December 6, 2018
In Blog News
Convicted sex offender Jeffrey E. Epstein is not a Harvard alum. Nor is he a faculty member or an affiliate of the University. In fact, he does not even hold a college degree.
But the billionaire — who for years operated a sex ring of underage girls out of his Palm Beach, Fla. home, the Miami Herald reported in a three-part feature Wednesday — nonetheless boasts deep and longstanding ties to Harvard.
Epstein has donated millions of dollars to the University. His money funded the construction of at least one campus building, still standing today. He cultivated cozy friendships with top Harvard administrators including a former University president. And he forged close professional and personal ties to Alan M. Dershowitz, a high-profile professor emeritus at Harvard Law School who also allegedly had sexual relations with a minor.
When the allegations against Epstein first became public more than a decade ago, University representatives told The Crimson they had no plans to return any money the school received from him.
Now — as the Herald’s reporting is once again focusing national attention on Epstein’s and Dershowitz’s alleged misconduct — Harvard is staying quiet. University spokespeople declined to comment for this story. Harvard also refused to comment publicly on the allegations against Dershowitz.
The Herald reported they had identified about 80 women who said they had been molested or sexually abused by Epstein between 2001 and 2006.
Witnesses and alleged victims testified in civil court that hundreds of girls traveled to Epstein’s homes over the years under the pretense they would be paid to give Epstein “massages.” Epstein forced the women to perform sexual acts during most massages, according to the Herald. The Herald described the operation as “cult-like” and akin to a “sexual pyramid scheme” in which girls acted as recruiters, attracting other underage girls.
A 14-year-old girl and her parents went to the police in 2005 to report that Epstein had molested her at his Palm Beach mansion. That report kickstarted a legal battle that has continued to the present day.
One of the women Epstein allegedly paid for sexual services — Virginia Roberts — stated in a 2015 affidavit that Epstein and his associate Ghislaine Maxwell directed her to have sex with Dershowitz and others. Roberts wrote in the affidavit that she had sexual intercourse with Dershowitz six times starting at age 16. Dershowitz has denied these allegations multiple times over several years, and the judge presiding over the case ultimately struck the allegations from the record on the grounds that they were not relevant to the suit.
Dershowitz was not merely friendly with Epstein — he also served as part of the seven-person legal team that defended the billionaire in court. The Herald reported that, as part of his defense of Epstein, Dershowitz sought to portray some of the underage girls who had accused Epstein of sex crimes — many of them near-homeless or hailing from broken homes — as unreliable witnesses. Dershowitz denied this, telling the Herald he is “not an investigator.”
Though Epstein faced a potential life sentence, in 2007 his legal team and prosecutors struck an extraordinary plea deal: 13 months in the county jail and the shutdown of an FBI probe into Epstein’s sex crimes. Current Labor Secretary R. Alexander Acosta ’90, who served as the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida at the time, formed part of the prosecution team that arranged the plea deal.
Epstein pled guilty in state court to two charges of felony prostitution. After finishing out his 13-month sentence in 2009, Epstein went on to pursue charity work and scientific research projects. He currently faces a civil lawsuit filed by Bradley J. Edwards — a lawyer who represents some of Epstein’s victims — that alleges Epstein “sued him to punish him for representing several of his victims,” according to the Herald. A separate lawsuit filed by some of the women accusing Epstein of sexual assault seeks to invalidate the 2007 plea deal, but it has been stalled in court for nearly a decade.
The Herald’s reporting revealed how Epstein was able to “manipulate the criminal justice system” using his riches, power, and influence.
Before Epstein was indicted, though, his riches, power, and influence earned him a different kind of special treatment. The billionaire enjoyed access to U.S. presidents and billionaire business leaders — and to scores of Harvard professors, administrators, and affiliates.
Though Epstein is not a Harvard alumnus or affiliate, he has a history of strong financial ties to the University.
In a 2003 profile, The Crimson reported that many of Epstein’s friends described him as a “long-time, low-profile” donor.
