(CNN)A Maryland businessman paid Harvard University’s former fencing coach at least $1.5 million in bribes, including payments for a car and a house in the suburbs, to get his sons admitted to the Ivy League school, federal prosecutors said in a criminal complaint released Monday.
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.
Zhao, of Potomac, Maryland, is the CEO of telecom company iTalk Global Communications. He was scheduled to appear Monday in federal court in Greenbelt, Maryland.
Brand was Harvard’s men’s and women’s fencing coach from 1999 until last year, when he was fired by the university following an investigation spurred by reporting from The Boston Globe on his suspiciously expensive house sale. He will appear in federal court in Boston on Monday afternoon.
The arrests are just the latest salvo in the sprawling college admissions scam, first revealed in March 2019, in which rich parents of college applicants used their wealth to cheat on standardized tests, bribe sports coaches and lie about the payments.Harvard head fencing coach accused of selling his home to the family of a prospective student has been fired
“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.”
An attorney for Brand did not immediately respond to a request for comment. When Brand was fired in 2019, a lawyer said his client had done nothing wrong.
The conspiracy charge comes with a possible sentence of up to five years in prison. Other parents who were charged with similar counts and pleaded guilty, such as actress Lori Loughlin, have generally been sentenced to several months in prison.
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[.]