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This seemed inevitable after the New Yorker article yesterday detailing how Ito and his team hid Epstein's involvement from the university, which had disqualified Epstein as a donor.

Taking money from a dirty source is one thing; hiding it from the university because they've blacklisted that person in particular is about as unforgivable a crime as you'll find in academia




> Taking money from a dirty source is one thing; hiding it from the university because they've blacklisted that person in particular is about as unforgivable a crime as you'll find in academia

TBH, I've never heard of a blacklisted donor at MIT, so I'm a little surprised (pleasantly, as an alum).


I'm confused by the blacklisted donor thing. The first questions I had when reading about it was "when did he end up on this list?", "why did he end up on it?, and "how big is this list?"

It doesn't seem like any of the journalists even asked. That sounds like a very interesting story in and of itself.


The original New Yorker article says he was blacklisted after his 2008 felony conviction. I've been told that the CRM software used by university development offices is pretty phenomenal. It was hinted to me that it automatically annotates donor records with SEC stock transaction disclosures, and I wouldn't be surprised if it also annotates donor records with public criminal court proceedings.


>It was hinted to me that it automatically annotates donor records with SEC stock transaction disclosures

I assume this is so they can hit you up for money right after you sell a bunch of stock? Clever.


And also so they can revise their estimates of your net worth so they know how much to ask for without making it awkward.


It would be significantly more tax-efficient for the donor to donate (appreciated) stock.


Yea, I suspect his prior conviction for “solicitation of prostitution involving a minor” may have played a part. But, the details could be interesting.


I wonder how that happens, like what would have caused them to take notice and add him to a list?

In part, I wonder if it has any connection to Gregory Benford's description of Minsky's interaction with Epstein: https://pjmedia.com/instapundit/339725/


I'm just spitballing here, but if someone is involved in delivering millions of dollars' worth of donations to you, it would be reasonable to perform a basic background check on them, just to guard against huge potential PR problems. I doubt that they do the same over, say, $500 donations from random people, but once you're into the millions of dollars, you really need to know who you're dealing with. Background checks are used in many situations involving much smaller amounts of money (like entry-level jobs), so why not here?

And hi!!


So! There have been some interesting updates:

* https://www.technologyreview.com/s/614299/mit-media-lab-jeff...

Apparently "disqualified" status was a flag in their CRM essentially just meant "don't bother trying to cold call this person", usually set after three failed attempts to fund-raise from them. It in no way signaled any kind of prohibition on fundraising, and only available to development staff in any case. The whole tangent was essentially spurious and signified nothing except that his donations weren't coming in through fundraising cold calls.

But the real shocker is:

* https://president.mit.edu/speeches-writing/preliminary-fact-...

Media Lab's acceptance of donations from Epstein was known and approved by senior staff in MIT administration, the president even sent a thank you letter. The Media Lab had been directed by the administration to keep Epstein's donation's anonymous to avoid him using MIT for publicity or to enhance his own reputation.

So this whole idea that Ito was demonstrating mens rea by concealing his actions from the administration appears to be completely false. I find it shocking that MIT took a week to clarify this point.

I'd say I told you so-- but I didn't know, it just sounded a little suspect to me. Your alternative understanding also sounded reasonable enough...


Hi. According to MIT Epstein donated ~800k over 20 years, looking into a sudden large donor makes sense, but AFAIK there wouldn't have been anything to find 20 years ago.

Certainly possible, but it would be interesting to understand the timeline and reasons. The "keep this donation anonymous" would take on an entirely different meaning if it was prior to the prohibition, for example.


Except they hid millions as an anonymous donor per the nymag article. That’s whats so damaging.


Gates denial on that looks pretty strong, but regardless the timeline is critical.

Accepting millions from him in 2002 would be unremarkable.


The donations to the Media Lab under Ito, which are the issue here, were obviously post-criminal-conviction since Ito took over in 2011.


I’m also curious what eventbtranspired in the first place that lead to the creation of this list. What was the first name on this list, and why?


