Officials close to MIT Media Lab scandal resign

Two school officials have left their posts — either permanently or until further notice — in the wake of a scathing report detailing how the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Media Lab willingly received donations from Jeffrey Epstein, even though despite that the financier was "disqualified" as a donor.

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Peter Cohen, Brown University’s director of development for computer science and data initiatives, who previously held the role of M.I.T. Media Lab’s director of development, was placed on administrative leave, the university confirmed Sunday in a statement to The Providence Journal.

“We are engaged in a review of available information regarding Mr. Cohen in the context of Brown University policies, core values and the University’s commitment to treat employees fairly. Mr. Cohen is on administrative leave pending this review," wrote university spokesperson Brian Clark, adding that Brown did not receive any funds from Epstein.

On Saturday, Cohen’s former co-worker and director of the Media Lab, Joi Ito, stepped down.

Both men were the subjects of a bombshell report by The New Yorker on Friday, which featured emails and documents that showed how Cohen and Ito continued to receive money from Epstein anonymously, or as “directed” by Epstein from other wealthy investors, including Bill Gates and Leon Black, the report states.

Epstein had been identified as “disqualified” in M.I.T.’s database of donors, according to the report, but still, his donations poured in.

“Jeffrey money, needs to be anonymous. Thanks,” Cohen wrote in one email, dated Sept. 9, 2014, in response to an earlier email from Ito, which read: “Make sure this gets accounted for as anonymous.”

In an October 16 email from that same year, Ito sent an internal email — and signed his name — about a $2 million “gift from Bill Gates directed by Jeffrey Epstein.”

“Great!,” Cohen responded, according to the emails, which are featured in the report.

“For gift recording purposes, we will not be mentioning Jeffrey’s name as the impetus for this gift,” he added. “I’ve let 2 folks in central development who need to know know.”

Gates’s spokesperson told The New Yorker that any claims that Epstein directed grants on the billionaire’s behalf were “completely false.”

The multimillionaire was indicted in the Southern District of New York in July for conspiracy to commit sex trafficking of minors and sex trafficking of minors. The case was dismissed in late August, after Epstein was found dead inside his Metropolitan Correctional Center jail cell in lower Manhattan.

The New York City Office of the Chief Medical Examiner later determined Epstein had hanged himself to death.

M.I.T. President L. Rafael Reif and Ito had previously released separate statements in August acknowledging that they had received funds from Epstein-run foundations.

“I take full responsibility for my error in judgment. I am deeply sorry to the survivors, to the Media Lab, and to the MIT community for bringing such a person into our network,” Ito’s August 15 apology, states, in part.


Following Friday’s report, Ito sent a second memo, this time internally, which read:

“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.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.