A Chinese family reportedly paid $6.5 million to secure a spot for their daughter at Stanford University ― the largest payment referenced by federal prosecutors as part of a far-reaching investigation into college admissions fraud.
Yusi “Molly” Zhao was accepted by the elite California university in 2017, but the sophomore’s admission was rescinded in April over falsified sailing credentials, reported The New York Times and The Stanford Daily.
Zhao’s family reportedly paid the multimillion-dollar sum to Rick Singer, the college admissions consultant at the center of a massive bribery scandal that has implicated dozens of college officials, coaches and wealthy parents, including actresses Lori Loughlin and Felicity Huffman.
Singer pleaded guilty in March to racketeering, money laundering, conspiracy and obstruction of justice as ringleader of a pay-to-play scheme that involved SAT test cheating and pretending his clients’ children were top athletes to get them recruited to competitive universities.
He admitted to bribing college officials and coaches by funneling hundreds of thousands of dollars to them through his nonprofit The Key Worldwide Foundation.
Federal prosecutors say Singer tried to get Zhao recruited by Stanford’s sailing team by fabricating her skill level and experience with the sport. She ultimately was not recruited, but her falsified credentials and a $500,000 donation Singer made after her admission to the school’s sailing program helped her get in, prosecutors said.
Stanford spokesman E.J. Miranda declined to confirm Zhao as the student whose admission was rescinded last month, citing federal student privacy laws. The school denies that the $500,000 payment played a role in its decision to rescind the student’s admission. The school says officials made the decision after determining some of the material in the student’s application was false.
“The student never had an affiliation with Stanford’s sailing program, nor did the student have an athletic recommendation as a recruited student-athlete,” Stanford said in a statement Monday, adding that the school is unsure whether any of the $500,000 donated by Singer in this case was part of the $6.5 million payment to the college admissions fraudster.
Stanford’s former sailing coach, John Vandemoer, has admitted to working with Singer and pleaded guilty in March to racketeering. It was not immediately clear whether Singer worked with Vandemoer on behalf of the Zhaos.
Zhao’s father is Chinese pharmaceutical billionaire Tao Zhao, according to the Daily. The Zhaos have not been charged by federal prosecutors and it’s unclear how much the parents or their daughter knew about Singer’s plan, according to the Los Angeles Times.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Massachusetts did not immediately return a request for comment about whether the Zhaos are currently under investigation in connection with the college admissions scandal.
A spokeswoman for the attorney’s office told the New York Times this week that the “investigation remains active” and that additional defendants could face potential charges.
The Zhao family has not commented on the matter publicly. An email sent to a representative for Tao Zhao’s company, Shandong Buchang Pharmaceuticals, by HuffPost was not immediately answered.
The family behind the $6.5 million payment to Singer has remained a mystery up until this week. Federal prosecutors referenced the colossal sum during a March news conference announcing the indictment, but have not publicly named the person behind it.