It is possible (and likely) that there is no "list", rather that it falls under the general prohibition not to embarrass the organization.


I remember similar stories about people who took money from Harvey Weinstein, for example there was an AIDS nonprofit he gave millions to.

It all highlights the difficult job facing people tasked with taking money from donors in this way. They won't always have 20/20 hindsight. They may learn about sketchiness after they already took the money. They may be so blinded by what they see as generosity and good will that they may be less able to see character flaws. I am not saying any of this happened here, but I would not like to be in a position to make these decisions.


MIT blacklisted him after his conviction in 2008. And Ito knew him well.

Your hypothetical example is pretty thoroughly unrelated to the case here.


What's wrong with a charity accepting donations from someone naughty? It doesn't make them complicit in their offences. Criminals often donate money to charities and victims in an effort to get reduced sentences, at least in my country.


Let's say I'm some really prestigious organization. By donating to me, a bad actor is in part increasing their own prestige by using my brand. By allowing them to do this I make it more likely that this bad actor can continue to be accepted by polite society and continue their crimes.

There are red lines beyond which a person should be considered socially radioactive and ostracized.


Not to mention the prestigious organization could be doing worthy work and gets tainted by the bad actor, especially if the organization has been seen as knowing about it or concealing it.

In my example of Weinstein, it remains a worthy cause to help people with AIDS, to prevent new infections, fund research, etc. But now maybe people hesitate to donate because of how they dealt with Weinstein.

In the case of media lab, obviously there are people making their career there who have nothing to do with this Epstein controversy. Now they may experience a sense that they are also tainted.

When such an organization turns a blind eye to this problem, they risk harm towards their stated goals and they do a disservice to employees, other donors, those who believe in them, etc.


Should rich criminal have ability to buy lesser sentence then poor criminal?


Didn’t you answer your own question here? Criminals paying money to reduce the penalties from their crimes seems like a net negative for society, even if it helps charity.


Anyone care to explain the down votes? I am not defending anyone implicated, or claiming knowledge of specifics, but saying that vetting donors in a world where the category of "criminal-philanthropist" is a thing probably gets difficult.


You should read the article and https://www.newyorker.com/news/news-desk/how-an-elite-univer... and then ask yourself whether concerns about learning something retroactively are relevant to a situation where the problem was not just known in advance but established to the point that Ito had to circumvent MIT’s existing ban. Follow by considering whether bringing up generic distractions which don’t apply to this specific case is going to read like a good faith debate about the ethics of philanthropy or an attempt to distract or minimize.


You appear angry at me. I didn't argue anything in bad faith or attempt to distract anyone. Nor do I think the thing I said is totally irrelevant. There is a generic thing to be said about the "criminal-philanthropist" concept, it is a topic that many of us have not considered until stories in recent years, which seem to be a trend of more than one such offender, brought it to the forefront.


Note that I said “read like” — nobody in this thread can know what you were actually thinking what I described is the most obvious way I saw that those comments would be interpreted in a down-vote worthy manner. It might be useful to clarify your intentions to avoid that, especially since there are a lot of people who feel betrayed right now.


You said this:

> It all highlights the difficult job facing people tasked with taking money from donors in this way. They won't always have 20/20 hindsight.

It does not highlight that and no hindsight was needed. What was needed was to not go out of your way to conceal taking money you know you should not.

You converted situation into completely different situation.


In quoting me, you cut off my comments mid-paragraph. That is removal of context. I described several hypotheticals, the hindsight question being one.

Yes we can point at the misdeeds of Ito and others and they are awful. But there is a nonzero amount of people here that could fall into similar traps if they were in a position to accept millions from shady characters, which most of us aren't. If Ito, as bad as his acts were, had full realization of consequences (as he now does in hindsight), do you think he would have done this? I don't know the guy, but I am guessing not.

That is not to exculpate him or trivialize or distract. He screwed up majorly.


You mean, if he knew people will find out? Because that is only new information, really. Everything else was known at the time.


