A couple in Hong Kong is suing a Boston-area education consultant for the $2 million they say they paid him to get their two sons into top prep schools and, ultimately, an Ivy League university. The suit is seen by some as an example of an "arms race" in education.
Gerald and Lily Chow, citizens of Hong Kong, say they hired Mark Zimny and his company, IvyAdmit Consulting Associates in Cambridge, Mass. to help their two sons get into elite schools in the U.S.
"They decided in 2006 that their sons, First Son and Second Son, would benefit most by being educated in the top schools in the United States," says the lawsuit, first filed in 2010 with a U.S. district court in Massachusetts.
The Chows had determined that their "target university" was Harvard, the Boston Globe reported.
Their first son, then 15, graduated as a ninth grader from a junior boarding school in Deerfield, Mass. in June 2007.
The Chows say Zimny approached them at his graduation ceremony, claiming he was a professor at Harvard University, and that he could use his connections to help the sons get into New England boarding schools and Ivy League colleges.
The lawsuit says that Zimny made a number of false claims, including that he was a professor at Harvard.
"Zimny was never a Harvard professor; he had briefly been a visiting assistant professor and a lecturer, but any faculty relationship with Harvard had ended by June 30, 2005, two years before he met the Chows, the suit says.
John Fitzpatrick, an attorney representing Zimny, refuted the allegations in the lawsuit.
"As made clear in the public legal memoranda filed for Dr. Zimny in this case, he absolutely denies committing any fraud or other misconduct," Fitzpatrick told ABC News.
The Chows could not be reached for comment. Their attorney did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
The suit states that Zimny encouraged the Chows to entrust money to him, which he would then donate on their behalf to the universities to improve their admissions prospects.
"Zimny also claimed that because of 'embedded racism,' there is resistance among the schools from becoming 'too friendly with Asian donors,' and that there is 'an unwritten presumption that donations are expected from full-pay foreign students'," the suit states.
Suzanne Rheault, CEO and founder of Aristotle Circle, a tutoring and educational consulting company based in New York City, said whether or not the allegations are true, educational consulting is a burgeoning industry that has increasingly targeted families outside the U.S.
She said legitimate companies will never promise an outcome to a family.
Otherwise, "You're taking advantage of peoples' desperation and eagerness," she said.
She said her company has former admissions officers from Ivy League schools who don't charge "nearly the same" fees.
The Chows' fees started out at $4,000 a month for each child, excluding tuition and board, in exchange for tutoring, educational plans and other services.
The services were "very attractive" to the parents, "as their young sons would spend much of each year in the United States, with which the Chows were very unfamiliar and where they had no connections."