Credit: File image

A Potomac businessman has been charged with conspiring with a former Harvard University fencing coach — giving millions of dollars to a shell charity — to get his two sons into the university.

Authorities said Jie “Jack” Zhao, 61, of Potomac conspired with then-fencing coach Peter Brand, now 67. The scheme entailed Brand recruiting Zhao’s two sons for the team to help them get admitted to the university, according to a press release on Monday from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Massachusetts.

Zhao could not be reached for comment on Monday afternoon.

Zhao’s attorney Bill Weinreb wrote in an email to Bethesda Beat Monday night that Zhao “adamantly denies these charges and will vigorously contest them in court.”

“Jack Zhao’s children were academic stars in high school and internationally competitive fencers who obtained admission to Harvard on their own merit,” he wrote. “Both of them fenced for Harvard at the Division One level throughout their college careers.”

Brand allegedly told a “co-conspirator” in May 2012 that Zhao’s sons “don’t have to be great fencers” and that he needed a “good incentive to recruit them,” according to the press release. 


Zhao, the chief executive of a telecommunications company, donated $1 million in February 2013 to a “fencing charity” run by a co-conspirator, the press release stated.

In December of that year, his older son was admitted to the university as a fencing recruit. He enrolled in the fall of 2014, the press release stated.

The charity that took Zhao’s $100,000 then passed the money to Brand’s charity, the Peter Brand Foundation, after Zhao’s older son was admitted. Zhao then started making donations to Brand’s charity. Zhao’s younger son enrolled at Harvard in 2017.


The press release did not identify either of Zhao’s sons by name.Zhao ended up making $1.5 million in payments to Brand or for his “personal benefit,” the press release stated. Among these were purchases of Brand’s car, tuition payments for Brand’s son and the mortgage on Brand’s home in Needham, Mass.

Zhao also paid to renovate another home that Brand bought, the press release stated. According to the complaint, Brand didn’t disclose any of the payments to Harvard.

Zhao was scheduled to appear in federal court in Greenbelt on Monday, according to the press release. Brand will be tried in federal court in Boston.


Zhao has been charged with conspiracy to commit federal programs bribery. If convicted, he could be sentenced to up to five years in prison, among other penalties.

Dan Schere can be reached at

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