Harvard science professors kept meeting with donor Jeffrey Epstein despite his sex offender status

All meetings were presumably related to genetics research. Epstein gave $6.5 million to Harvard's Program for Evolutionary Dynamics.
Jeffrey Epstein with Professor Alan Dershowitz
Jeffrey Epstein, wearing a Harvard shirt, speaks with attorney Alan Dershowitz in 2004. Dershowitz would later be a member of Epstein's defense team when Epstein was accused of soliciting sex from minors in Florida. Rick Friedman / Corbis via Getty Images

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By Laura Strickler

WASHINGTON — Disgraced hedge fund manager Jeffrey Epstein was attending on-campus meetings as recently as 2014 with professors at Harvard University, a school he had supported with at least one multimillion-dollar donation, even though the registered sex offender's ties to the school had already raised questions.

Epstein, who donated $6.5 million to Harvard's Program for Evolutionary Dynamics in 2003, had phone calls, meetings and meals with members of the Harvard faculty at least six times in 2014, according to the online personal calendar of Dr. George Church, a renowned geneticist who holds professorships at Harvard, Harvard Medical School and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

On April 22, Epstein met with Church at the Harvard Medical School's Genetics Department building, according to the calendar. The two had a phone call the next day. He had lunch with Church on June 21, according to the calendar. The entry for the note also includes the notation "Martin Nowak's Institute."

Nowak, a Harvard professor of biology and mathematics, is the director of the Program for Evolutionary Dynamics, the project to which Epstein donated. The program, which Nowak runs from an office suite at 1 Brattle Square in Cambridge, Massachusetts, applies math to genetics to seek cures for cancer and other diseases. Epstein has represented himself as a co-founder of the program.

On Sept. 12, Epstein and Church had another phone call, which was followed by a teleconference call Oct. 21 between Epstein and Church that also included James Clement, an independent biomedical researcher who specializes in longevity.

On Nov. 30, the calendar lists a dinner with multiple attendees: "Dinner w/ Jeff Epstein, Joi Ito, Reid Hoffman and Martin Nowak, 8pm, Martin Nowak's institute, 1 Brattle Square, Suite 6, Cambridge, MA." The address matches the address for the Program for Evolutionary Dynamics.

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Ito is an entrepreneur and journalist. Hoffman is a venture capitalist and the co-founder of Linkedin.

Church, Ito, Nowak and Clement did not respond to requests for comment. Church did not respond to questions about who else might have attended the meetings and whether "Martin Nowak's institute" refers to the Program for Evolutionary Dynamics. Hoffman declined to comment.

All the meetings were presumably related to genetics research. It is not known whether any of the participants were aware of Epstein's status as a registered sex offender.

Epstein is now facing separate federal sex trafficking charges in New York.

Lawyers for Epstein did not respond to a request for comment.

Church's 2014 calendar, which was attached to his personal website, was temporarily removed from the internet after NBC News made inquiries to Harvard. It was then restored to the site but in a less prominent position. The calendar link on the site now defaults to a current 2019 schedule.

A Harvard official told NBC News the university does not control whom faculty members meet with or whom they talk to.

In 2006, after the public learned of state and federal investigations into Epstein's alleged sexual contacts with minors, a Harvard spokesperson told a reporter for the campus newspaper that the university would not be returning Epstein's $6.5 million gift. The Harvard Crimson article also noted that when Epstein made his initial donation, he had "agreed to consider raising his total contribution to $30 million after a review of the program's progress." As of 2006, according to the Crimson article, the University said that review had not occurred.

Epstein touted his affiliation with Harvard long after agreeing to federal and state plea deals, pleading guilty to a single state charge and registering as a sex offender in 2008. A bio published on the web in 2014 by Epstein's foundation said, "Mr. Epstein is the founder of the Program for Evolutionary Dynamics at Harvard University… the Program has developed critical mathematical models of how viruses and cancer cells evolve." In a 2003 Vanity Fair article that referred to "the Epstein Program for Mathematical Biology and Evolutionary Dynamics" at Harvard, Epstein said he was reluctant to have his name attached to the program, but Harvard President Larry Summers "persuaded" him.

A Harvard source said the Program for Evolutionary Dynamics has never borne Epstein's name.

Epstein's press releases have repeatedly referred to a $30 million gift he made to Harvard in 2000. A Harvard source familiar with Epstein's donations was unaware of any significant gift to Harvard other than his initial $6.5 million donation in 2003.

A Harvard spokesperson said that the university does not comment on specific gifts.

Harvard declined comment in December 2018 when the Crimson again asked if the school would return Epstein's money.

Epstein, who has been photographed wearing Harvard gear, did not attend the university. He attended Cooper Union and New York University without graduating.