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Melinda Gates began meeting with divorce lawyers in 2019, when reports of Bill’s ties to Jeffrey Epstein surfaced, according to report

Bill and Melinda Gates at a conference in Sun Valley, Idaho, in July 2015.
Bill and Melinda Gates at a conference in Sun Valley, Idaho, in July 2015.David Paul Morris/Bloomberg

The breakup of billionaire philanthropists Bill and Melinda Gates has been brewing since late 2019, around when reports began to surface about the Microsoft co-founder’s connection to convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein, according to The Wall Street Journal.

The Journal reported that Melinda had been concerned about Bill’s association with Epstein since 2013, citing a former employee of their charity, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

The couple announced their split in a joint statement posted to Twitter last Monday, saying they “will continue to work together at the foundation, but we no longer believe we can grow together as a couple in the next phase of our lives.”

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The New York Times reported in October 2019 that Gates’ association with Epstein began after Epstein pleaded guilty to soliciting prostitution from a minor in 2008. Since 2011, Gates met with Epstein multiple times, including at least three times at Epstein’s Manhattan townhouse, and employees of the Gates’ charity visited the mansion multiple times, the Times reported at the time.

The Journal reviewed documents that showed Melinda had a number of calls with advisers that month amid the Times’ reporting. A spokeswoman for Bill declined to comment to the Journal.

A spokeswoman for Bill told the Times in 2019 that he met with Epstein to discuss philanthropy, and “high-profile” people introduced the two men. She said that Bill regretted “ever meeting with Epstein and recognizes it was a judgment in error to do so.”

Epstein killed himself in jail in August 2019 while awaiting trial on federal sex trafficking charges.

In addition to the meetings between the two men reported on by the Times, Bill had other connections to Epstein.

He donated millions to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Media Lab through Epstein, according to reports and e-mails obtained by the Globe.

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An e-mail chain suggested that Epstein acted as an intermediary to help the Media Lab secure a $2.2 million donation from Gates and millions from other high-profile investors.

A report in the New Yorker in September 2019 detailed the Cambridge university’s ties to Epstein, and MIT’s handling of them. The New Yorker reported that the research facility’s former director, Joi Ito, and other Media Lab employees masked the extent of the center’s ties to Epstein. An outside review in January 2020 faulted MIT’s top administrators for agreeing to take the disgraced financier’s money as long as it was kept anonymous.

Melinda told Bill she was uncomfortable with Epstein after they met him in together in 2013, the Journal reported Sunday, but Bill and employees of the couple’s foundation continued their relationships with Epstein.

The Journal reported that Bill and Melinda have been negotiating the terms of their divorce throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

Forbes estimates that Bill’s net worth is $128.1 billion, which dropped from $130.4 billion after he transferred $2.4 billion in securities to Melinda on the day the divorce was announced, according to SEC filings.

Deirdre Fernandes of the Globe Staff contributed to this report.


Amanda Kaufman can be reached at amanda.kaufman@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @amandakauf1.