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

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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. 

The Globe reports that Zimny promised to donate some of the money to elite schools. As for the rest of it, the brilliant plan — in this economy — was to invest the rest of the money and use the returns to pay Zimny’s fees.

Zimny has been unable to explain exactly where the money went, but documents show that he attempted to invest the money in real estate, the Globe reports.

Whatever happened to their money, the Chows demand a refund.

Documents submitted in the lawsuit show Zimny did indeed receive $2.2 million, and that IvyAdmit employees tutored the Chows’ two sons. Those employees even went so far as to do their homework and write papers for them.

According to one of the Chows’ attorneys, the lawsuit is likely to pick up speed this fall and winter.

Regardless of the outcome, the Chow boys reportedly did end up at elite colleges (not Harvard, though).

Zimny’s company, IvyAdmit Consulting Associates, is a Connecticut limited liability company, reports The Globe. The firm has an office in Cambridge, Mass.

According to The Harvard Crimson, the Independent Educational Consultants Association, the governing body that vets private college counselors, has no record of accreditation for Zimny. Accreditation requirements include having an advanced degree, completing certain training, and visiting a number of secondary school and college campuses.

The IvyAdmit website is still online. “We are a dedicated, experienced, highly professional group of current and former professors and students at Ivy League universities and other top American schools,” it boasts.

The website claims that faculty members from various Ivy League schools and distinguished American business schools comprise the IvyAdmit team.

IvyAdmit also boasts a strong record of assisting applicants from several Asian countries gain admission to elite schools, at an overall clip of “almost 90%.”

“Applying to an MBA or other university program is one of the most demanding and important steps in your career,” the website proclaims. “Why should you trust your future to anyone less?”

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