Wealthy Dad Who Bought Harvard Fencing Coach’s House Insists It Had Nothing To Do With His Son Getting Into Harvard

Peter Brand’s house in Needham, which was apparently worth $989,500 to Jie “Jack” Zhao.
Photo: Redfin

Harvard is the latest school to get dragged into the college admissions bribery scandal, although this shady dealing is unrelated to the FBI’s bust. Today the Boston Globe published a doozy of a story about a rich dad who was hoping to get his younger son into Harvard, just so happened to buy the Crimson fencing coach’s house at nearly double its assessed value, and then had his younger son join the fencing team. Huh!

Jie “Jack” Zhao, a wealthy guy who cofounded iTalk Global Communications Inc., became a fan of fencing about 15 years ago and pushed his sons Eric and Edward into it. Zhao used his money to support the sport’s power players, such as Alexandre Ryjik, the founder of the Virginia Academy of Fencing as well as president of the National Fencing Foundation in Washington, D.C. Ryjik was the reason Zhao ended up meeting Peter Brand, Harvard’s longtime fencing coach for both the men’s and women’s teams.

When contacted by the Globe’s Joshua Miller, Zhao insisted on flying to Boston Logan Airport and having a face-to-face meeting because “he wanted to explain everything in person, and, in his words, look the reporter in the eye.” (Brand didn’t comment for this story.) The dad said he and the coach didn’t become friends until his older son Eric Zhao’s freshman year at Harvard. Some time after that, while younger son Edward was still in high school but looking at colleges, Jie recalled talking to Brand about his living situation. From the Globe:

Zhao couldn’t remember exactly when, but thinks it was over a dinner that he heard Brand bemoan his commute from Needham to Harvard fencing practice — which can take an hour during rush hour — especially in the winter snow. Zhao knew that Brand’s wife worked in Cambridge as well.

“He did not ask me, ‘Jack, can you buy me a house?’ No. No. No. That is just not the situation,” Zhao said in the airport interview.

Zhao explained it was more that he offered to buy the house and Brand told him what he thought it was worth.

“From my perspective, I’m just making his life better plus making a good investment,” he said.

Zhao said he had eyeballed the house inside and out, and thought it was “pretty cozy” and a good deal, even though he didn’t do a formal inspection or get it assessed.

“You can ask me why didn’t you check the market value of the house? I did not because I trust him,” Zhao said. “He gave me the price. . . . I said, ‘fine.’ ”

Zhao said he saw no conflict between the sale and his younger son’s college admissions process.

If he did, Zhao asked, “why would I use my own name” on the real estate documents.

“If I know the policies that the coach cannot sell to students or parents of student, I would not do it. I have no idea, right? I don’t think there’s any violation or anything,” he said.

The Needham house was valued at $549,300; Zhao purchased it for $989,500 in May of 2016. He never lived in it and sold it at a loss for $665,000 17 months later. A week after selling their house, Brand and his wife paid $1.3 million for a condo in Cambridge with an asking price of $989,000. Eric Zhao graduated in 2018. Edward Zhao, who began at Harvard in August of 2017 and is currently a sophomore, uses the sabre as his weapon of choice. Both sons told the Globe they had no clue their dad bought their fencing coach’s house.

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