In every scandal since Watergate, investigators know that the first task is to follow the money. At the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, administrators made sure that no one could easily follow Jeffrey Epstein’s money after his conviction for sex trafficking. After being accused of a cover-up, Media Lab director Joi Ito has resigned, while MIT promises a top-to-bottom scouring of its fundraising processes:
The announcement comes a day after the New Yorker reported that Media Lab director Joi Ito and his colleagues worked to conceal the financier’s donations and affiliation with the program. Epstein died last month in jail as he faced federal charges of sex trafficking of minors. …
According to the New Yorker’s Ronan Farrow, Epstein was listed as a “disqualified” donor in MIT’s database, and the Media Lab classified his donations as anonymous and kept his name off Ito’s calendar. In a September 2014 email obtained by Farrow, Ito asked Epstein to help fund a researcher, writing “Could you re-up/top-off with another $100K so we can extend his contract another year?”
In a subsequent email with the subject line “Jeffrey Epstein money,” Farrow reports, Ito instructed his staff to “make sure this gets accounted for as anonymous.” Farrow writes that staff also raised objections to a 2015 visit from Epstein, according to Signe Swenson, a former employee at the lab who resigned in 2016.
The money added up to $1.7 million over the past decade since Epstein’s release from what little jail time he actually did. Ito did more than just hide Epstein’s influence from the university, however. He also got Epstein to park his money in Ito’s own initiatives, while Ito rationalized that he never saw Epstein traffic underage girls:
On Aug. 15, five days after Epstein’s death, Ito disclosed in a blog post that the Lab had accepted money from the billionaire “through some of the foundations he controlled” and that the donations had been made with his knowledge and permission. Ito also disclosed that he allowed Epstein to “invest in several of my funds which invest in tech start-up companies outside of MIT.”
Ito apologized for his dealings with Epstein but insisted 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.”
That sounds very similar to the rationalization in the Rodney Dangerfield movie Back to School: “In Mr. Melon’s defense … it was a really big check.” Epstein wrote a lot of really big checks in his attempts to worm his way back into the good graces of the elite. Ito and MIT might just be the first of many institutions where investigators will go to follow the money.
It won’t just be Academia under the microscope. The Daily Beast reported yesterday that Epstein’s obsession with young models wasn’t limited to Leslie Wexner’s Victoria’s Secret stable. Epstein had ties to modeling agencies that may have added other channels for his predation on young women and girls, at least one of which is an industry leader:
For years, the perverted multimillionaire faced accusations that he sexually abused underage girls brought to him by Jean-Luc Brunel, the owner of the MC2 modeling agency who, according to civil court filings, housed his models in Manhattan apartments owned by Epstein. (Brunel has denied these allegations.)
But Epstein’s ties to the industry run deeper than previously reported.
The financier regularly dropped by the New York offices of one of modeling’s biggest agencies—Next Model Management—according to sources familiar with the business, and lavished funds on charities connected to Next co-owner Faith Kates and her family. Brunel owned a 25 percent stake in Next with his brother, according to previously unreported court documents. And when Brunel’s relationship with Next soured, he and Epstein tried to expand into deals with the renowned agency Elite Paris. …
On Wednesday, the French newspaper Le Parisien reported that authorities in France are seeking Brunel as part of their probe into Epstein, and that they recently interviewed two women who say they were Brunel’s victims in the late 1970s and early ’80s. According to police, Brunel was in Paris this summer before he took off. He may be in Brazil.
Less public, however, was Epstein’s relationship with Next model-maker Faith Kates. The 61-year-old Kates founded the business in 1989, and built it into one of the most respected agencies in the industry. Her partners at the time included Brunel and Lorenzo Pedrini, a former male model who appears in Epstein’s little black book of contacts. Spectrum Models co-owner Joel Wilkenfeld later merged his agency with Kates’ budding shop.
The Daily Beast outlines the connections but doesn’t provide significant evidence of exploitation — so far. One has to wonder why Kates didn’t get ahead of the Epstein story by disclosing all this when Epstein was arrested. Perhaps she thought Epstein would fight his way out of the trap, but after he committed suicide, Kates had to know that every move Epstein ever made would get scrutinized — especially in connection to an industry that profits off of underage girls. The connection between Epstein and the modeling agency is curious, but so too is the fact that Kates sat on that information.
It sounds like the MIT situation. Ito knew he had something to hide. Does Kates think she has something to hide too? That’s a question that even following the money might not answer fully — but following the money will lead to others who face the same question.