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Maryland executive, ex-coach charged in Harvard admission scheme

Harvard University's iron gate in Cambridge, Massachusetts, is shown. File Photo by Marcio Jose Bastos Silva/UPI/Shutterstock
Harvard University's iron gate in Cambridge, Massachusetts, is shown. File Photo by Marcio Jose Bastos Silva/UPI/Shutterstock

Nov. 16 (UPI) -- An ex-Harvard fencing coach and a Maryland executive were arrested Monday in an alleged $1.5 million bribing scheme related to university admission.

Federal authorities identified telecommunications executive Jie "Jack" Zhao, 61, and former fencing coach Peter Brand, 67, as the pair charged in the alleged scheme to admit Zhao's two sons to the university.

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After a Boston Globe report showed last year transactions between Zhao and Brand, Harvard fired Brand, citing conflicts of interest that violated the school's policies.

The transactions included then-fencing coach Brand selling his house to Zhao for nearly $1 million in 2016 when its assessed value was only $549,300. Zhao's younger son later was admitted to Harvard and joined the fencing team. Zhao sold the house 17 months later, taking a $324,500 loss.

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Zhao told the Globe that the house deal was a favor for a friend, not a bribe to get his son into Harvard, and that he did not become friends with Brand until his older son's freshman year.

"I want to help Peter Brand because I feel so sorry he has to travel so much to go to fencing practice," Zhao said at the time regarding the home sale.

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Zhao also allegedly paid off Brand's car loan and utility bills and funneled money to Brand through a charity.

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The case was brought by the same federal prosecutor's office that found out about "Operation Varsity Blues," centering around mastermind William "Rick" Singer, where prosecutors have charged more than 50 people, including actresses Lori Loughlin and Felicity Huffman. Parents allegedly used their wealth to bribe people to get their children into prestigious schools.

However, the Harvard deal is not part of "Operation Varsity Blues," and there has been no indication that Singer was involved.

The former fencing coach had been overspending for several years before the house sale, his wife said in court documents, alleging the scheme began in 2012 when they couple were under financial strain.

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"[Zhao's] boys don't have to be great fencers," Brand allegedly told a cooperating witness in May 2012. "All I need is a good incentive to recruit them. You can tell him that."

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