Maryland CEO Paid Former Fencing Coach $1.5M In Bribes To Get His Sons Accepted To Harvard, Feds Say

Maryland CEO Paid Former Fencing Coach $1.5M In Bribes To Get His Sons Accepted To Harvard, Feds Say

Photo by Karolina Grabowska from Pexels

A Maryland businessman and a former Harvard University fencing coach have been arrested on bribery charges for their role in a college admission scam involving rich parents of applicants offering bribes to get their privileged children into desirable universities.

Jie “Jack” Zhao, the CEO of telecom company iTalk Global Communications, allegedly paid Peter Brand, Harvard’s former fencing coach, at least $1.5 million in bribes, CNN reported. The bribes included payments for a house and car to get Zhao’s sons admitted to the Ivy League university, federal prosecutors said Monday in a criminal complaint.

The college admission scandals first came to light in March 2019 and have resulted in charges and arrests of wealthy parents who paid to cheat on their children’s behalf on standardized tests, bribed sports coaches and lied about the payments.

Celebrities Lori Loughlin and Felicity Huffman are among the Hollywood stars brought down for paying bribes so their children could get into elite schools. The abuse highlights the unfairness of the admission system at Ivy League and other schools.

Harvard’s class of 2021 is made up of more than 29 percent legacy students, The Harvard Crimson reported. Applicants who had Harvard in their blood were three times more likely to get into the school than those without, CNBC reported.

Legacy students are most often wealthy and white. This drastically affects Black students, who are already disproportionately represented at college.

Brand was the coach of Harvard’s men’s and women’s fencing from 1999 until 2019 when he was fired after The Boston Globe reported on his suspiciously expensive house sale, which triggered an investigation.  

Brand’s attorney, Douglas Brooks, told CNN his client did nothing wrong. “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,” Brooks said in a statement emailed to CNN Monday night.

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College coaches don’t decide who gets accepted into Harvard, but their recommendations can have a powerful influence on the admissions office about certain recruited athletes, CNN reported.

The complaint alleges Zhao paid Brand to recruit his two sons to the fencing team, facilitating their acceptance to the prestigious university. Brand did not tell the university about the payments when recruiting the sons.

Zhao allegedly made college tuition payments for Brand’s son, paid for Brand’s car and paid the mortgage on Brand’s house in Needham, Massachusetts, and then bought the house for well above market value, prosecutors say.

The Needham house payment got the attention of Harvard and federal investigators. Brand sold the home to Zhao for $989,500, according to the deed — almost twice what it was worth. Zhao then sold the property about 17 months later at a loss of more than $300,000.