Former Harvard Fencing Coach Charged With Bribery

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — Harvard’s former fencing coach was arrested and charged with bribery on Monday, accused by prosecutors of accepting $1.5 million from a wealthy businessman in exchange for recruiting the man’s two sons for the university’s fencing team.

Harvard fired the coach, Peter Brand, in 2019, after its own investigation. The businessman, Jie “Jack” Zhao, 61, of Potomac, Md., was also arrested and charged with bribery.

Federal prosecutors said that Mr. Zhao had paid for Mr. Brand’s car, made college tuition payments for the coach’s son, paid the mortgage on his house in a Boston suburb, and eventually purchased the house for inflated price. After Mr. Brand bought a more expensive residence in Cambridge, prosecutors said, Mr. Zhao paid to renovate it.

The two men were charged with federal programs bribery, which carries a potential sentence of up to five years in prison.

Mr. Zhao’s lawyer, William D. Weinreb, said in an email: “Jack Zhao’s children were academic stars in high school and internationally competitive fencers who obtained admission to Harvard on their own merit. Both of them fenced for Harvard at the Division One level throughout their college careers. Mr. Zhao adamantly denies these charges and will vigorously contest them in court.”

Harvard began investigating Mr. Brand last year as universities around the country scrambled to respond to a sweeping federal investigation of college admissions fraud, which raised questions about athletic recruitment and whether coaches have enriched themselves by essentially selling recruiting slots.

The United States attorney’s office in Boston charged 50 people in the case, known as Operation Varsity Blues, including eight coaches and 33 parents, among them Hollywood celebrities and prominent business people.

Harvard was not directly implicated in the Varsity Blues investigation.

This is a developing story. Check back for updates.

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