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Federal Grand Jury Investigates Harvard Fencing Scandal

A federal grand jury is investigating Harvard's head fencing caoch Peter Brand.
A federal grand jury is investigating Harvard's head fencing caoch Peter Brand. By Christie Hung
By Shera S. Avi-Yonah and Delano R. Franklin, Crimson Staff Writers

A federal grand jury is investigating the sale of a Needham, Mass. home from Harvard’s head fencing coach to the father of current and former College fencers.

The Boston Globe reported Tuesday that the Massachusetts United States attorney’s office subpoenaed Needham officials in April, seeking to review records related to the 2016 transaction.

Peter Brand, head coach for Harvard’s men’s and women’s fencing teams, sold his house in 2016 to Jie Zhao for hundreds of thousands of dollars more than its assessed value. One of Zhao’s sons, a rising junior and member of the varsity fencing team, was admitted to Harvard shortly after Brand sold his home. Zhao’s other son — also a member of the fencing team — graduated from the College in 2018.

Harvard has also commissioned an outside investigation into Brand — Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences Claudine Gay announced the inquiry in an April email just after news of the sale became public. University administrators have since refused to name the firm conducting the investigation.

The fencing case became public against the backdrop of a national college admissions scandal.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Eric S. Rosen subpoenaed the Needham Board of Assessors in April for documents related to the valuation of Brand’s home. Rosen is also the lead prosecutor in a separate federal investigation into the national college admissions scandal that charged wealthy celebrities and college coaches with bribery and racketeering.

In that case, six Harvard alumni — but not the University itself — were among 50 people facing charges alleging that they fraudulently worked to gain students admission to elite colleges and universities.

The details of the grand jury inquiry in the fencing case are unknown because such proceedings are conducted in secret.

Kristen Setera — a spokesperson for the Boston office of the Federal Bureau of Investigations — and the Massachusetts U.S. attorney’s office could not immediately be reached for comment Tuesday evening.

Harvard spokesperson Rachael Dane could not immediately be reached for comment.

—Staff writer Shera S. Avi-Yonah can be reached at Follow her on Twitter at @saviyonah.

—Staff writer Delano R. Franklin can be reached at Follow him on Twitter at @delanofranklin_.

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