A former Harvard fencing coach (Peter Brand, 67) , and a Potomac businessman (Jie “Jack” Zhao, 61) were found not guilty of conspiracy and bribery in a scheme the government claimed involved $1.5 million in payments to the coach in order to get Zhao’s two sons into Harvard.
Prosecutors alleged that Zhao made $1.5 million in payments to Brand. They alleged Zhao 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 defense argued that Zhao’s sons didn’t need any help getting into Harvard, and that the payments were loans that Zhao made to Brand because they were close friends. Jurors were shown checks supporting the defense’s claim that Brand repaid the loans with an inheritance he received after his mother’s death last year.
Brand was Harvard’s men’s and women’s fencing coach from 1999 until 2019. He was fired by Harvard months after he was accused of selling his Needham, Massachusetts home to Zhao, whose son was actively looking to apply to the school. While the allegations were similar, the Brand case was separate from the “Operation Varsity Blues” prosecutions, a college admissions scam that was revealed in march 2019 in which rich parents of college applicants used their wealth to cheat on standardized tests, bribe sports coaches, and lie about the payments. During closing arguments, the Zhao’s attorney Bill Weinreb said “The Zhaos didn’t take slots that should have gone to someone else. They earned their slots on the Harvard fencing team fair and square.” Unlike many of the parents charged in the college admissions bribery scandal, prosecutors did not allege that the Zhao boys’ athletic credentials were fabricated stated that the teens might have gotten into Harvard on their own merit.
Featured photo shows Massachusetts home Brand sold to Zhao