NEW YORK • From the day in March that US prosecutors announced charges against 50 people in a sweeping college admissions fraud investigation, they have held out a tantalising mystery: an unnamed family that they said had paid the college consultant at the centre of the scheme US$6.5 million (S$8.9 million) - far more than any of the parents named in the case - to get their child into college.
The student is Ms Zhao Yusi, who was admitted to Stanford in 2017, according to a person with knowledge of the probe. Neither she nor her parents, who live in Beijing, have been charged, and it is unclear if they are being investigated.
Stanford rescinded Ms Zhao's admission last month, and she is no longer a student there.
The person with knowledge of the inquiry said Ms Zhao's family was introduced to college consultant William Singer by financial adviser Michael Wu at Morgan Stanley in California. A spokesman for Morgan Stanley said Mr Wu's services had been terminated for not cooperating with an internal investigation into the matter, and that the firm was cooperating with the officials. Mr Wu did not respond to a phone call.
At a court hearing in March, the lead prosecutor in the admissions case, Mr Eric Rosen, said Singer had tried to get Ms Zhao - whom Mr Rosen did not identify by name - recruited to the Stanford sailing team and created a false profile of her supposed sailing achievements.
She was ultimately not recruited, but Mr Rosen said she was admitted to Stanford partly on the basis of those false credentials and that, after her admission, Singer made a US$500,000 donation to the Stanford sailing programme.
Singer has pleaded guilty to racketeering and other charges, for heading a scheme that prosecutors say included cheating on college entrance exams and bribing coaches to recruit students who were not really competitive athletes.
Former Stanford sailing coach John Vandemoer has already pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit racketeering. According to Mr Rosen's comments in his plea hearing in March, Vandemoer did not help Ms Zhao's application "in any material way", but accepted other donations from Singer to his programme in exchange for agreeing to reserve recruiting spots for Singer's clients. Vandemoer's lawyer Robert Fisher declined to comment.
Ms Zhao's identity was first reported by the Los Angeles Times.
She appears to have participated in a recent conference hosted by the Princeton-US China Coalition. Her biography on the group's website said she was planning to major in psychology and East Asian studies and was interested in education policy in China. It added that she hoped to be involved in the Chinese government in the future.
Ms Zhao worked during a recent summer in a biology and chemistry research laboratory at Harvard, under the direction of Dr Daniel Nocera, a professor of energy at the university. Dr Nocera said in an e-mail that Ms Zhao was unpaid and worked for Stanford credit.
At the Stanford campus on Wednesday, several students seemed unfazed by the news that one of their peers had paid millions to be there. Ms Tamara Morris, a 20-year-old junior studying political science and African American studies, said she was unaware of the Zhao case.
Conversation about the college admissions scandal had died down in recent weeks on campus, Ms Morris said, adding that she was not particularly bothered by the news. "I know how I got in," she said.