Former Harvard fencing coach arrested over college admissions

This case is separate from the "Varsity Blues" investigation.

November 16, 2020, 11:08 AM

Peter Brand, the former fencing coach at Harvard, and Jie Zhao, a Maryland businessman, were arrested Monday morning and charged with conspiracy.

This case is separate from the so-called "Varsity Blues" investigation but part of what federal prosecutors in Boston called their "long-standing effort to expose and deter corruption in college admissions."

Zhao was charged with circumventing the usual admissions process by paying Brand more than $1.5 million in bribes to secure admission to Harvard for his two sons.

"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," U.S. Attorney Andrew Lelling said.

Brand allegedly conspired with Zhao, the chief executive of a telecommunications company, to facilitate the admission of Zhao's sons to Harvard by recruiting them to join the men's fencing team in exchange for money.

In this March 24, 2019, file photo, head coach Peter Brand talks to a member of the Harvard fencing team during the Division I Women's Fencing Championship held at The Wolstein Center on the Cleveland State University campus in Cleveland.
Jason Miller/NCAA Photos via Getty Images, FILE

According to court documents, Brand told a co-conspirator, "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, as part of the alleged scheme, Zhao made a purported donation of $1 million to a fencing charity operated by a co-conspirator.

Zhao's older son was admitted to Harvard as a fencing recruit in December 2013 and matriculated in the fall of 2014. Shortly thereafter, the charity passed $100,000 on to the Peter Brand Foundation, a charitable entity established by Brand and his spouse. Thereafter, Zhao began making payments to, or for the benefit of, Brand.

Zhao allegedly paid for Brand's car, made college tuition payments for Brand's son, paid the mortgage on Brand's Needham residence, and later purchased the residence for well above its market value, thus allowing Brand to purchase a more expensive residence in Cambridge that Zhao then paid to renovate.

Zhao's younger son matriculated to Harvard in 2017. The complaint alleges that Brand did not disclose the payments to Harvard when recruiting Zhao's sons.