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Director of M.I.T. Media Lab Apologizes for Ties to Jeffrey Epstein

Joichi Ito, the director of the M.I.T. Media Lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a member of The New York Times Company’s board, apologized Thursday for his ties to Jeffrey Epstein, the financier whom federal prosecutors in New York charged with sex trafficking before his apparent suicide in his cell at the Metropolitan Correctional Center in Manhattan last week.

Mr. Ito, who is also a professor at M.I.T., said in a statement posted on the M.I.T. Media Lab website that he had met Mr. Epstein in 2013 through a “trusted business friend” and had allowed him to donate to the lab through foundations he controlled and invest in several of Mr. Ito’s outside funds that back start-ups.

“In my fund-raising efforts for M.I.T. Media Lab, I invited him to the lab and visited several of his residences,” Mr. Ito said in the statement. “I want you to know that in all of my interactions with Epstein, I was never involved in, never heard him talk about and never saw any evidence of the horrific acts that he was accused of.”

Mr. Epstein, who was long dogged by accusations that he had sexually abused girls, pleaded guilty in 2008 to state charges of solicitation of prostitution from a minor, five years before he and Mr. Ito met. The plea was part of a deal that is now under scrutiny.

In his statement, Mr. Ito said he took “full responsibility for my error in judgment,” adding, “I am deeply sorry to the survivors, to the Media Lab and to the M.I.T. community for bringing such a person into our network.”

He pledged to raise the same amount of money M.I.T. had accepted from Mr. Epstein and donate it “to nonprofits that focus on supporting survivors of trafficking.” Mr. Ito added, “I will also return the money that Epstein has invested in my investment funds.”

Mr. Ito did not disclose the amounts. He and M.I.T. declined to comment beyond his statement.

After Mr. Epstein served a 13-month sentence in the Palm Beach County Jail in Florida, he tried to rebuild his reputation, cultivating connections with elite academics while portraying himself to Wall Street and the news media as a philanthropist who backed cutting-edge science.

His interests often veered toward fringe concepts, such as cryonics and transhumanism, which critics have described as modern-day version of eugenics. Scientists continued to associate with him, sometimes attending dinner parties at his mansion in Manhattan or making visits to his private Caribbean island. The geneticist George Church, whose Harvard University lab accepted money from Mr. Epstein more than a decade ago, apologized this month for his “poor awareness and judgment” in an interview with the health-focused news website STAT.

The M.I.T. Media Lab started in 1985 as a research center devoted to advances in a wide variety of disciplines, including digital technology, robotics and neurobiology. It has an annual operating budget of $80 million, according to its website, much of it provided by “member” organizations. The companies listed on its website include Comcast, Exxon, Google, Nike, PepsiCo and Salesforce, among many others. Mr. Ito was named the lab’s director in 2011.

He is also a board member at the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. Since 2012, he has been a Times Company board member and serves on the audit and technology and innovation committees.


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