Harvard has opened an investigation into head fencing coach Peter Brand and the May 2016 sale of his house to the father of a prospective student.

Claudine Gay, the dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences -- which oversees Harvard's athletic department -- announced the "independent review" on Thursday in an email to members of the university community. She noted that university officials' "current understanding is that these allegations are not related in any way to the 'Operation Varsity Blues' scheme to influence student college admissions decisions at several prominent American research universities, alleged by United States federal prosecutors."

Gay did not say whether Brand had been placed on leave or otherwise disciplined. Brand did not immediately respond to Fox News' request for comment.

The Boston Globe reported earlier Thursday that Brand's house in suburban Needham, Mass., was sold to Maryland businessman Jie Zhao for $989,500 -- far more than its assessed value of $549,300. According to the paper, Needham's director of assessing, Chip Davis, conducted an on-site inspection soon after the closing and noted that the property was "in bad shape" and that the sale "made no sense." In October 2017, the house was sold again for $665,000, at a loss of $324,500 for Zhao. According to The Globe, Davis again noted that the second sale "made no sense."

Jie Zhao (LinkedIn)

Zhao told The Globe that his purchase of the home was meant as a favor to Brand because, as he put it, "I feel so sorry he has to travel so much to go to fencing practice." As the paper reported, Harvard's Malkin Athletic Center is some 12 miles from Brand's Needham home.

However, Zhao denied that the purchase was meant to smooth the way for his youngest son to attend Harvard. He noted that his older son already attended the Ivy League institution at the time of the transaction (and graduated in 2018), while his younger son excelled academically at the prestigious St. Albans prep school in Washington, D.C.

"It’s a no-brainer," Zhao said of his son's admission to Harvard. "I don’t have to do anything" to aid his admission.

One week after Zhao bought the house, The Globe reported, Brand and his wife bought a condominium in Cambridge for $1.3 million with a $517,000 mortgage.

In her email Thursday, Gay noted that prospective Harvard student-athletes have their applications reviewed by the entire admissions committee and are required to sit for an interview with an admissions officer or university alumnus. Harvard, like its fellow Ivy League schools, does not award athletic scholarships.


"Regardless of what we eventually learn about these allegations, this is not a time for complacency," Gay wrote. "Where there are opportunities to clarify practices and strengthen procedures, we must act on them, and do so with a sense of urgency. This work is critically important to our academic mission and to the integrity of our athletics program and it has my full attention."

The Israel-born Brand has led Harvard's men's and women's fencing programs since 1999 and guided the Crimson to the NCAA co-ed team title in 2006.

His program has produced nine NCAA championships in individual events.

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