The mother of a former Stanford student acknowledged Thursday that she paid $6.5 million to the man at the heart of the college admissions scandal, but said she was tricked into believing the seven-figure sum would go toward scholarships, university salaries and programs for needy students.
The woman now considers her daughter, Yusi Zhao, to be a victim of a scam perpetrated by Newport Beach consultant William “Rick” Singer, according to a statement released Thursday on her behalf by a Hong Kong lawyer who said he represents the mother. He identified her only as “Mrs. Zhao.”
Yusi Zhao, who also goes by Molly, was admitted to Stanford in March 2017. Her family, who lives in Beijing, gave $6.5 million the following month to Singer’s foundation, according to the attorney, William Law.
Singer solicited the payment from Zhao’s mother, telling her the money would go toward staff salaries, scholarships and programs at Stanford that help students who could not otherwise afford to attend the prestigious school, Law said.
“This generous act was not only done for the good of the school and its students, but also done out of the love and support of Yusi by a caring mother,” Law said. He said the payment was made “in the same nature” as donations that other wealthy families routinely make to universities.
The mother believed Singer’s foundation was legitimate when she made the payment, Law said.
Singer’s foundation has since been exposed as a sham, one that he used to launder payments from parents and dole out bribes to coaches, a university official and test administrators.
Since the scheme was uncovered by the U.S. attorney in Massachusetts, Law 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.”
The mother, he added, is now “shocked and deeply disturbed.”
No one in the Zhao family has been charged with a crime, and it’s unclear how much the parents or their daughter knew about what Singer was doing to secure Yusi Zhao a spot at Stanford. The family’s attorney said Singer never guaranteed the younger Zhao a seat at a particular university and was in fact “surprised” to learn she’d been admitted to Stanford.
Singer has pleaded guilty to four felonies and admitted to committing an array of crimes.
To ensure Zhao was admitted to Stanford, Singer targeted the school’s sailing program, representing her as a competitive sailor despite there being no indication she participated in the sport, sources familiar with the case said.
It was not immediately known with whom Singer worked inside the university. Stanford’s former sailing coach, John Vandemoer, has pleaded guilty to racketeering and admitted working with Singer.
The $6.5-million figure the Zhao family paid has stood out since prosecutors in the U.S. attorney’s office in Boston unveiled their case in March and said an unnamed client of Singer’s paid that eye-catching amount. While 33 parents have been charged so far in a sprawling investigation of fraud and deceit in the college admission process, none is accused of spending sums that even approach what Zhao’s family are said to have paid.
A Beijing address linked to Zhao is a gated compound in the leafy Shunyi neighborhood that is home to many wealthy Chinese, celebrities and foreigners. A Bentley, a Tesla and a red Ferrari were parked at the compound. A member of the staff at the house told a Times reporter that no one from the family was home, and declined to say when anyone would return.
The only others known to have paid Singer more than $1 million are the parents of Sherry Guo, another student from China, who paid $1.2 million for help getting their daughter into Yale, Guo’s attorney has said. They have denied any wrongdoing through their attorney and have not been charged.
Although Zhao and her parents haven’t been accused in the scandal, federal prosecutors in Massachusetts have charged many parents implicated in the scheme with fraud and money laundering offenses. Fourteen parents have said they will plead guilty or already have done so.
In all, 50 people have been charged in the case — a group that, along with parents, includes several coaches from various universities, a USC athletics administrator, people who worked for Singer’s college admission consulting business and others he paid to carry out aspects of his scam.