Uh Oh: The Harvard Fencing Scandal Has Prompted a Federal Investigation

A dad's suspicious home purchase has caught the attention of the feds.


Photo via Getty Images/Roman Babakin

As the college admissions scandal was echoing around the country earlier this year, the Boston Globe got a juicy tip. The father of a recruit to Harvard’s fencing team had, in a wildly suspicious way, bought the house of the team’s coach for way above what it was likely worth. The obvious question became: Was this a legitimate transaction, or… something else?

Well now, it seems, that very idea is being probed by a federal grand jury.

In a follow-up on Tuesday, the Globe revealed that the U.S. Attorney’s Office has been examining the case since April, shortly after it published its explosive report. Grand juries, which operate in secret, decide whether to bring charges.

Harvard also announced as the story broke that it was conducting an internal investigation. But this is the first time we’ve learned that the federal government has gotten involved. The university had largely stayed out of the fray during the broader controversy touched off by the U.S. Attorney’s Office, which accused parents of conspiring to help get their kids into top schools by bribing test-takers and coaches. But now it’s facing renewed scrutiny of what exactly goes on behind closed doors before students get their coveted admissions letters, and not for the first time in recent years.

The dad, Jie Zhao, has denied that his decision to buy the house in Needham for about a million dollars and then sell it more than a year later at a more than $300,000 loss was improper. Unlike the other parents in the admissions scandal, who in many cases acknowledged in taped phone calls that they were illicitly greasing the skids for their children, Zhao insists he was only buying the property as a favor to the coach, Peter Brand, who he has described as a friend. (Gotta love friendship, am I right?) Also, he says, his son had stellar grades in high school, is a talented fencer, and has family links to Harvard—which meant he had a good shot at getting into the prestigious Ivy League school without any funny business from his father.

Make of that what you will. But it looks like the trouble for these two may not be over.