Monday, January 18, 2021

Former Harvard fencing coach Peter Brand indicted in $1.5m college admissions bribery scheme

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A federal grand jury in Boston on Monday formally indicted a onetime Harvard fencing coach and a Maryland businessman on charges alleging that the pair engaged in an elaborate $1.5 million bribery scheme to secure the wealthy executive’s sons entry into the Ivy League school.

The indictment charges the former coach, Peter Brand, 67, of Cambridge, and telecom mogul Jie “Jack” Zhao, 61, of Potomac, Md., with one count each of conspiracy to commit federal programs bribery and federal programs bribery, said a statement from the office of US Attorney Andrew E. Lelling.

Lawyers for the men, who were each arrested last month, have said their clients are innocent of wrongdoing, with Brand’s attorney telling the Globe that the former coach “did nothing wrong” and looks forward to the truth coming out in court. Zhao’s counsel said recently that Zhao’s sons were “academic stars in high school and internationally competitive fencers who obtained admission to Harvard on their own merit.”

But prosecutors tell a different story, alleging that Zhao purchased Brand’s Needham house at an inflated price, renovated Brand’s new condo, paid his car loan and utility bills, and funneled other payments to Brand through nonprofit foundations, according to a criminal complaint unsealed Monday in federal court in Boston.

In exchange, prosecutors said, Brand promised spots on the school’s fencing team, and recruited both of Zhao’s sons, one of whom entered Harvard in 2014, the other in 2017.

The federal charges follow a series of Boston Globe investigative reports that began last year, the first of which raised questions about Zhao’s purchase of Brand’s home at an inflated price, around the time of his younger son’s recruitment. Later, Globe stories revealed other financial transactions and text messages that allegedly outlined the recruitment scheme.

Following the reports, Harvard opened an investigation and ultimately fired Brand.

Zhao pleaded not guilty at his arraignment Monday afternoon, while Brand is scheduled for arraignment Dec. 10, court records show. Both men are currently free on bond. Zhao’s next hearing is scheduled for Jan. 21.

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