November 18, 2020

Maryland CEO charged with allegedly paying $1.5M to fencing coach to get sons into Harvard

Federal authorities charged a Maryland CEO on Monday with allegedly paying more than $1.5 million to a former fencing coach to get his two sons into Harvard University.

Jie “Jack” Zhao, 61, of Potomac, Md., and former fencing coach Peter Brand, 67, of Cambridge, Mass., were charged with conspiracy to commit federal programs bribery, the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the District of Massachusetts said in a release.

The prosecutors allege that Zhao, who is the CEO of telecom company iTalk Global Communications, conspired with Brand to get Zhao’s sons accepted to the college. Brand, who coached the men’s and women’s fencing teams, allegedly recruited Zhao’s sons to join the men’s team in exchange for money.

Officials said that Brand told a co-conspirator in or about May 2012 that “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 made a donation of $1 million to a fencing charity run by a co-conspirator before his older son was admitted to Harvard in December of that year and started in the fall of 2014.

The charity then gave $100,000 to the Peter Brand Foundation, a charitable organization launched by Brand and his spouse. Prosecutors said Zhao then made payments “to, or for the benefit of, Brand.”

The Maryland executive allegedly paid for Brand’s car, made college tuition payments for Brand’s son, paid the mortgage on a home and purchased that residence for more than its market value. Brand then bought a Cambridge residence that Zhao’s money went to renovating.

Brand worked as a fencing coach from 1999 to last year after Harvard fired him after an investigation into his house sale.

Zhao’s younger son began at Harvard in 2017.

Prosecutors claim that Brand did not tell Harvard about the payments when recruiting both sons.

The men could face up to five years in prison, three years of supervised release and a fine of $250,000 or twice the gross gain or loss, whichever is greater, according to the release.

U.S. Attorney Andrew Lelling said the case “is part of our long-standing effort to expose and deter corruption in college admissions.”

“Millions of teenagers strive for college admission every year,” he said in the release. “We will do our part to make that playing field as level as we possibly can.”

The charges are the latest as federal authorities have cracked down on crimes relating to college admissions, with the scandal of wealthy parents using bribes to get their children admitted to college being revealed in March 2019.

Zhao’s attorney Bill Weinreb denied Zhao committed wrongdoing in a statement to The Hill.

“Jack Zhao’s children were academic stars in high school and internationally competitive fencers who obtained admission to Harvard on their own merit,” he said. “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.”