Thursday, 9 Apr 2020

Brown University Puts Official Tied to Jeffrey Epstein’s M.I.T. Gifts on Leave

A former fund-raising official at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who helped secure donations coordinated by the disgraced financier Jeffrey Epstein for a prominent program there has been placed on administrative leave by Brown University, where he now works.

The fund-raising official, Peter Cohen, has stepped aside from his role as director of development for computer science and data initiatives amid 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,” said Brian Clark, a Brown spokesman.

“We are aware of the content of recent news reports about Mr. Cohen’s work at M.I.T.’s Media Lab, which received funds from Jeffrey Epstein,” Mr. Clark said. He added that the inquiry “does not constitute any adverse determination” and that it was premature to discuss possible outcomes. Brown never received money from Mr. Epstein, Mr. Clark said.

Mr. Cohen, who joined Brown in 2018, could not immediately be reached for comment. The Providence Journal reported on Brown’s decision to place him on leave on Sunday.

Brown’s move followed Joichi Ito’s resignation on Saturday as director of M.I.T.’s influential Media Lab. Mr. Ito quit after The New Yorker published emails detailing how university officials worked with Mr. Epstein, a convicted sex offender, to secure gifts from wealthy donors and then tried to hide those efforts. The emails suggested that Mr. Cohen was deeply involved in that work.

In an email in October 2014 — six years after Mr. Epstein had pleaded guilty to a sex charge involving a minor in Florida — Mr. Ito wrote that a $2 million gift from Bill Gates had been “directed by Jeffrey Epstein.”

In a subsequent email, Mr. Cohen wrote, “For gift recording purposes, we will not be mentioning Jeffrey’s name as the impetus for this gift.” (A spokesman for Mr. Gates, a co-founder of Microsoft, has denied that Mr. Epstein “directed any programmatic or personal grant making” on his behalf.)

The emails were shared with The New Yorker by Signe Swenson, who worked under Mr. Cohen at the Media Lab. Ms. Swenson also provided the emails to The New York Times. In an interview with The Times, she said that she had learned of Mr. Epstein’s ties to the program during a job interview in March 2014. She said she had told Mr. Cohen that M.I.T. listed Mr. Epstein as “disqualified” as a donor, and that Mr. Cohen had said Mr. Ito had a relationship with the financier.

Several top-tier universities have been caught in the fallout over Mr. Epstein’s philanthropy.

Mr. Epstein, who killed himself in a Manhattan jail cell last month while being held on federal sex-trafficking charges, also made a sizable donation to Harvard University. Mr. Epstein never earned a college degree, but nonetheless cast himself as a “Harvard man.” Harvard has said it has no plans to give back the $6.5 million it received from Mr. Epstein in 2003.

Marc Tracy and Tiffany Hsu contributed reporting.

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