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Ex-Harvard Coach, Businessman Charged In $1.5M Bribes Scheme

Head coach Peter Brand talks to an athlete in the Saber semi finals during the Division I Women's Fencing Championship held at The Wolstein Center on the Cleveland State University campus on March 24, 2019 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Jason Miller/NCAA Photos via Getty Images)
Head coach Peter Brand talks to an athlete in the Saber semi finals during the Division I Women's Fencing Championship held at The Wolstein Center on the Cleveland State University campus on March 24, 2019 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Jason Miller/NCAA Photos via Getty Images)

The former fencing coach at Harvard and a wealthy Maryland businessman were arrested Monday on accusations that the coach accepted $1.5 million in bribes in exchange for helping the businessman get his two sons into the Ivy League school as recruited fencers.

Peter Brand, 67, who was fired by Harvard last year, and Jie “Jack” Zhao, 61, of Potomac, Maryland, face a charge of conspiracy to commit federal programs bribery. Their arrest comes more than a year after a newspaper reported that Brand sold his home for nearly double its assessed value to Zhao. 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.

Emails seeking comment were sent to lawyers for the two men.

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 Boston Globe reported that Brand, received nearly $1 million in 2016 for the three-bedroom house on a quarter-acre in Needham, which was assessed at the time at $549,300, Zhao never lived in the home 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.

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