Want the best from VICE News in your inbox? Sign up here.
“Some people think, ‘Didn’t you get into Stanford because your family is rich?’” Yusi Zhao said in a video blog in 2017, just before she started school. “I tested into Stanford through my own hard work.”
Except that’s not true: Her billionaire parents paid $6.5 million to cheat their daughter’s way into an elite school, according to a report in the New York Times. In the video, Zhao claims that the admissions officers at Stanford had no idea she came from one of the world’s wealthiest families.
Zhao’s father, Zhao Tao, is the president and co-founder of Shandong Buchang Pharmaceuticals, a drug company that specializes in traditional Chinese medicines to fight cardiovascular disease. His wife also works for the company. Forbes estimates that Zhao Tao, a citizen of Singapore, is worth $1.8 billion.
The Zhao family paid $6.5 million to a college consultant who is at the center of the now-infamous elite college admissions scam in the U.S. that has implicated celebrity actresses like Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin. Huffman and Loughlin both pleaded not guilty to charges of conspiracy to commit fraud and conspiracy to commit money laundering, charges punishable by up to 20 years in prison each.
William Rick Singer admitted in court in March that he orchestrated the nationwide scheme to get unworthy rich kids into elite colleges. Singer tried to get Zhao’s daughter recruited for Stanford’s sailing team by saying she was a skilled sailor and by donating $500,000 to the sailing program once she was admitted to Stanford, according to prosecutors.
Singer tried to get Zhao’s daughter recruited for Stanford’s sailing team by saying she was a skilled sailor and by donating $500,000 to the sailing program.
The Zhao family claims that they are victims of Singer, and that they believed their $6.5 million — by far the largest sum paid to Singer as part of his scheme — was a perfectly legal donation to Stanford.
“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,” the family said in a statement to the Times.
Prosecutors are reportedly targeting new groups of parents, which has struck fear in the hearts of wealthy families in Southern California, according to a separate report from the New York Times.
Cover: Pedestrians walk on the campus at Stanford University in Stanford, Calif. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)