News & Politics

Maryland Businessman Accused of Paying $1.5 Million in Bribes to Get His Kids Into Harvard

An iron gate at Harvard. Photograph by EvgeniiAnd, via iStock.

Potomac businessman Jie “Jack” Zhao was arrested Monday as part of an investigation into college admissions. According to an affidavit filed in Massachusetts District Court Friday, the feds say Zhao bribed former Harvard University fencing coach Peter Brand to get his sons into the university. The charges are “part of our long-standing effort to expose and deter corruption in college admissions,” US Attorney Andrew E. Lelling said in a statement.

According to the affidavit, which you can read below, Brand was in deep financial trouble between 2009 and 2012, when Zhao and an unnamed co-conspirator who runs a Virginia fencing academy proposed that the businessman would donate to the Harvard fencing program in exchange for Brand recruiting Zhao’s son. Brand, the affidavit says, “rejected that idea and sought an arrangement that would provide him with a personal financial benefit.”

In a statement to the Washington Post, Zhao’s attorney Bill Weinreb said: “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. Mr. Zhao adamantly denies these charges and will vigorously contest them in court.”

The feds say that the bribes eventually totaled $1.5 million. In a press release, the Department of Justice says 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.”

The Boston Globe noted Zhao’s purported generosity toward Brand last April after a housing inspector in Needham, Massachusetts, noticed a transaction that “Makes no sense.” Harvard dismissed Brand the following July.

Zhao is the CEO of a company called iTalk Global Communications, which is headquartered in McLean.

USA v Brand et al by Washingtonian Magazine on Scribd

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Senior editor

Andrew Beaujon joined Washingtonian in late 2014. He was previously with the Poynter Institute, TBD.com, and Washington City Paper. His book A Bigger Field Awaits Us: The Scottish Soccer Team That Fought the Great War was published in 2018. He lives in Del Ray.