How could Harvard not be part of the buy your kid into college story? The first story out of Harvard (expect more) is definitely classier, and un petit peu more convoluted, than the fork over money to the guy pretending to be a college admissions consultant dealie we’ve been reading about. This one’s about fencing, a sport which boasts lots of French words and is featured in the BBC’s Pride and Prejudice. But it has in common with many other admissions scandal stories what I’ll call the sports vector. You get the kid in by greasing the already sweaty palm of an Ivy coach in some sport or other: soccer, tennis, water polo, basketball, and now fencing. Once he or she has collected enough money from you, the coach puts your kid’s name on a short list of desired athletes, which the admit office rubber stamps.

The complicated money-delivery angle here is that the palm-greaser bought the coach’s house for twice its value:

The house at 212 Forest Street in Needham, Massachusetts looked nearly identical to every other upper-middle-class colonial in the Boston suburbs. So when it sold in May 2016 at nearly a million dollars – well above the three-bedroom’s assessed value of $549,300 – the town assessor was so confused that he wrote in his official notes: “makes no sense.”

Reporting from the Boston Globe now provides a little more clarity into the not-so-rational purchase. According to the paper, the buyer, Jie Zhao – who “never lived a day in the Needham house” – had a son who was interested in applying to Harvard and fencing for the school team. Zhao purchased the home at a several hundred-thousand-dollar markup from Harvard’s fencing coach, Peter Brand. Zhao’s son got into Harvard, and joined the fencing team, and 17 months after his initial purchase, Zhao sold the house at a $324,500 loss.

A true Composé Attack, incorporating many elegant feints.


UPDATE: And there’s a local angle! Looks as though the world’s most nonsensical real estate investor lives just a hop skip and a parry from UD, in Potomac, Md.

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