Joichi Ito has been forced out as head of the Media Lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) as well as from biotech builder PureTech’s board after financial ties to the deceased sex offender Jeffrey Epstein were uncovered.
The exposé, published by The New Yorker over the weekend, found that: “Dozens of pages of e-mails and other documents obtained by The New Yorker reveal that, although Epstein was listed as 'disqualified' in MIT’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.”
He's also said to have solicited funds through his connections to other wealthy groups and individuals to boost the Labs’ income, generating around $7.5 million (£6.1m) in donations, including $2 million from Microsoft founder Bill Gates.
Epstein, a billionaire with connections to some of the most powerful and wealthy elite in the world (including presidents and the British monarchy), was charged in 2008 with soliciting prostitution, although he did not receive a federal prosecution.
Earlier this year, Epstein was arrested on federal sex-trafficking charges, but later died in a jail cell from an apparent suicide.
Ito, who ran the Media Lab, swiftly resigned from his position after The New Yorker’s report. Ito has also acknowledged that he had accepted a $525,000 donation from Epstein, along with $1.2 million for his own personal investment funds.
“After giving the matter a great deal of thought over the past several days and weeks, I think that it is best that I resign as director of the media lab and as a professor and employee of the Institute, effective immediately,” Ito wrote in an internal email published by The New Yorker.
MIT President Rafael Reif said in a statement over the weekend: “Because the accusations in the story are extremely serious, they demand an immediate, thorough and independent investigation. This morning, I asked MIT’s General Counsel to engage a prominent law firm to design and conduct this process. I expect the firm to conduct this review as swiftly as possible, and to report back to me and to the Executive Committee of the MIT Corporation, MIT’s governing board.
“This afternoon (Saturday, Sept. 9), Joi Ito submitted his resignation as Director of the Media Lab and as a professor and employee of the Institute.
“As I described in my previous letter, the acceptance of the Epstein gifts involved a mistake of judgment. We are actively assessing how best to improve our policies, processes and procedures to fully reflect MIT’s values and prevent such mistakes in the future. Our internal review process continues, and what we learn from it will inform the path ahead.”
Following quickly on its heels was hit exit from PureTech’s board as its chair: “Given circumstances related to the MIT Media Lab, we agreed that Joi’s resignation from PureTech was appropriate,” said Daphne Zohar, founder and chief of PureTech. “We are pleased to have (Former Sanofi CEO) Chris Viehbacher as our interim chair.”