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Harvard reviewing sex criminal Jeffrey Epstein's multi-million-dollar donations

Key Points
  • Harvard University is reviewing millions of dollars in donations that late sex criminal Jeffrey Epstein gave to the Ivy League school, the university's president said.
  • "Jeffrey Epstein's crimes were repulsive and reprehensible," Harvard President Lawrence Bacow wrote.
  • Epstein, who killed himself in jail awaiting trial, was a former friend of Presidents Donald Trump and Bill Clinton.
Jeffrey Epstein with Alan Dershowitz in 2004.
Rick Friedman | Corbis Historical | Getty Images

Harvard University is reviewing millions of dollars in donations that late sex criminal Jeffrey Epstein gave to the Ivy League school, the university's president announced Thursday.

"Jeffrey Epstein's crimes were repulsive and reprehensible," Harvard President Lawrence Bacow wrote. "I profoundly regret Harvard's past association with him. Conduct such as his has no place in our society."

Bacow said the review is ongoing, and that it has already found that wealthy financier Epstein made several gifts to the school between 1998 and 2007, including a $6.5 million gift to Harvard's Program of Evolutionary Dynamics. The president also said that the review has not found any donation from Epstein after he pleaded guilty to a sex crime in 2008.

The Boston Globe previously reported on the extent of Epstein's largess toward Harvard.

Epstein, a former friend of Presidents Bill Clinton and Donald Trump, was known for working his way into wealthy and powerful circles. Microsoft founder Bill Gates, who helps oversee the massive Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, met with Epstein to discuss philanthropy several times years after Epstein had already served time for a sex crime. Epstein counted L Brands CEO Les Wexner as one of his few clients.

Epstein, 66, died last month in a jailhouse suicide after he had been hit with sex trafficking charges.

An indictment issued in federal court in Manhattan accused Epstein of sexually abusing dozens of minor girls from 2002 to 2005 at his homes in New York and Palm Beach, Florida.

VIDEO0:5800:58
NBC archive footage shows Trump partying with Jeffrey Epstein in 1992

Epstein was associated with Alan Dershowitz, a longtime Harvard professor who had represented the enigmatic financier. One of Epstein's accusers also levied accusations against Dershowitz, who has denied the claims.

Dershowitz did not immediately respond to CNBC's request for comment on Harvard's announcement.

Read the Harvard president's full letter:

A Message to the Community Regarding Jeffrey Epstein
September 12, 2019

Dear Members of the Harvard Community,

All of us have been horrified by the revelations regarding Jeffrey Epstein, and I write today to update our community on steps we are taking in view of current information about his philanthropy to Harvard.

Let me start by emphasizing the obvious: Epstein's reported criminal actions were utterly abhorrent. They flagrantly offend the values of our society and this institution, and we condemn them. We also recognize the profound pain that Epstein caused to his victims and their families, and we commend their courage in coming forward to bring his crimes to light.

Epstein's connections as a donor to this University, and other institutions, raise important concerns. With that in mind, two weeks ago I asked for a review of his donations to Harvard. Our decentralization makes such a review more complicated than it would be at some other institutions. I want to emphasize that this review is ongoing. Our review to date indicates that between 1998 and 2007, Epstein made a number of gifts to support various faculty and institutional research activities across the University. The largest of these was a $6.5 million gift in 2003 to support the Program for Evolutionary Dynamics. The University received other gifts, which totaled approximately $2.4 million, based on current information. Each of these gifts from Epstein and his affiliated foundations to Harvard University predates his guilty plea in June 2008. To date, we have uncovered no gifts received from Epstein or his foundation following his guilty plea. Moreover, we specifically rejected a gift from Epstein following his conviction in 2008. We have also recently learned that Stephen Kosslyn, a former faculty member and a beneficiary of Epstein's philanthropy, designated Epstein as a Visiting Fellow in the Department of Psychology in 2005. We are seeking to learn more about the nature of that appointment from Dr. Kosslyn, who no longer works at the University.

The majority of Epstein's gifts were designated for current use, not as endowed funds, and nearly all were spent years ago for their intended purposes in support of research and education. Our ongoing review of these gifts has identified one current use fund and one small endowment designated to the Faculty of Arts and Sciences with a total unspent balance of $186,000. After consultation with the Dean of the FAS, we have decided that the University will redirect the unspent resources to organizations that support victims of human trafficking and sexual assault. This is an unusual step for the University, but we have decided it is the proper course of action under the circumstances of Epstein's egregiously repugnant crimes. The issue of the gifts given to institutions by donors at Jeffrey Epstein's suggestion, is also one that has emerged in recent days, and we are looking into this as part of our ongoing review.

Epstein's behavior, not just at Harvard, but elsewhere, raises significant questions about how institutions like ours review and vet donors. I will be convening a group here at Harvard to review how we prevent these situations in the future. I also hope to engage our peer institutions to consider how we can collectively improve our processes. We can all learn from each other.

Let me end where I began. Jeffrey Epstein's crimes were repulsive and reprehensible. I profoundly regret Harvard's past association with him. Conduct such as his has no place in our society. We act today in recognition of that fact. And we do so knowing that the scourge of sexual assault continues to demand our close attention and concerted action.

Harvard is not perfect, but you have my commitment as president that we will always strive to be better.

Sincerely,

Lawrence S. Bacow

CNBC's Kevin Breuninger and Dan Mangan contributed to this report.