It could also be that he knew some facts, but was too stupid to realize their significance until after it blows up on him.

None of it is exculpatory, mind you.


It could also be that Ito is actually a collective intelligence made up of squirrels concealed in a business suit. Both seem rather unlikely, though.


But in these cases, how do you know?


In this case you know because Epstein already had a criminal conviction and MIT had already blacklisted him as a donor.


Here is one thing. If you want to get technical, without knowing everything we now know about Epstein, I am not sure a conviction is enough. MIT is not the criminal justice system. We now know that Epstein got a light sentence and the guy responsible had to quit his job in disgrace. But maybe not everybody knew this. Maybe he says, "yeah I did this thing, but I served my time blah blah, by the way please take this million dollars". And in the abstract, do you want to stigmatize every single convict or do you believe that some of them are reformed?

Obviously Epstein was not, and MIT didn't want to take the risk, correctly.


I mean before that. Obviously you cannot accept money from someone we discover is a criminal


In this case, I do know. It the stories were similar, then it was not not knowing.

In others, if you don't know, why does one assumes it was innocent situation that highlight how unclear everything is and required hindsight? It is real question btw, not rhetorical one. The older I am, the more I see how many of much lesser ethical conflict situations have not just red flags all over them, but clear breaches going on long before something blows. And how people like to not act on it all, because it benefits them.

It is possible that innocent people are being framed in that or this situation. But the issues with rich psychopaths building impenetrable circles of enablers around them are not that situation. People willing to go there are given advantages and build further circles of people willing to support them around them too.


> if you don't know, why does one assumes it was innocent

This is the same standard the US legal system uses, for one. "Innocent until proven guilty."

In the case of my comment I thought that it is easy to point out misdeeds but we cannot be overconfident in our own ability to prevent them under exceptional circumstances. If you were given money by a Weinstein or an Epstein, we all hope we could have the good sense to do the right thing. But how much is that actually the case? None of us are actually in that situation; few of us have been tested in this way. We could also be conned by these types. It is instructive to take a step back and understand that part. Perhaps this would help us be more vigilant should the situation actually arise.

The final point I would make. It breaks down a bit for supervillains like an Epstein. But for lesser transgressions, such as those I have seen in my own life, I can say that I used to spend a lot more time questioning people's motives, and indeed labelling people as psychopaths, sociopaths, and narcissists at a distance. Eventually I came to a realization that mentally maintaining these labels and reacting to them was a big stress on me and source of anxiety. It may sound radical, I would argue that thinking better of people by default will lead you to better mental health. But I have not figured out how this policy may apply to an Epstein, Ito, Weinstein, Hitler, etc. Thankfully I think such supervillains are a minority.


I didn't downvote you, but if I were to guess I would say people don't think discussion of the situation where a recipient might not be aware of the donors criminal activities is very relevant to this case. Epstein's felony conviction was public record and known to MIT.


the only thing I can figure is that in English vernacular the phrase "I am not saying any of this happened here" generally means "It may have happened, but we don't know" which is different than "obviously this didn't happen here but" which you evidently intended.


Lawrence Lessig just asserted on Medium [0] (without specific evidence) that the anonymization of Epstein's donations was done at the direction of MIT. If true, that loops the Institute generally into the whole scandal, where previously they had an almost bulletproof defense.

[0] https://medium.com/@lessig/on-joi-and-mit-3cb422fe5ae7


The general argument of 'it's okay to take money from bad people as long as that money isn't blood money and you take it anonymously' is hard for me to sympathize with. At the very least it gives that person leverage over you in two ways: firstly by the threat of ceasing donations if you become dependent on them and secondly by the threat of revealing their involvement in your institution.


Agreed, and I would that there's no such thing as "anonymously" except with respect to offical records. All the office staff knew it was Epstein. Donors outside the circle (like Bill Gates) knew Epstein was an agent of the Media Lab collecting donations. There's no meaningful sense of "anonymity", which makes Lessig's description of it as a shield almost comical.


