BOSTON (CBS/AP) - Former Harvard fencing coach Peter Brand and a wealthy Maryland businessman were arrested Monday on accusations that Brand accepted $1.5 million in bribes in exchange for helping the businessman get his two sons into Harvard.
Federal prosecutors said Brand, 67, conspired with Jie Zhao, 61, a Maryland businessman, to get Zhao's two sons into Harvard by recruiting them to join the fencing team in exchange for money.
Back in 2016, Brand sold his home in Needham for almost twice what a tax document said it was worth. Zhao bought Brand's home for $989,500, according to the deed. At the time, he had a son on the Harvard fencing team and one in high school, The Boston Globe reported in April 2019. Harvard launched an independent review of that transaction following the Globe report and fired Brand in July 2019.
Prosecutors say Zhao also paid for Brand's car and made college tuition payments on behalf of Brand's son.
"Today's arrests show how Peter Brand's and Jie Zhao's plan to circumvent the college admissions process ended up backfiring on both of them. Now they are accused of exchanging more than $1.5 million in bribes for their own personal benefit," Joseph Bonavolonta, head of the FBI Boston Division, said in an emailed statement.
An attorney for Zhao said the man denies the accusations and will vigorously contest them in court.
"Jack Zhao's children were academic stars in high school and internationally competitive fencers who obtained admission to Harvard on their own merit. Both of them fenced for Harvard at the Division One level throughout their college careers," Attorney William Weinreb said in an email.
Brand appeared before a Boston federal court judge during a brief hearing held via videoconference due to the coronavirus pandemic. The judge allowed him to be released and ordered him to pay a $100,000 secured bond.
Brand's lawyer said the former coach "looks forward to the truth coming out in court."
"The students were academic and fencing stars. Coach Brand did nothing wrong in connection with their admission to Harvard," attorney Douglas Brooks said in an email.
Harvard had no comment on the arrests.
The case is separate from the recent college admissions scandal in which an admission consultant ran a scheme to get kids into top universities across the country with rigged test scores or fake athletic credentials. But the allegations are similar.
Questions about the relationship between Brand and Zhao first surfaced last year when The Globe reported on the sale of Brand's home. Zhao never lived in the house and sold it for a steep loss 17 months later, the newspaper reported.
Zhao, who is CEO of a telecommunications company, told The Globe in an interview last year that he purchased the home as an investment and as a favor to Brand and denied it was done to help his son get into the prestigious university. Brand was fired in July 2019 for violating Harvard's conflict-of-interest policy.
Prosecutors say Brand told an unnamed co-conspirator about Zhao in 2012: "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."
In 2013, Zhao gave $1 million to a fencing charity, which in turn gave $100,000 to a charitable entity established by Brand and his spouse, according to court documents. Zhao's older son was admitted to Harvard as a fencing recruit in December of that year, prosecutors said.
Zhao also paid the mortgage for Brand's Needham home before buying the home for well above its value, according to court documents. Brand used the money from that sale to pay $1.3 million for a condo in Cambridge, authorities said.
Zhao's younger son started at Harvard in 2017 and is currently a member of the fencing team, prosecutors said.
(© Copyright 2020 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press's Alanna Durkin Richer contributed to this report.)
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