Mr. Zhao’s first proposal was to make a contribution to Harvard’s fencing team, prosectors said the co-conspirator told them, but Mr. Brand rejected that idea because he wanted to personally benefit. So instead, prosectors said, Mr. Zhao and the co-conspirator hatched a plan in which the businessman would donate $1 million to a fencing foundation, which would then be passed to a charity run by Mr. Brand.
But the co-conspirator, who ran the foundation, kept most of the money, prosecutors said — including more than $31,000 that he spent on his own son’s Harvard tuition.
After that, prosecutors said, Mr. Zhao began finding ways to benefit Mr. Brand directly, including paying for his car, his son’s tuition at Penn State, and his sewer and water bill. In 2016, Mr. Zhao bought Mr. Brand’s house in Needham, Mass., for $989,500, more than $440,000 above its assessed value.
The inflated price prompted an on-site inspection from the city assessor, who wrote in his notes that the sale “makes no sense,” prosecutors said.
Some months after the sale, Mr. Zhao’s younger son, Edward, was admitted to Harvard as a fencing recruit, as his brother, Eric, had been three years before. Eric Zhao was a co-captain of the Harvard team and was named second-team All-Ivy. His brother has fenced sparingly as a substitute.
David W. Chen contributed reporting from New York.