The former head fencing coach at Harvard College was arrested today and accused of accepting bribes from a Maryland businessman to get the man's two sons into the prestigious school as fake athletic recruits.

Peter Brand, 67, of Cambridge, allegedly took $1.5 million in bribes from Jie “Jack” Zhao, 61, of Potomac, Maryland. Both men were charged with conspiracy to commit federal programs bribery. Brand was due to make his initial appearance today in federal court in Boston. Zhao was set to appear before a judge in Greenbelt, Maryland.

Brand, the former coach of men’s and women’s fencing at Harvard, conspired with Zhao, 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, according to a media release from the Office of U.S. Attorney Andrew E. Lelling.

Brand in 2012 allegedly told a co-conspirator that Zhao's boys "don’t have to be great fencers," and that "all I need is a good incentive to recruit them."   In February 2013, Zhao made a purported donation of $1 million to a fencing charity operated by a co-conspirator before Zhao’s older son was admitted to Harvard as a fencing recruit. 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, Lelling's office said.

“This case is part of our long-standing effort to expose and deter corruption in college admissions,” said Lelling in a statement. “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.”

"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.

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, Lelling's office said. 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 entered 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.

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