University fundraising director responds to MIT investigative findings surrounding Epstein donations

A University staff member put on administrative leave for anonymously accepting donations from convicted felon and late financier Jeffrey Epstein while working at The Massachusetts Institute of Technology did not violate their institutional policies, according to an MIT-commissioned report released Friday.

Current Brown Director of Development for Computer and Data Science Initiatives Peter Cohen MA’90 PhD’96 worked at MIT Media Lab as an administrator from 2014 to 2018, where he held the position of Director of Development and Strategy. He was put on administrative leave at Brown following a September 2019 article in the New Yorker that detailed a longstanding fundraising relationship between Epstein and the Media Lab, The Herald previously reported.

The independent review found that MIT vice-presidents R. Gregory Morgan, Jeffrey Newton and Israel Ruiz learned about Epstein’s criminal status in 2013, one year before Cohen started working there, according to a press release from MIT. 

“In the absence of any MIT policy regarding controversial gifts,” three administrators established an “informal framework” under which they were able to approve donations from Epstein, when they decided to make his donations anonymous, according to MIT’s statement.

In response to the release of the MIT report, Cohen wrote in a statement to The Herald that Ronan Farrow, the author of the New Yorker article which prompted the months-long investigation, misrepresented administrators’ actions. The article alleged that MIT staff accepted money from Epstein and labeled the donations anonymous. In fact, Cohen wrote, “the policy of coding Epstein’s donations as anonymous was dictated by central administration policies; likewise, central administration officials were aware of Epstein’s own donations and donations from others that he claimed to have facilitated.”

“As I have stated before, I never solicited donations from Epstein, I did not have a personal relationship with him, and my dealings with him were limited to a very few, brief interactions during my MIT tenure,” Cohen wrote. “I remain deeply disgusted and distraught by Jeffrey Epstein’s conduct.”

Though Cohen wrote that he repeatedly requested that Farrow correct the article, arguing that it was factually inaccurate, the New Yorker defended the story. “Peter Cohen is misrepresenting The New Yorker’s original reporting,” wrote a spokesperson from the New Yorker in an email to The Herald. “We stand by the story.”

Cohen has not comment on his job status at Brown and Brian Clark, assistant vice president for news and editorial development, could not be reached for comment by press time.

Correction: A previous version of this article stated that “The article alleged that MIT staff accepted money from Epstein without approval and labeled the donations anonymous in order to protect the donor.” In fact, the article did not state that MIT staff acted without approval, nor did it state that anonymity was given to protect the donor. The Herald regrets the error.

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