In 1990, Epstein partnered with fellow billionaire Leslie H. Wexner to fund the construction of a new building at Harvard Hillel — Rosovsky Hall, named after former Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences Henry Rosovsky, one of Epstein’s oldest friends.
Around 1998, Epstein helped fund the research of Anne Harrington ’82, a History of Science professor who also serves as Pforzheimer House faculty dean. Harrington wrote in an email Sunday that Epstein served on the advisory board of the Harvard Society of Mind, Brain, and Behavior at the time of the donation.
Harrington called Epstein’s actions “terrible.”
“He became interested in some work I was doing on the placebo effect and offered me modest funding to pull together an interdisciplinary group that would work on the subject,” Harrington wrote. “Had I known then even a hint of what we all have subsequently learned about him, I never would have accepted it.”
Roughly a half-decade later, Epstein approached David R. Gergen, a Harvard Kennedy School professor, to inquire about making a donation to the school. In an interview Sunday, Gergen said the encounter — which he said took place around 2004 or 2005 — marked the first time he met Epstein.
“It turned out he was serious and we, of course, had to do due diligence on him as we do on every donor, and the due diligence report that came back said that there were some questions about his past but that the University saw no reason not to receive the potential gift,” Gergen said.
Gergen said the idea for the donation was eventually scrapped.
“Somewhere along the way, serious questions began to arise about his past and at that point, we slowed the conversations way down and became very wary of making sure it was the right thing to do or not and eventually both he and we — the conversation waned and eventually ended several years ago,” he said.
Most notably, in 2003, Epstein pledged a $30 million donation to Harvard to fund the work of mathematical biologist Martin A. Nowak. His donation established the University’s Program for Evolutionary Dynamics, which Nowak directs today.
Nowak, a professor of Mathematics and Biology, did not respond to a request for comment.
When Epstein was first charged in July 2006, several recipients of his donations — including New Mexico Governor Bill B. Richardson and New York attorney general and then-gubernatorial candidate Eliot L. Spitzer — distanced themselves from the billionaire.
Harvard did not.
Former University President Derek C. Bok, then serving as Harvard’s interim president, stood by his longstanding assertion that the University should not “have an obligation to investigate each donor and impose detailed moral standards.” University spokespeople said in 2006 that Harvard had no plans to return any money it had received from Epstein.
University spokesperson Melodie L. Jackson declined to comment on any questions related to Epstein on Sunday, including one that explicitly asked whether Harvard plans to return Epstein’s donation in light of the Herald’s reporting and the new details it unearthed.
“We decline to comment,” Jackson wrote in a one-sentence emailed statement Sunday.
Epstein’s ties to Harvard extended to cozy chats with the school’s top brass and premier scientific minds. In an interview Friday, Dershowitz said that, over the course of several years, Epstein frequently hosted “seminars” in Cambridge on evolutionary biology.
Dershowitz said that numerous prominent Harvard professors and administrators attended the discussions. Participants included Lawrence H. Summers, who was serving as the University’s president at the time, Rosovsky, Gergen, and Stephen M. Kosslyn. Kosslyn, who is a Psychology professor emeritus, also received research funding from Epstein.
“I am amazed by the connections he has in the scientific world,” Nowak told The Crimson in 2003. “He knows an amazing number of scientists; he knows everyone you can imagine.”
Rosovsky wrote in an email that the seminars took place at the offices of Harvard’s Program of Evolutionary Dynamics and that he “attended a couple of sessions and lost interest.”
Kosslyn could not be reached for comment on Sunday. An assistant for Summers declined to comment.
The Crimson reported in 2003 that Epstein maintained tight friendships with Kosslyn, Rosovsky, and Dershowitz, among other Harvard luminaries. Epstein was also close with Summers, who served alongside Epstein on the Trilateral Commission and the Council on Foreign Relations, two elite international relations organizations.
“We all knew Jeffrey Epstein as somebody who was contributing to Harvard,” Dershowitz said in an interview Friday. “None of us ever, ever suspected that he had any connection with anybody underage.”
