Former Harvard fencing coach, businessman charged with $1.5 million bribery scheme

Students and pedestrians walk through the Yard at Harvard University in Cambridge

BOSTON (Reuters) – A former Harvard University fencing coach and the chief executive of a telecommunications company were arrested on Monday on charges they engaged in a bribery scheme aimed at securing the admission of the businessman’s two sons to the Ivy League school.

Federal prosecutors in Boston said Jie “Jack” Zhao paid more than $1.5 million in bribes so that Peter Brand, the former coach, would help his sons get into Harvard by recruiting them to the men’s fencing team.

The charges followed a Boston Globe report last year detailing how Brand sold his home to Zhao for above-market value. Harvard fired Brand in July 2019.

The Globe’s report came a month after prosecutors in March 2019 unveiled the first charges in the U.S. college admissions scandal, in which wealthy parents engaged in bribery and cheating schemes to secure spots for their children at universities.

Fifty-seven people have been charged in that investigation. U.S. Attorney Andrew Lelling called Monday’s case “part of our long-standing effort to expose and deter corruption in college admissions.”

Zhao co-founded iTalk Global Communications Inc. Defense lawyer William Weinreb said Zhao “adamantly denies these charges.”

Douglas Brooks, Brand’s lawyer, called the two students in question “academic and fencing stars” and said his client “did nothing wrong in connection with their admission to Harvard.”

Prosecutors said that in 2013, Zhao made a $1 million donation to a fencing charity operated by a co-conspirator that, in turn, contributed $100,000 to a foundation established by Brand and his wife.

Zhao also paid for Brand’s car, made college tuition payments for his son, paid the mortgage on his home and later bought the residence for above its market value, prosecutors said.

That purchase allowed Brand to buy a more expensive home in Cambridge, Massachusetts, which Zhao paid to renovate, prosecutors said.

(Reporting by Nate Raymond in Boston; Editing by Bill Berkrot and Peter Cooney)

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