BOSTON (CN) – A Cambridge-based “educational consultant” took a Hong Kong family for $2.1 million with promises he could get their sons into a top U.S. university, the family claims in Federal Court. The Chow family says Mark Zimny and IvyAdmit Consulting Associates took increasingly large amounts of money, ostensibly for “donations” to colleges their sons wished to attend, but actually for himself.
Gerald and Lily Chow say they had little first-hand knowledge of the U.S. educational system, and that said IvyAdmit founder Zimny targeted them after meeting them at their elder son’s graduation from a Massachusetts boarding school.
The Chows say Zimny repeatedly lied to get them to hand over ever-larger amounts of money. They want their $2.1 million back, indemnification for the schools to which they intended to make donations, and an accounting.
When they met Zimny at the prep school graduation in June 2007, he them he was a Harvard professor, according to the 16-page complaint. The Chows say Zimny claimed to be attending the graduation of a Korean relative, for whom he had pulled strings to secure admission to Philips Andover, the child’s “dream school.”
Learning that the Chows had one son in the United States and another planning to come, Zimny said he would be in Hong Kong that summer, and would call on the family, according to the complaint. During that meeting, Zimny said he was an “educational counselor” and offered to help their children, for $4,000 per month per child, the Chows say.
The Chows say Zimny claimed to have high-level connections at New England boarding schools and Ivy League colleges, and that he could use the connections to gain their sons admission to the top-tier schools.
Zimny claimed that one key point would be to contribute to the schools the boys wanted to attend, and a second critical component would be to funnel the contributions through IvyAdmit, the Chows say.
They say Zimny gave them a written “plan” that stated in part: “While the public appearance of any quid pro quo situation would be steadfastly denied by any University development official, the reality is that of course everything has a price.”
The “plan” allegedly added: “This begs the question, How do foreign families or corporations with distinct educational goals develop a productive and positive relationship with Universities through the process of development?”
Zimny said they did it through intermediaries like his company, which have “internal and longstanding relationships … within the embedded social networks of universities like Harvard, Yale and Princeton.”
Zimny told them that top colleges would be reluctant to accept contributions from individuals or organizations unknown to them, and that an “embedded racism” prevented such schools from becoming “too friendly with Asian donors,” according to the complaint.
Playing on the Chows’ fears, Zimny went so far as to claim that “foreign students are shunned, made fun of and treated as ‘second class’ citizens’ at U.S. boarding schools due to their cultural differences …”
Believing Zimny had become a friend as well as an adviser, the Chows say they agreed to pay him $4,000 a month for each son – a sum that did not include tuition or room and board – for his “educational consulting services.”
The Chows says that Zimny did stay in touch with the boys, and did make recommendations about their education. But they add that he asked for ever-larger payments, including $155,000, to be divided between the two boys’ schools, and $2 million, which Zimny said he would invest on their behalf, using the returns to pay the monthly consulting fees and cover other expenses.
The Chows said Zimny promised to repay the $2 million, plus any unspent investment gains, once both boys got into the universities of their choice.
The Chows say the plot began to unravel after Zimny recommended that their boys attend an SAT preparatory course in Korea in 2008.
Zimny said he would pay the initial costs and bill them for reimbursement, but the Chows said Zimny charged them almost three times the actual tuition.
Gerald Chow says he then began a series of inquiries that revealed that Zimny had not made the contributions he claimed he had, and had lied about being an “authorized recruiter” for the schools the Chows attended.
Despite the deteriorating nature of the relationship, the Chows say, Zimny twice tried to pry another $1 million from them. When they refused, Zimny stopped providing any services to their sons, and threatened to embarrass the family if it brought legal action, they say.
The Chows seek $2,155,000 from Zimny and IvyAdmit, alleging fraud, breach of contract, breach of fiduciary duty, promissory estoppel, and unjust enrichment.
They are represented by Marjorie Sommer Cooke of Cooke, Clancy & Gruenthal in Boston.