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Jeffrey Epstein Gave $850,000 to M.I.T., and Administrators Knew

Over 15 years, the convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein repeatedly donated to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Top administrators knew about the gifts, felt conflicted about them, and accepted them anyway. The university’s president even signed a thank-you note.

But on Friday, months after the campus was roiled by revelations of Mr. Epstein’s financial ties to the school’s prominent Media Lab program, investigators hired by the school absolved M.I.T.’s leadership of breaking any rules.

The law firm Goodwin Procter spent four months compiling a report on M.I.T.’s dealings with Mr. Epstein, who killed himself in his Manhattan jail cell in August while awaiting trial on federal sex trafficking charges. The investigation found that Mr. Epstein made 10 donations — totaling $850,000, slightly more than M.I.T. had previously disclosed — from 2002 to 2017. Mr. Epstein also visited campus at least nine times from 2013 to 2017, a period that followed his conviction on sex charges involving a minor in Florida.

The university took action against only one person still connected with the school: Seth Lloyd, a mechanical engineering professor who previously acknowledged accepting money from Mr. Epstein, was placed on paid leave. The report found that Mr. Lloyd had “purposefully failed” to inform M.I.T. of multiple donations from Mr. Epstein, including a $60,000 gift deposited into his personal bank account.

The report concluded that Mr. Epstein’s visits, along with any donations made after his 2008 conviction in Florida, had been enabled by Mr. Lloyd or Joichi Ito, the former director of the Media Lab who stepped down in September. (Mr. Ito also resigned from The New York Times Company’s board.)

The 61-page report, based on dozens of interviews and a review of more than 610,000 emails and documents, cleared others of wrongdoing, including the university’s president, L. Rafael Reif. Mr. Reif acknowledged last year that he had signed a letter thanking Mr. Epstein for a donation in 2012, but the report said he “had no role in approving” the donations.

One current and two former M.I.T. vice presidents who learned of Mr. Epstein’s donations in 2013 and began quietly approving them were rebuked in the report, but not disciplined because it concluded that they had not broken any university policies.

The three vice presidents — R. Gregory Morgan, Jeffrey Newton and Israel Ruiz — made “significant errors in judgment that resulted in serious damage to the M.I.T. community,” according to the report.

Mr. Ruiz is the school’s executive vice president and treasurer, although the university announced last month that he would step down this semester for a career outside of academia. The announcement made no mention of the Epstein scandal.

Mr. Ruiz said in a statement that he was confident that the university’s leadership and broader community would “create an effective and successful path forward.”

Mr. Morgan and Mr. Newton have retired from the university. They did not respond to requests for comment.

According to the report, the men debated whether to accept Mr. Epstein’s money “in the absence of any M.I.T. policy regarding controversial gifts.” They reached a compromise: Under “an informal framework,” the school would accept the donations while insisting that the gifts be small and unpublicized to prevent Mr. Epstein from using them to improve his reputation or gain influence at the university, the report said.

Efforts to reclassify Mr. Epstein’s donations as anonymous “made it impossible for all but a select few to see the number or amount of Epstein donations,” the school’s executive committee said in a statement. The committee called for university employees “to take steps to protect and ensure the integrity and factual accuracy of the donor database.”

Denis A. Bovin, a member of the executive committee, said at a news conference that M.I.T. had not thought it would need a policy concerning gifts from someone with Mr. Epstein’s past.

“We never thought in our history that we’d have this kind of problem,” he said.

Mr. Lloyd, the professor, is now under review in the mechanical engineering department, with proceedings “moving swiftly,” Alan G. Spoon, a member of M.I.T.’s board of trustees, said during a conference call with reporters.

Mr. Lloyd, who was introduced by his book agent to Mr. Epstein in 2004, declined to comment.

The report focused heavily on Mr. Ito, the former Media Lab director, who acknowledged raising $1.7 million from Mr. Epstein for the lab and his own outside investment funds. The disclosure raised an uproar at a program that prides itself on its contrarian culture.

Mr. Ito, a master networker who raised at least $50 million for the Media Lab, met Mr. Epstein in 2013 at a TED conference in California and then “cultivated” the financier as a donor and a link to other wealthy people, according to the report.

Mr. Ito resigned from the Media Lab in September. He also stepped down from several other boards and a visiting professorship at Harvard. He did not respond to a request for comment.

The report found that Mr. Epstein’s presence on campus had disturbed Media Lab staff members — investigators were told that Mr. Epstein was sometimes accompanied by young female assistants — and that Mr. Ito probably sensed their nervousness. In 2013, Mr. Ito expressed concern that a proposed campus visit from Mr. Epstein and the director Woody Allen could result in a public relations headache, investigators found. A Media Lab communications employee distributed photos of one event to other people at the lab, writing in an email that they should “feel free to post on social media — as long as Jeffrey Epstein does not appear in any of the photos!”

News reports about other internal emails previously demonstrated how Media Lab officials had obfuscated Mr. Epstein’s relationship with the program. The emails included references to donations from other wealthy figures that purportedly involved Mr. Epstein.

In one 2014 email, Mr. Ito wrote that a $2 million gift from the Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates had been “directed by Jeffrey Epstein.” In a subsequent email, another lab official wrote that “for gift recording purposes, we will not be mentioning Jeffrey’s name as the impetus for this gift.” In another email exchange, Mr. Ito discussed how Mr. Epstein was helping to connect the lab to Leon Black, the founder of Apollo Global Management, a prominent private equity fund. One email indicated that Mr. Black had given the lab $4 million.

Mr. Gates has denied that Mr. Epstein directed grant-making on his behalf. A representative for Mr. Black said he could not immediately be reached for comment.

Roberto Braceras, a Goodwin Procter partner who led the investigation, said on the conference call that his team spoke with representatives of Mr. Gates, who “deny that any Gates donation had any relationship to anything regarding Epstein.” He said Mr. Black’s representatives could not be reached, but added that “there’s no evidence that Black’s donations were the result of Epstein’s encouragement.”

The university has already set up two faculty-led committees to work on new policies for gifts and the vetting of donors. Those committees are expected to deliver their recommendations in the spring, and the executive committee said administrators should work closely with them to put such policies in place as soon as possible.

Crystal Lee, a graduate student at M.I.T., said she was relieved that Mr. Lloyd was no longer teaching students. But she said the report did not answer all the questions she had.

“I am still troubled by many of the specific details of the case that will go unresolved with the report’s air of finality,” she said.

For example, she said, the university offers only “woefully inadequate” support for mental health, despite the circumstances of the scandal.

“I am optimistic that M.I.T. can and should change, if only because of my fellow students, who have done so much work to make this campus a better place,” she said.

Kate Kelly contributed reporting. Sheelagh McNeill contributed research.