Chinese family who paid $6.5 million in college admissions scandal claims they were duped

The Chinese family outed as paying $6.5 million to the consultant at the center of a nationwide college admissions scandal to help their daughter get into Stanford University is now claiming that they were duped into believing the hefty sum was a charitable donation aimed at helping underprivileged students.

Yusi Zhao was admitted to Stanford in 2017 after her family, who live in the Chinese capital of Beijing, allegedly paid William “Rick” Singer — who has since pleaded guilty in the scheme — to gain admission to the private California university. Singer used his sham charity to funnel bribes to coaches and test administrators to help the children of privileged parents get into selective universities across the country, prosecutors say.

A statement released Thursday by a Hong Kong lawyer who says he represents Zhao’s mother said she gave the money to Singer's foundation in 2017 after her family used his consulting services and her daughter got into the school.

The statement said Singer asked her to make the donation weeks after her daughter was accepted there and told her it would go toward supporting academic staff salaries, scholarships, athletic programs and "helping those students who otherwise will not be able to afford to attend Stanford.”

A Stanford University student walks in front of Hoover Tower on the Stanford University campus in Palo Alto, Calif.

A Stanford University student walks in front of Hoover Tower on the Stanford University campus in Palo Alto, Calif.

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But Stanford said it wasn't aware of the $6.5 million payment to Singer until it was reported by the media and that it did not receive that amount of money from Singer or from Zhao’s family. The student’s father was identified by The Wall Street Journal as Tao Zhao – a billionaire who runs a Chinese pharmaceuticals company. Her mother was only identified in the statement as “Mrs. Zhao.”

The mother said she — "like many families from Asia" — was not familiar with the college admissions process in the U.S. and was led to believe that Singer's charity was legitimate.

"Since the matters concerning Mr. Singer and his foundation have been widely reported, 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," said the statement from Vincent W.C. Law, a partner at Mayer Brown.

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“The donation is in the same nature as those that many affluent parents have been doing openly to prestigious universities,” it added.

The statement, according to NBC News, also claimed Singer was “surprised” to hear that Zhao got into Stanford.

Singer first tried to get Zhao admitted to Stanford by painting her as a potential recruit for the university’s sailing team and creating a fake profile for her complete with sailing achievements she never earned. She wasn’t recruited to the sailing team, but the fake profile ultimately helped her gain admission, the New York Times has reported. Singer then made a $500,000 donation to the sailing program.

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Zhao no longer attends Stanford after the school rescinded her admission in April. In the same month, Zhao appeared to have attended a conference hosted by the Princeton-U.S. China Coalition. In her bio for the program, Zhao was described as a sophomore at Stanford who hoped to major in Psychology and East Asian Studies.

“She hopes to be involved in the Chinese government in the future and is willing to learn more about Sino-US relationship. She is currently on the committee of Forum for American Chinese Exchange and organizes events related to US-China relationship on campus,” the bio stated.

Fox News’ Katherine Lam and the Associated Press contributed to this report.