A Maryland businessman and an ex-Harvard fencing coach were arrested and charged with conspiring to secure the admission of the former’s two sons to the Ivy League university in exchange for bribes.
Jie “Jack” Zhao, 61, allegedly paid Peter Brand, 67, more than $1.5 million over the course of several years, which came in the form of money, a house, a car and college tuition payments for his child.
Brand served as the head coach of Harvard’s men and women’s fencing as early as 2007 (women’s), according to website records.
In May 2012, he allegedly told another co-conspirator, “Jack doesn’t need to take me anywhere and his boys don’t have to be great fencers. All I need is a good incentive to recruit them. You can tell him that.”
In February 2013, Zhao allegedly paid $1 million to a fencing charity run by another co-conspirator. By December that year, his older son was admitted to Harvard as a fencing recruit.
The older son then enrolled in the fall of 2014. Soon after, the charity wired $100,000 to the Peter Brand Foundation, which Brand and his wife had established.
Since then, Zhao has allegedly made payments to Brand for his personal benefit. Zhao’s younger son enrolled in Harvard in 2017.
Brand did not disclose such payments, according to the criminal complaint. He and Zhao were arrested on Monday.
“Today’s arrests show how Peter Brand’s and Jie Zhao’s plan to circumvent the college admissions process ended up backfiring on both of them. Now they are accused of exchanging more than $1.5 million in bribes for their own personal benefit. The FBI will continue to work hard to identify others like them who are cheating the millions of kids laser-focused on getting into schools the right way,” said Joseph R. Bonavolonta, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI Boston Division.
Joleen Simpson, Acting Special Agent in Charge of the Internal Revenue Service – Criminal Investigation Division, said the suspects’ actions “created an unfair playing field.”
So far, both Zhao and Brand have denied the allegations.
“Jack Zhao’s children were academic stars in high school and internationally competitive fencers who obtained admission to Harvard on their own merit,” defense attorney Bill Weinreb said, according to the Washington Post. “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.”
Brand’s attorney, Douglas S. Brooks, echoed a similar statement: “The students were academic and fencing stars. Coach Brand did nothing wrong in connection with their admission to Harvard. He looks forward to the truth coming out in court.”
Suspicions over Zhao and Brand’s relationship first surfaced last year when The Boston Globe reported that Brand received about $1 million in 2016 for a three-bedroom house, which was then valued at $549,300. Zhao, who never lived in the property, said it was an investment and a way to help Brand, whom he considered a friend.
If convicted, Zhao and Brand will each receive a sentence of up to five years in prison and three years of supervised release. They will also be ordered to pay a fine of $250,000 or twice the gross gain or loss, whichever amount is greater.