MIT Media Lab director resigns after criticism over financial ties to Jeffrey Epstein

MIT's president said an article in The New Yorker "contains deeply disturbing allegations about the engagement between individuals at the Media Lab and Jeffrey Epstein."
Image: Joichi Ito
Joichi Ito, director of MIT Media Lab, speaks during a press conference in Tokyo, Japan, on July 8, 2016.Akio Kon / Bloomberg via Getty Images file

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By Kalhan Rosenblatt

Joichi Ito, the director of Massachusetts Institute of Technology's prestigious Media Lab, resigned on Saturday in the wake of revelations about his acceptance of contributions from Jeffrey Epstein, the multimillionaire financier who died by suicide last month while in prison on federal charges of sex trafficking.

Ito's resignation came one day after The New Yorker detailed his financial ties to Jeffrey Epstein.

"Last night, The New Yorker published an article that contains deeply disturbing allegations about the engagement between individuals at the Media Lab and Jeffrey Epstein," MIT President L. Rafael Reif wrote in a letter to the university's community.

He called the allegations "extremely serious," saying that "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," Reif continued.

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He said that he received Ito's resignation on Saturday afternoon.

Reif called the acceptance of gifts from Epstein a "mistake of judgment" and said the university "is actively assessing how best to improve our policies, processes and procedures" in order to "prevent such mistakes in the future."

In an email to the university’s provost, which was obtained by the The New York Times, Ito wrote: “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.”

Anand Giridharadas, an MSNBC contributor and former New York Times columnist, resigned as a juror for MIT's Disobedience Award after the Times and other news outlets reported that Ito had taken $525,000 from Epstein for the lab and another $1.2 million for his private investment funds.

"In recent days, as the revelations about Joi Ito's deep ties to Jeffrey Epstein became known, I reached out to him and associates of his multiple times to raise questions and ask him to take responsibility," Giridharadas said in a statement emailed to NBC News on Saturday. "I was unable to get a response from him."

Giridharadas said the New Yorker article, written by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Ronan Farrow, showed him that "it was apparently easier to get Joi's attention if you were someone like Jeffrey Epstein. Very responsive guy, if plutocratic predators were the ones emailing."

In his statement, Giridharadas said he felt that Ito did the "right thing by resigning," but added other universities, like Harvard, needed to be scrutinized for their alleged ties to Epstein.

"Universities are sacred institutions. We can no longer let them be turned into drive-through reputational laundromats for rich scoundrels," Giridharadas said.

Accused sex-trafficker Epstein, 66, died by suicide on Aug. 10 in a federal prison cell in Manhattan. He had previously served 13 months of an 18-month sentence for two Florida prostitution charges under a controversial 2008 deal that also required him to register as a sex offender.

MIT declined to comment beyond Reif's letter to the community. NBC News was not immediately able to reach Ito for comment.