Former Harvard professor sued for allegedly defrauding family of $2M in admissions scam

A former Harvard professor allegedly bilked a family for over $2 million in an elaborate admissions scam.

In an ongoing lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Massachusetts, Gerald and Lily Chow allege that Mark J. Zimny and his company, IvyAdmit, fraudulently took the money under the guise of helping their two teenage sons gain admission to prestigious American colleges.

The Chows, residents of Hong Kong, maintain that they first met Zimny in 2007. They say he introduced himself as a Harvard professor.

In fact, though, Zimny had only held a series of temporary teaching positions in the sociology department from 2001 to 2005. He was no longer affiliated with Harvard at that time.

“His last appointment at the University, as a visiting assistant professor of education at the Graduate School of Education, ended in June 2005,” said Kevin Galvin, senior director of communications at Harvard.

Zimny began moonlighting as a private admissions counselor while he was still teaching at Harvard, according to The Boston Globe. His new admissions-consulting outfit, called IvyAdmit, specifically targeted Chinese MBA applicants initially, then moved on to offering his services to well-heeled Asian families and their children.

The Chows first met Zimny at a 2007 ceremony at the Massachusetts prep school where one of their sons was enrolled. He then arranged meetings with them in Hong Kong as well as Cambridge. One of the meetings was a dinner affair attended by full Harvard professors.

Zimny used official-looking paperwork to suggest that those professors were among his business partners, though this was not the case, The Globe reports.

The Chows began wiring a minimum of $8,000 a month to Zimny, for several months. Later, they forked over a $2 million retainer, $1 million for each son.

Court documents allege that Zimny described this lump-sum payment as part of a “big pool of money” from Asian donors to “help their sons and daughters to gain admission to colleges of their choice.”

Specifically, the Chows allege, Zimny promised them that he would be able to the necessary pull strings to get their two sons, then 16 and 14, admitted into elite schools.

An elaborate written plan that Zimny created for one of the sons brazenly says, “our target university is Harvard,” reports The Globe.

Zimny and IvyAdmit promised to tutor the boys and to keep an eye on them while they attended highfalutin prep schools in the United States.

Naturally, the complaint says, Zimny advised the Chows against giving money directly to Ivy League schools. Racism against wealthy Asian benefactors would raise eyebrows in various development offices, you understand. The wisest course of action would be to give the money to Zimny and let him give the money to the schools.

The Chows bought it, and they they gave Zimny and IvyAdmit $2.2 million over two years.