Dershowitz was first implicated in Epstein’s crimes in December 2014 when a civil case challenging Epstein’s plea deal alleged that Dershowitz forced a then-underaged, unnamed woman to have sex with him several times in New York, New Mexico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
The Herald identified the woman as Roberts.
Dershowitz — who is famous for representing defendants like O.J. Simpson and Claus von Bülow — repeatedly denied the allegations at the time, criticizing Roberts and her lawyers for including the charges. Dershowitz has since continued to deny the allegations. The presiding judge struck the allegations from the record in 2015 without directly addressing their veracity.
Dershowitz acknowledged that he once traveled to Epstein’s Palm Beach mansion to receive a massage, according to the Herald. But in his deposition in the case, Dershowitz said the massage involved no sexual activity and was performed by a professional masseuse — and that his wife was present the whole time.
In a Friday interview with The Crimson, Dershowitz once again strongly denied Roberts’s allegations. Dershowitz said the accusations against him form part of an extortion plot against Wexner, the chairman and chief of L Brands — the corporation that owns Victoria’s Secret.
“It’s a completely made-up story, I never met the woman, I don’t know her, I don’t know anything beyond what she said and it’s just a totally made up story,” Dershowitz said.
In addition to identifying the woman with whom Dershowitz allegedly had illicit sexual relations, the Herald piece sheds light on the methods the law professor reportedly employed to defend Epstein.
The Herald piece reveals that, after being hired by Epstein in 2005, Dershowitz flew to Florida and met with then-Palm Beach State Attorney Barry E. Krischer in an attempt to convince him that the girls accusing Epstein of sexual misconduct were not sufficiently credible to testify in court.
He shared the results of his personal investigation into one of the girls with Krischer, according to the Herald. Dershowitz showed Krischer photos scraped from the girl’s social media that depicted her using marijuana, the Herald reported.
In a written public statement in 2011, Acosta accused Epstein’s lawyers of carrying out a “year-long assault” on prosecutors, investigating their families and personal lives. Private investigators for Epstein allegedly posed as police officers and followed the girls and their families, according to the Herald.
Dershowitz, in an interview with the Herald, said he had nothing to do with gathering information on the girls, their families, or the prosecutors.
“I’m not an investigator,” he said. “My only job was to negotiate and try the case when it comes to trial.”
The Pipeline Parity Project, a Law School student group whose mission is to end harassment and discrimination in the legal profession, wrote in a statement that the allegations against Dershowitz are perturbing.
“The allegations against Alan Dershowitz are disturbing, as is Harvard’s silence in response,” the group wrote. “Harvard maintains its policy of institutional silence, and our community is left with the harm that has been done.”
They also noted that Dershowitz retains his emeritus professor status, as does Jorge I. Dominguez — a retired Government professor who was accused of sexual harassment by at least 20 women over the past 40 years.
The group denounced Harvard’s failure to launch a public investigation into the allegations against Dershowitz and compared it to the school’s decision not to investigate charges of sexual assault brought against Brett M. Kavanaugh during his confirmation hearings for the Supreme Court this fall. Kavanaugh taught at the Law School for roughly a decade before indicating he would not return to teach his class in January 2019.
Amelia Y. Goldberg ’19 — a member of Our Harvard Can Do Better, an anti-sexual assault advocacy group — wrote in an email that she finds the allegations against both Dershowitz and Epstein “deeply disturbing.”
“Efforts to protect perpetrators of sexual violence are unconscionable,” Goldberg wrote.
Dershowitz provided The Crimson with a copy of a letter to the editor that he sent to the Herald. In the letter, Dershowitz states that he not only “denied” that he had sex with Roberts — as was reported in the Herald — but that he “disproved it” during an investigation run by former FBI chief Louis J. Freeh.
Jackson, the University spokesperson, declined to comment on any questions related to Dershowitz, including whether Harvard has investigated or plans to investigate the allegations against him.
—Staff writer Molly C. McCafferty can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at @mollmccaff.
—Staff writer Aidan F. Ryan can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @AidanRyanNH.