Until recently, the most controversial members of Chicago’s ultra-rich and powerful Pritzker family were the billionaire Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker — a longtime Democratic activist and bail reform advocate — and his billionaire transgender cousin Jennifer, who’s funneled millions into universities, medical schools, gender clinics and nonprofits in support of “gender-affirming” medical care.
This week, however, they’ve been overshadowed by family members who are embroiled in two of the biggest news stories of the moment.
The governor’s sister Penny, 64, is front and center with the resignation Tuesday of Harvard president Claudine Gay over multiple instances of plagiarism. Penny has been, since February 2022, senior fellow of the Harvard Corporation — the governing board that recruited, hired and protected Gay in light of her scandals, including underplaying antisemitism at the school.
Meanwhile, cousin Thomas Pritzker is named in newly unsealed documents relating to the late pedophile Jeffrey Epstein. Virginia Giuffre claims she was trafficked overseas to have sex with the now 73-year-old, who is chairman of Hyatt Hotels and CEO of the Pritzker Organization.
The Pritzker family was ranked the country’s ninth-richest family in 2020. They owe their wealth to Jay Pritzker (father of Thomas) who enrolled in the University of Chicago at 14, graduated from law school and created the Hyatt Hotel chain, now a multi-national conglomerate, in 1957 at the age of 35.
Penny’s father, Donald, helped grow Hyatt, while his brother Robert (father of Jennifer) founded the international Marmon Group for autonomous manufacturing. The three men are the grandsons of Ukrainian Jewish immigrants
Penny Pritzker, a billionaire in her own right who has donated $100 million to Harvard and is an alumna of the school, has come under fire because of her steadfast support of Gay — despite intense criticism over her statement to Congress addressing antisemitism last month, and what had been mounting questions about plagiarism.
“The Board Chair, Penny Pritzker, should resign along with the other members of the board who led the campaign to keep Claudine Gay, orchestrated the strategy to threaten the media, bypassed the process for evaluating plagiarism, and otherwise greatly contributed to the damage that has been done,” billionaire and former Harvard alum and donor Bill Ackman wrote on X this week.
Penny led the search committee that picked Gay to take over for Lawrence Bacow when he left as president last June.
Despite calls for her resignation from prominent donors and alumni, Harvard has said Penny, who served as Commerce Secretary in the Obama administration, will not step down from her position with the Harvard Corporation, which is similar to a board of trustees.
“Penny is an old friend and half the board are old friends. And while they are not incompetent and have sterling characters, the process totally failed,” Jeff Sonnenfeld, the associate dean for leadership studies at Yale School of Management, told The Post.
“They’ve been tone deaf, arrogant, disdainful and inelegant if not downright deceptive.”
Penny, Sonnenfeld said, should resign from the Harvard Corporation if she and the other board members “keep staying silent.”
“Penny should step up and say what went wrong,” Sonnenfeld said. “A lot of people on that board should step down if they can’t explain what they did. If this had been Enron or some other disaster, people would be very critical if a board didn’t speak up.”
Penny, he said, may have been a victim of her own propensity for “consensus building. It was a lot of bad groupthink and that’s hard to beat.”
The Post has not been able to reach Penny.
Meanwhile, her cousin is also feeling the heat.
Jeffrey Epstein victim Giuffre — who settled with Prince Andrew for an estimated $12 million over claims of sexual assault — claimed she had a sexual encounter with Thomas Pritzker, according to newly unsealed court records.
Giuffre’s claims against Pritzker first came out in 2019. The Miami Herald reported at the time that Giuffre said she was sent overseas to “have sex with the owner of a large hotel chain.” Pritzker’s name appeared in a footnote but it wasn’t clear at the time that he was the hotel tycoon.
Under oath, Giuffre told the defense attorney for Epstein conspirator Ghislaine Maxwell that she believed she had been “with Tom once,” referring to a sexual encounter. She did not suggest that she had been directed by Maxwell to have sex with the hotelier.
Later in the same deposition, Giuffre talked about Maxwell allegedly sending her to have sex with the “owner of a large hotel chain” in France, but she did not name that person.
A spokesperson for Pritzker said the married businessman “continues to vehemently deny” the allegation.
Sarah Marshall Perry, an attorney and senior legal fellow at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, said the Pritzker family is rapidly becoming “radioactive” and has a history of scandal.
Among many incidents, Penny once served on the board of Superior Bank, which the Pritzker family bought with $460 million in tax credits from the federal government.
The bank later collapsed after being one of the first to traffic in subprime mortgages.
Gov. J.B. Pritzker found himself in hot water in 2018 when it was discovered that he and his wife, Mary, had bought a second home next door to the Gold Coast mansion they lived in and let it fall into disrepair, even ripping out five toilets, so it would be classified “uninhabitable” — and they’d get a hefty property tax decrease.
Anthony Pritzker, brother of J.B. and Penny, runs the Pritzker Group private equity firm, and was the subject of a mini-scandal when he and his wife bought and then demolished a landmark Beverly. Hills home, irking their neighbors when they built a massive mega-mansion in its place.
It’s the second largest private residence in the city of Los Angeles.
“This is a hard-left leaning political family entirely funded by the Hyatt Hotel empire who say they want to fight what they call right-wing extremism when, in fact, they are the extremists,” Perry told The Post.
“In order to hire Claudine Gay and keep her in her position, Penny smoothed over [Gay’s] very thin academic record and got someone in there who is an apologist for this new kind of anti-racism which involves people promoting other individuals who are pushing this narrative of colonialism.
“It’s ironic that the Pritzkers with their family history do not seem to recognize the hard work and merit which has made our nation great and instead push forward individuals who point to colonialism and white supremacy and white nationalism,” Perry added. “They are doing a disservice to scholarly integrity as well as integrity in the governor’s office.”
Penny’s longtime friend, Palm Beach socialite and author Sugar Rautbord, stuck up for her pal who she’s known since childhood, as well as for Thomas Pritzker.
“I have issues with Claudine Gay, who I find horrifying, but not Penny. I don’t think Penny will step down,” Rautbord told The Post.
“I think she believes in the wokeness philosophy which appeals to many people in Chicago [and] which is the only way [Barack] Obama could have emanated from Chicago.
“Penny is a phenomenal woman, happily married, a truly good mother and a philanthropist who is very invested emotionally and monetarily.”
As for Thomas Pritzker — who Rautbord said was the “oldest and favorite son of Jay,” who has three sons — she doesn’t think being named in Epstein headlines will bring him down.
“Tom and Penny live a very cocooned life and I don’t think it matters to them what other people think,” Rautbord said. “They come from a family where excellence was expected … I don’t these situations will impact them long term.”