Chinese family ‘paid $6.5 million to get daughter into Stanford’

Biggest payment in admission fraud linked to Yusi Zhao, also known as Molly

May 2, 2019
Stanford University
Source: iStock
Stanford University

A Chinese family allegedly paid the biggest bribe of the US college admissions scandal: a $6.5 million (£5 million) sum to get their daughter admitted to Stanford University, the Los Angeles Times reported.

That case involves Yusi Zhao, also known as Molly, who was admitted to Stanford in the spring of 2017, the Times reported. Her family members live in Beijing, none of them have been charged, and their level of culpability was not immediately clear, the newspaper said.

The dozens of parents who have been charged so far in the scandal, meanwhile, are about to get more company, with a new round of indictments expected within weeks, NBC News reported.

“A number of parents” have been warned of their potential involvement in the case, NBC said, citing multiple sources.

The nation’s largest-ever college admissions prosecution began almost two months ago, when federal officials accused some 50 people of paying, receiving, arranging or participating in admissions-related bribes.

The operation allegedly helped some 33 students fake sporting and academic credentials to seek admission to institutions that include Stanford, Yale and Georgetown universities, the University of California at Los Angeles, and the University of Southern California.

A lingering mystery, however, had surrounded one related case in which prosecutors said that a family had paid $6.5 million – well beyond the typical bribery levels described in the indictments – to help their child.

The Times, in answering that question, said Ms Zhao’s family met Los Angeles college consultant William Singer – the accused mastermind of the bribery scandal – through a financial adviser at Morgan Stanley.

It was not clear, however, if and to what degree the parents or their daughter had been aware of the nature of Mr Singer’s efforts to help them, the Times said. Stanford reported last month that it expelled a student who submitted a falsified application, but it has not elaborated or identified the person.

Mr Singer began cooperating with investigators, including helping the FBI record his calls with the parents and coaches, after investigators learned about his activities from one of the accused parents. He has pleaded guilty to various charges in the overall scandal.

Stanford’s former sailing coach, John Vandemoer, has also pleaded guilty. But it was not known, the Times said, if he had made efforts to help Ms Zhao. Mr Vandemoer is among several college sports coaches who allegedly worked with Mr Singer by helping applicants falsely present themselves to their institutions as worthy of sports-related admissions.

That tactic was reportedly, under Mr Singer’s system, a more guaranteed – and more expensive – method of gaining an admission, as opposed to his schemes for falsely inflating applicants’ standardised test scores.

But beyond the case of Ms Zhao, only one other family has been described by prosecutors as paying Mr Singer more than $1 million for his work. That instance also involved a Chinese student, Sherry Guo, whose parents reportedly paid $1.2 million (£900,000) to win her admission to Yale.

Fourteen parents, including Hollywood actress Felicity Huffman, so far have said they will plead guilty or already have pleaded guilty in the case.

paul.basken@timeshighereducation.com

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