In an official-looking document Zimny gave the Chows, he said those professors were his business partners, though one of them told the Globe that was not the case.
Had the Chows done outside research, they might have thought twice about Zimny’s invitations. A Google search, for instance, could have turned up the fact that Zimny no longer worked at Harvard after 2005. Calls to elite universities also might have found that many of them view admissions consultants with skepticism.
“While it is certainly possible that in individual cases an admissions consultant can be helpful to an applicant, we have encountered no evidence to indicate that is the case generally,” Harvard spokesman Jeff Neal said in a statement to the Globe.
It is unclear how much, if any, Harvard knows about his activities early on. Zimny listed no affiliation with his industry’s dominant trade group, the Independent Educational Consultants Association, or IECA, which bars two of his alleged practices — raising family fears that admissions are cutthroat, and acting as a middleman for donations.
Then there were his prices. The association has refused to accept consultants who charge in the mid-five figures for several years’ worth of prep work “because we consider that so outrageous,” said Mark Sklarow, its executive director.
Zimny proposed to provide unusually thorough services, but the complaint alleges he asked for an astonishing amount in return.
At first, according to invoices, receipts, and financial statements, the Chows wired him at least $8,000 a month for their two boys. Then, in late 2008 and early 2009, they gave him a $2 million retainer.
In exchange, several of Zimny’s employees provided intense tutoring and miscellaneous help not only to the Chow sons, but also to their father, Gerald, a jewelry magnate. The invoices suggest that some of the employees went so far as to write papers for their clients.
That, too, should have been a red flag, said Michael Goran, an admissions consultant and member of IECA: “We sign in blood that we won’t write essays for people.”
After awhile, the Chows started to grow suspicious. According to their legal complaint, in late 2009, they finally began to ask questions of officials at their son’s prep schools. They also discovered that Zimny had failed to make certain donations on their behalf and had overcharged them for some of their sons’ activities.
A final straw, according to legal papers, came when Zimny discouraged Gerald Chow from donating $1 million to Stanford University in the name of Chow’s deceased mother. That wouldn’t work, Zimny allegedly said: All donations needed to go through him.
The Chows did not make the donation. The next year, they filed suit. Today, they can take comfort in one fact — their sons did wind up at top universities (though not at Harvard).
Meanwhile, it is unclear whether IvyAdmit remains operational. Zimny still checks his company e-mail address — he responded to an inquiry from the Globe within hours. The firm is listed as active in a Connecticut state database, and its website is still online.
But the firm’s listed phone number doesn’t work. And although some of the people the site names as IvyAdmit’s “team” are or were apparently real employees — they are listed in invoices as having worked with the Chows — three told the Globe that they knew Zimny but never worked for IvyAdmit.
At least one of those listed as an employee plans to watch the Chows’ suit closely over the coming months. He said he is keen to see more details come out.
Mary Carmichael can be reached at email@example.com.