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Harvard reviewing pricey sale of fencing coach's home

BOSTON (AP) — Harvard University says it is reviewing a real estate transaction involving its longtime fencing coach and a man whose son was later admitted to the school and joined the team.

Claudine Gay, dean of the faculty of arts and sciences, said it was the school's "current understanding" that the matter was unrelated to the recent college admissions scandal dubbed Operation Varsity Blues by federal prosecutors. Fifty people have been charged with taking part in a scheme in which parents bribed coaches and helped rig test scores to get their children into some of the nation's most selective universities.

On Friday, a lawyer who was among the wealthy parents charged in the scandal said he planned to plead guilty and apologized for his actions. Gordon Caplan, of Greenwich, Connecticut, is the second parent to announce plans to plead guilty. Caplan is accused of paying $75,000 to get a test supervisor to correct the answers on his daughter's ACT exam after she took it.

Harvard and other schools have not been implicated in the admissions probe.

The fencing coach, Peter Brand, in 2016 sold his three-bedroom, suburban Boston home, which was assessed at the time for $549,300, to Jie Zhao for nearly $1 million, The Boston Globe reported. Zhao never lived in the home and took a steep loss when he sold it 17 months later.

Zhao, whose older son and wife also attended Harvard, told The Globe in an interview that he purchased the home as an investment and as a favor to Brand and denied it was done to help his son get into the prestigious university.

Brand did not return messages seeking comment, The Globe reported.

In a statement, Harvard said it retained outside counsel to review the circumstances around the transaction after being made aware of it Monday.

The Chinese-born Zhao is a Maryland resident who became a U.S. citizen in 1995 and co-founded a telecommunications business in 2003. Zhao and his partners sold a majority stake in the company for $80 million in 2012, the Globe reported.

Zhao said he has been a prominent supporter of fencing since his sons took up the sport as children, and donated $1 million to the nonprofit National Fencing Foundation in 2013.

He said he became friendly with Brand after his older son was admitted to Harvard and began fencing. His younger son, Zhao said, was a strong fencer and had outstanding grades and test scores that likely would have earned him admission to the university in any case. Brand never asked him to buy the home, Zhao added.

"I want to help Peter Brand because I feel so sorry he has to travel so much to go to fencing practice," he told the newspaper. Brand's former home in Needham was about a 12-mile commute to the university.

Harvard maintains that it has a rigorous admissions policy and that applications from recruited student-athletes are reviewed and voted on by a 40-member committee.

"We are committed to ensuring the integrity of our recruitment practices," spokeswoman Rachael Dane said.

Caplan, the lawyer charged in the college admissions scandal, said in a statement Friday that he is deeply ashamed of what he did.

"I apologize not only to my family, friends, colleagues and the legal Bar, but also to students everywhere who have been accepted to college through their own hard work," Caplan said, adding that his daughter, a high school junior who hasn't applied to any colleges yet, did not know about his actions.

Caplan is a former partner at the international law firm Willkie Farr & Gallagher, based in New York. The firm placed him on a leave of absence after his arrest, but said in a statement Friday that he was no longer a partner and his "departure" was a result of the college admissions scandal.

California entrepreneur Peter Jan Sartorio on Wednesday became the first parent in the broad scandal agreeing to plead guilty. Three people have pleaded guilty so far, including the admissions consultant, Rick Singer, and the former women's soccer coach at Yale, Rudy Meredith.

The case is the largest college admissions scheme ever prosecuted by the U.S. Justice Department. Among those arrested are Hollywood actresses Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin and Loughlin's fashion designer husband, Mossimo Giannulli.


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