Content warning: This article discusses sexual assault.
Tufts alum Bill Richardson (A’70, F’71), the former governor of New Mexico and MIT Media Lab founder Joichi Ito, who attended Tufts and received an honorary degree in 2015, have been implicated to varying degrees in the controversy surrounding financier Jeffrey Epstein.
Ito and the MIT Media Lab have been embroiled by the scandal since Ito admitted in mid-August that the lab had accepted donations from Epstein. He apologized and pledged to raise an equivalent amount for organizations that support survivors.
The New York Times then reported in early September that Epstein donated $525,000 to the Media Lab and $1.2 million to Ito’s investment funds.
But the controversy came to a head with the publication of a Sept. 6 article by The New Yorker’s Ronan Farrow.
The article revealed that Epstein had directed a further $7.5 million in donations to the media lab and that Ito had continued working with and accepting donations from Epstein after his 2008 conviction for a sex offense, at which time MIT designated Epstein as a “disqualified” donor.
Farrow’s article, based on internal emails and a whistleblower, detailed how Ito worked to conceal the cooperation from critics inside the media lab.
Following the publication of the article Ito resigned as director of the media lab.
Ito attended Tufts University in the 1980s, but dropped out the spring of his senior year, according to previous reporting by the Tufts Daily.
He told students in a speech at Tufts in 2015 that he was not able to find the education he wanted at Tufts. The same year, Ito received an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree at Commencement.
Richardson, who gave the 1997 Commencement address and received an honorary Doctor of Laws, has also been implicated in the scandal.
Virginia Giuffre, a woman who says she was part of Epstein’s sex trafficking ring, alleges in a deposition unsealed earlier this month that Esptein directed her to have sex with Richardson.
“They instructed me to go to [former U.S. Sen.] George Mitchell, [modeling agent] Jean-Luc Brunel, Bill Richardson, another prince that I don’t know his name,” the deposition, part of a lawsuit against Epstein’s madam Ghislaine Maxwell, read.
The deposition, however offered no corroborating evidence to support the claims.
In addition, Richardson received $50,000 in campaign donations from Esptein during his runs for governor of New Mexico but donated some of that amount in 2006 when charges were filed against Epstein in Florida, according to the Santa Fe New Mexican.
A spokeswoman for Richardson, Madeleine Mahony, denied the allegations in a statement issued in July, saying that Richardson had only visited Epstein’s New Mexico ranch once with his wife in 2002 and had never seen Epstein in the company of underaged girls.
“These allegations and inferences are completely false. Gov. Richardson has never even been contacted by any party regarding this lawsuit. To be clear, in Gov. Richardson’s limited interactions with Mr. Epstein, he never saw him in the presence of young or underage girls.” the statement read. “Gov. Richardson has never met Ms. Giuffre.”
The New Mexican also reported that Richardson offered assistance to the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, who was leading the criminal investigation into Epstein, and was informed he was not being investigated.
Ito and Richardson are not the first of Tufts honorary degree recipients to have been implicated in scandal. Bill Cosby’s 2000 honorary Doctor of Arts degree was revoked by the Tufts Board of Trustees in 2015 for “[demonstrating] a lack of character and integrity that clearly does not represent the values to which our university is committed and for which he was honored.”
However, Ito and Richardson’s degrees are safe.
“There are no plans to revisit the conferral of their honorary degrees,” Tufts University Executive Director of Public Relations Patrick Collins wrote in an email to the Daily.
Collins went on to laud Ito’s work as one of the pioneers of the internet and as a strident advocate to keep the internet free and open to all. He also praised Richardson’s work in the public sphere, not only as New Mexico’s governor but also in his work as United States ambassador to the United Nations, the post he occupied at the time of the commencement speech.
The honorary degree bestowed on the former Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens in 2012 has also caused outcry.
As the Daily has previously reported, Greitens was indicted on felony invasion of privacy charges for allegedly taking photos of a woman who was not his wife during a consensual sexual encounter and then using those photos for blackmail and later sexually assaulting her.
Greitens was then charged with tampering with a computer over fundraising email lists his campaign received from his veterans charity.
Both charges were dropped when Greitens resigned as governor.
A petition circulated by Tufts students to revoke Greitens’ honorary degree garnered 244 signatures, while both Tufts Democrats and Tufts Republicans called for revocation.
The university took no such action because, Collins said, Greitens was not convicted of the charges. Cosby’s degree was revoked three years before he was ever convicted; Collins, however, said the situation was different.
“Although the university in 2015 revoked Bill Cosby’s honorary degree before resolution of serious allegations against him, the university was justified in doing so because he had confirmed some of the allegations against him in a deposition that was part of the public record,” he wrote in an email to the Daily.
Though what he did pales in comparison to Cosby’s actions, Ito has admitted to some of the allegations against him while others have been thoroughly proven by Ito’s correspondence.
Collins declined to comment on the difference in treatment.