The family who paid the most to get their child into a selective college as part of a national college admissions scandal was identified on Wednesday by the Los Angeles Times as a Chinese family whose daughter gained admission to Stanford University.
The Los Angeles Times reported that Yusi Zhao, who was admitted to Stanford in the spring of 2017, and her family, who reportedly live in Beijing, paid college consultant William "Rick" Singer $6.5 million for her admission. The story cites sources familiar with the case who requested anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly about it.
The Weekly was unable to independently verify this. Zhao, reportedly the daughter of a Chinese billionaire, did not respond to emailed requests for comment. Her name is no longer listed on Stanford's online directory, though she was previously listed as an undergraduate student in the Department of East Asian Languages and Cultures.
A Hong Kong-based lawyer representing Zhao’s mother, identified only as “Mrs. Zhao,” released a statement Thursday stating she had made the $6.5 million contribution to Singer’s foundation in 2017 under the impression it would go to support “academic staff, scholarships, athletics programs and helping those students who otherwise will not be able to afford to attend Stanford,” attorney Vincent Law said. She made the contribution on April 21, 2017, just weeks after her daughter had been admitted to Stanford, according to Law.
She was introduced to Singer by a "third party," Law said. Singer gave educational advice and did not guarantee admission into any particular college or university, Law said. He represented his foundation "as a substantial and legitimate non-profit foundation for supporting
education," the attorney said.
“Mrs. Zhao has come to realize she has been misled, her generosity has been taken advantage of, and her daughter has fallen victim to the scam,” Law said. “Both Mrs. Zhao and Yusi have been shocked and deeply disturbed by what have transpired, and have engaged attorneys to handle the matter."
Law declined to answer further questions about the case.
Stanford announced in April that it had expelled an unidentified student who it determined had falsified his or her college application and who was connected to the nationwide college-admission fraud scheme.
"Any credits earned have also been vacated," Stanford officials said. "The student is no longer on Stanford's campus."
Citing privacy laws, Stanford would not identify or confirm that Zhao is the student who was expelled, according to a statement posted Wednesday on a university webpage dedicated to the admissions case.
The Zhaos were not named as part of the federal indictment in March that charged 33 parents, including several Midpeninsula residents.
The university's former head sailing coach, John Vandemoer, has already been implicated in the admissions scheme and was fired shortly after the first federal indictment was announced. Vandemoer pleaded guilty to a federal charge of racketeering conspiracy.
According to Stanford, the expelled student had not received a recommendation from any coach and has not been affiliated with the Stanford sailing program or any other athletic team.
The university did, however, deem that the student is "associated with a contribution to Stanford from the foundation in the government investigation." That contribution was made several months after the student was admitted, according to the university.
The Los Angeles Times reported that "to ensure Zhao was admitted to Stanford, Singer targeted the school's sailing program, putting her forth as a competitive sailor despite there being no indication she competed in the sport."
According to the Department of Justice investigation, the Stanford sailing program received three gifts totaling $770,000. Stanford's statement on Wednesday emphasized that the university did not receive more than this amount and was unaware of the alleged $6.5 million payment until Wednesday's news reports.
Vandemoer acknowledged that he had accepted contributions to the sailing program in exchange for recommending two prospective students for admission to the university. Neither of these two had completed the application process and neither was admitted, according to Stanford.
The Los Angeles Times and New York Times reported that a financial adviser at Morgan Stanley in Southern California, identified as Michael Wu, connected the Zhao family to Singer. A spokesperson for Morgan Stanley confirmed that Wu worked in the Pasadena office and was "terminated for not cooperating with an internal investigation into the college admissions matter." Morgan Stanley is "cooperating with the authorities," the spokesperson said. Online, Wu is described as a the lead international client advisor of the Wu Group at Morgan Stanley in Pasadena; the group "focuses on servicing ultra-high-net-worth clients with Asian backgrounds."
A source familiar with Morgan Stanley's investigation said Wu was terminated in March.
On Thursday, a lawyer for Wu, who was first quoted in the Los Angeles Times, said in a statement provided to the Weekly that Wu was introduced to Singer by a "trusted source" at Morgan Stanley.
Singer wrote in an email that the funds would be paid to Stanford "to endow staff salaries and scholarships" and "to fund athletics special programs and the university's underserved outreach programs to help the needy to afford to attend Stanford," according to Beverly Hills attorney Raymond Aghaian. Singer told Wu that admission to Stanford was not guaranteed, Aghaian said.
Wu was terminated while he was out of the country and "attempting to fully cooperate with Morgan Stanley," Aghaian said.
Zhao is listed as a delegate for the Princeton U.S. China Coalition's 2019 Global Governance Forum. An online biography for the event describes her as a Stanford sophomore hoping to major in psychology and East Asian studies and interested in educational policy in China. She "hopes to be involved in the Chinese government in the future" and organizes campus events at Stanford related to the U.S.-China relationship, the biography states.
Zhao was also listed last summer as a visiting undergraduate student from Stanford on the website of Harvard University's Nocera Lab, which studies energy conversion in biology and chemistry.
Last week, the Wall Street Journal identified a student whose family had paid Singer $1.2 million for their daughter's admission at Yale University. Sherry Guo, also a young woman from China, was a freshman at Yale until last month, her lawyer has told other media outlets. Her parents have not been charged.
Fourteen defendants, including four local parents, have agreed to plead guilty in the case. A Hillsborough couple formally entered guilty pleas on Wednesday for paying a college preparatory counselor $600,000 to guarantee their two daughters' enrollment into the University of Southern California, according to federal prosecutors.
• Listen to the March 15 episode of "Behind the Headlines," where Palo Alto college adviser John Raftrey discusses the implications of the nationwide admissions bribery scandal, now available on our YouTube channel and podcast.