A former Harvard University fencing coach and a businessman were acquitted of charges they conspired to secure spots at the Ivy League school for the executive’s two sons through a bribery scheme. Former longtime coach Peter Brand and Maryland businessman Jie “Jack” Zhao were found not guilty of all charges against them by a federal jury in Boston Wednesday. The men were arrested in 2020 when federal prosecutors alleged Zhao had conspired to pay Brand more than $1.5 million to secure spots at Harvard for his two sons as fencing recruits starting in 2013. According to the criminal complaint, the two men were charged with conspiracy to commit federal programs bribery, the Wall Street Journal reports. “We are grateful to the jury for its service and for doing justice in this case,” said Zhao's lawyer, Bill Weinreb. Douglas Brooks, Brand’s lawyer, said: “Today’s verdict is confirmation of what we have said all along—Peter Brand is innocent.” Harvard dismissed Brand in 2019 after the university conducted an investigation when the Boston Globe detailed Zhao’s purchase of the fencing coach’s house for nearly $1 million. The school’s investigation came amid other scandals surrounding selective college admissions, including the explosive “Operation Varsity Blues.” Prosecutors alleged that Zhao donated $1 million to a fencing charity run by a co-conspirator in 2013. Zhao’s older son was admitted to Harvard as a fencing recruit in December of that year. The charity sent $100,000 to the Peter Brand Foundation, established by Brand and his spouse. Zhao then made payments “to or for the benefit of” Brand, and arranged for his younger son to be recruited to the team as well. Prosecutors alleged Zhao paid for Brand’s car, covered college tuition payments for the former coach’s son, paid the mortgage on his house and later bought the house for more than its market value. He then paid for the renovation of a new house that Brand bought, prosecutors alleged. Zhao’s younger son enrolled in Harvard in the fall of 2017. According to the complaint, Brand didn’t disclose details of the payments to Harvard while recruiting Zhao’s sons. Brand and Zhao denied wrongdoing and said Zhao’s sons were academic stars and internationally competitive fencers who obtained admission to Harvard on their own merit.
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