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Press Release

Former Harvard Fencing Coach and Maryland Businessman Charged with Bribery

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, District of Massachusetts
Former coach allegedly accepted at least $1.5 million to facilitate the admission of businessman’s two sons to Harvard as fencing recruits

BOSTON – The former fencing coach at Harvard College and a Maryland businessman were arrested today and charged with conspiring to secure the admission of the businessman’s two sons to Harvard in exchange for bribes totaling more than $1.5 million.

Peter Brand, 67, of Cambridge, Mass., and Jie “Jack” Zhao, 61, of Potomac, Md., were charged by criminal complaint with conspiracy to commit federal programs bribery. Brand will make an initial appearance at 2:00 pm in federal court in Boston. Zhao will make initial appearance today in federal court in Greenbelt, Md.

“This case is part of our long-standing effort to expose and deter corruption in college admissions,” said United States Attorney Andrew E. Lelling. “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.”

“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,” said Joseph R. Bonavolonta, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI Boston Division. “The FBI will continue to work hard to identify others like them who are cheating the millions of kids laser-focused on getting into schools the right way.”

“As alleged, Peter Brand and Jie Zhao conspired in a scheme to secure the admission of Zhao’s two sons to Harvard College by recruiting them to join the men’s fencing team. The actions of both Brand and Zhao created an unfair playing field,” said Acting Special Agent in Charge Joleen Simpson of the Internal Revenue Service - Criminal Investigation Division. “I hope that the announcement of today’s charges against Brand and Zhao demonstrates to others that cheating to gain an unfair advantage will not be tolerated.”    

According to the charging documents, Brand, the former head coach of men’s and women’s fencing at Harvard, 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.

It is alleged that in or about May 2012, 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.

In total, Zhao made $1.5 million in payments to Brand, or for Brand’s personal benefit, even as Brand recruited Zhao’s younger son to the Harvard fencing team. 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.

The charge of conspiracy to commit federal programs bribery provides for a sentence of up to five years in prison, three years of supervised release and a fine of $250,000 or twice the gross gain or loss, whichever is greater. Sentences are imposed by a federal district court judge based upon the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.

U.S Attorney Lelling, FBI SAC Bonavolonta, and IRS-CI Acting SAC Simpson made the announcement today. Assistant U.S. Attorney Mackenzie A. Queenin of Lelling’s Securities, Financial & Cyber Fraud Unit is prosecuting the case.

The details contained in the charging documents are allegations. The defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.

Updated November 16, 2020