reif sent an email to the MIT community Saturday afternoon addressing The New Yorker article and Ito’s resignation. Reif wrote that the claims in the article “demand an immediate, thorough and independent investigation” and that he has asked MIT’s General Counsel to “engage a prominent law firm to design and conduct this process.”

The Times wrote that Ito told them The New Yorker article was “full of factual errors.”

“I want to thank you for … allowing me begin to try to make amends,” Ito wrote in his email to the Media Lab. “I am confident the Lab will persevere.” 

Ito did not immediately respond to The Tech’s request for comment. 

Zoe Anderson contributed reporting.