Jie “Jack” Zhao, 61, and Peter Brand, 67, were arrested Monday and charged with conspiracy to commit federal programs bribery for the alleged agreement, the US Attorney’s Office in the District of Massachusetts said.
“This case is part of our long-standing effort to expose and deter corruption in college admissions,” said US Attorney Andrew E. Lelling. “Millions of teenagers strive for college admission every year. We will do our part to make that playing field as level as we possibly can.”
An attorney for Zhao denied the charges in an email on Monday.
“Jack Zhao’s children were academic stars in high school and internationally competitive fencers who obtained admission to Harvard on their own merit,” attorney Bill Weinreb said in a statement. “Both of them fenced for Harvard at the Division One level throughout their college careers. Mr. Zhao adamantly denies these charges and will vigorously contest them in court.”
How the scheme allegedly worked
College coaches do not explicitly decide who gets accepted into the university, but their recommendations to the admissions office about certain recruited athletes carry powerful influence.
The complaint alleges Zhao made a series of payments totaling $1.5 million to Brand in exchange for the coach recruiting Zhao’s two sons to the fencing team, thereby facilitating their acceptance to the prestigious university.
“Jack doesn’t need to take me anywhere and his boys don’t have to be great fencers,” Brand allegedly told a co-conspirator in May 2012, according to the complaint. “All I need is a good incentive to recruit them[.] You can tell him that[.]”
In February 2013, Zhao made a purported donation of $1 million to a fencing charity operated by a co-conspirator, prosecutors say. Zhao’s older son was admitted to Harvard as a fencing recruit in December 2013 and matriculated to the university in the fall of 2014, and shortly afterward, the conspirator’s fencing charity paid $100,000 to Brand’s charitable foundation, prosecutors say.
As Brand recruited Zhao’s younger son, the businessman made a series of payments to Brand or for his personal benefit, prosecutors say. Zhao allegedly paid for Brand’s car, made college tuition payments for Brand’s son, paid the mortgage on Brand’s house in Needham, Massachusetts, and then bought the house for well above market value, prosecutors say.
The payments allowed Brand to buy a more expensive residence in nearby Cambridge that Zhao then paid to renovate, the complaint states. Zhao’s younger son began attending Harvard in 2017, and the complaint alleges Brand did not tell the university about the payments when recruiting the sons.
Following the sale of his Needham home, Brand purchased a condominium in Cambridge. Documents obtained by CNN show the Cambridge property was originally listed for $989,000 — just $500 less than what Zhao paid the Needham home. Brand bought the Cambridge condo for about $300,000 over the asking price.
CNN’s Augusta Anthony contributed to this report.