Harvard University’s former head fencing coach was charged Monday along with a parent in an alleged $1.5 million bribery scheme to get the businessman’s sons into the school as fencing recruits.
Peter Brand, 67, and Jie “Jack” Zhao, 61, who is a telecommunication CEO in Maryland, were arrested Monday on charges of conspiracy to commit federal programs bribery, the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Massachusetts announced.
Authorities say Zhao made multiple payments either directly to Brand or for his personal benefit in exchange for his two sons’ admission to the prestigious Massachusetts school as fencing recruits. Both of Zhao’s sons would go on to enroll at the school in 2014 and 2017, respectively.
“Zhao allegedly paid for Brand’s car, made college tuition payments for Brand’s son, paid the mortgage on Brand’s [Massachusetts] residence, and later purchased the residence for well above its market value, thus allowing Brand to purchase a more expensive residence in Cambridge that Zhao then paid to renovate,” prosecutors said in a release.
Brand did not disclose details of the payments to Harvard during the recruitment of Zhao’s sons, prosecutors said.
Attorneys for both men, in statements to local media, denied the charges against them. Brand’s lawyer called Zhao’s children “fencing stars” and said that the former coach did nothing wrong in recruiting them.
Suspicions about the men’s financial dealings arose in 2019 after The Boston Globe revealed that in 2016 Zhao purchased Brand’s home in Needham, Massachusetts, for nearly $1 million. This price was hundreds of thousands of dollars above the home’s $549,300 assessed market value. Roughly five months later, Zhao’s younger son received a letter from Harvard informing him that he was likely to be accepted as a fencing recruit.
“Makes no sense,” the town’s top assessor wrote in his notes following the home’s sale, according to the Globe.
The university launched an investigation shortly after the Globe’s report and dismissed Brand in June 2019 for violating the school’s conflict-of-interest policy.
Prosecutors also began investigating the men’s affairs last year and determined that Zhao in February 2013 donated $1 million to a fencing charity that authorities said was operated by a co-conspirator. Later that year, Zhao’s older son was admitted to Harvard as a fencing recruit. The charity later passed $100,000 of its funds to the Peter Brand Foundation, which is a charitable entity established by Brand and his wife.
The bribery conspiracy charge carries up to five years in prison, three years of supervised release and a $250,000 fine.
The charges against Zhao and Brand are separate from the 2019 college admissions bribery scandal, Operation Varsity Blues, which led to the conviction of multiple parents, including actors Lori Loughlin and Felicity Huffman.
Brand’s and Zhao’s attorneys did not immediately respond to HuffPost’s requests for comment.