Chinese family reportedly paid US$6.5 million for spot at Stanford University

The family of student Yusi Zhao, who was admitted to Stanford in 2017, allegedly paid US$6.5 million to get their child into college.
The family of student Yusi Zhao, who was admitted to Stanford in 2017, allegedly paid US$6.5 million to get their child into college.PHOTO: AFP

NEW YORK (NYTIMES) - From the day in March that prosecutors announced charges against 50 people in a sweeping college admissions fraud investigation, they 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 Yusi Zhao, who was admitted to Stanford University in 2017, according to a person with direct knowledge of the investigation.

Neither she nor her parents, who live in Beijing, have been charged, and it is unclear whether they are currently being investigated.

Stanford rescinded Ms Zhao's admission in April, and she is no longer a student there.

The person with knowledge of the inquiry said that Ms Zhao's family was introduced to college consultant William Singer by a financial adviser at Morgan Stanley based in Pasadena, California, named Michael Wu.

A spokesman for Morgan Stanley said that Mr Wu 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 that 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 that 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 masterminding a scheme that prosecutors say included both cheating on college entrance exams and bribing coaches to recruit students who were not actually competitive athletes.

The former Stanford sailing coach, John Vandemoer, 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, Mr Robert Fisher, declined to comment.

Ms Zhao's identity was first reported by the Los Angeles Times.

Ms Zhao 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.

Zhao worked during a recent summer in a biology and chemistry research lab at Harvard, under the direction of Prof Daniel G. Nocera, a professor of energy at the university. Prof Nocera said in an e-mail that Zhao was unpaid and worked for Stanford credit.