This whole sordid affair and some of the ways people are commenting and writing about it has been one of those situations where I'm taken aback by how differently some people see it to me.

Just... don't deal with bad people if you can avoid it. Maybe your institute's endowment will have to remain at 16 billion dollars instead of increasing to 16.02. If MIT (and the MIT media lab) don't have FU money then who does?


I just don't understand what he would gain from the anonymous donation. Tax deduction? Even for the tax purposes the name of a donor has to be matched with a certain record, right? I probably sounds too naive but I want to know.


Lessig really seems to be glossing over Ito's facilitation of Epstein's power brokering. Just because his donations were 'anonymous' doesn't mean he didn't receive social benefit.


The thing I don't understand is why, if you've been blacklisted as a donor, you would want to donate? Can you still declare it on your taxes?


> “Have you managed to talk to many of my friends?” Epstein had been supplying me the phone numbers of important scientists and financiers and media figures. “Do you understand what an extraordinary group of people they are, what they have accomplished in their fields?"

-- http://nymag.com/news/features/41826/

That's why.


People are complicated. It’s entirely possible that Epstein was simultaneously involved in child sex trafficking and also genuinely wanted to donate to research initiatives he considered important. People can be pretty horrible on aggregate and still have a few good intentions left.


or perhaps the much simpler explanation that it was hush money / hush salary for victim(s) studying, PhD studying or working at Media Lab. What Ito received for himself was hush money to shut up about the hush money...

so why would a smart person like Gates voluntarily pay someone else's hush money? why are we holding Gates (sponsoring his behaviour) to a lower standard than Ito (passing on hush money) if my hypothesis is correct?

The official version in the media makes no sense to me: why would Gates finance Epsteins prestige through this so-called prestige-for-cash scheme? Why would Ito accept the money if the only way Epstein can enjoy the prestige is if everyone finds out about Ito? You can't publically associate while not publically associating with each other...


That's a bold statement. Do you have any proof to back it up?


I do not know this, of all the different explanations I explored this to me is the simplest one that explains most observations, i.e. selecting for maximum likelihood.

For example people have been noting many unusual things: for example that Ito used to run a nightclub, I am not saying he was doing anything nefarious there, but if Epstein is looking for a hushable department heads to place his "expired" victims, one can easily imagine him compiling lists of department heads with their backgrounds, and Epsteins reading of a department head without college degree who once ran a nightclub may explain this as Epsteins preferred choice.

There's a longer writeup analyzing the Ito related news articles and especially Anand's communication with Ito and Hoffman that made me think this:

https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=20904781

also some of my other shorter comments here:

https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=20906307

https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=20909440

but the most important observation is in my opinion the inconsistency of Ito being perfectly aware he can't be publicly seen accepting Epstein's money, while at the same time supposedly allowing Epstein to publically brag about his funding MIT Media Lab. Ito would never agree to simple prestige-for-cash since it would deterministically lynch him. No, it's MIT who doesn't want to be outed as doubling for a Cloak of Charity to host a couple of broken souls for cash.


Also consider that Epstein & any of his child abuse clients / blackmail targets, would prefer providing the victims hush money through a cooperative intermediary (who may be lied to that it is mere compensation, from a plea deal, "perfectly legal" etc) for 2 reasons:

1) interacting directly is dangerous: the victim could set up a hidden camera, record conversations, document financial transactions, have witnesses present, or have her bank testify on the origin of the hush money transactions. Financial transactions may be used by the victim as financial acknowledgement of their involvement in a past crime. They want to keep the victim silent without creating an ever increasing trail of evidence.

2) by having the hush money pass through societal institutions, they can continuously undermine the victim's faith in society, to make sure she stays silent.

Also consider the timing of the MIT Media Lab scandal: after Epstein's death, and escalating as the new academic year comes closer and closer.

Upon Epstein's death the victim, department head are worried about what will happen to the flow of hush money. And (ex-?)clients that all payed through Epstein are now forced against their will to find a new intermediary, or interact with Ito directly, or ignore and risk the victim speaking out?




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