E-mails submitted to the court reveal extensive discussions between Zimny and Loomis Chaffee boarding school officials over the 2007-08 academic year, regarding the wealth and likelihood of donations from the Chows. Boarding schools conduct "intensive screening of applicants so they can assess who has the potential to donate money once the child is admitted, and then the development directors work feverishly to court the constituencies," Zimny said.
Loomis Chaffee denied conducting "financial screenings of any applicants except for those applying for financial aid, although on occasion we become aware of a prospective family's history of or capacity for philanthropic support," according to its director of development, Tim Struthers, who exchanged numerous e-mails with Zimny.
Zimny said he also personally donated tens of thousands of dollars to Loomis Chaffee to "advance the prospects" of the Chow sons - as well as his future clients. He added that these donations were factored into his $250,000 "extraordinary admission fee" charged in successful cases that required extensive lobbying.
While Struthers confirmed that Zimny made several gifts to the school, he said they were unrelated to the Chow sons, adding that "no donation or promise of donation was made to Loomis Chaffee by the Chows or Mr. Zimny on their behalf, as part of the admission process." He said donations were neither common nor pivotally influential in admissions decisions.
In March 2008, the Chow sons were admitted to Loomis Chaffee-- a decision Struthers said was merited, given their "academic records, extracurricular involvement, and leadership potential." Zimny attributed their admission to his donations, saying that the sons' secondary school admission test scores (SSAT) were weak.
He said he had stopped working with the Chow sons before they applied to university.
Zimny said his services can also include brokering introduction meetings between potential donors from Asia and development officials at U.S. universities, adding that schools welcomed these introductions as a way of fielding multitudes of donation requests.
In his view, "Money is money, whether it's coming from a random family in Hong Kong or a fifth-generation Whitney applying to Yale." He added that donations have to be presented "in a way that doesn't look like quid pro quo."
Consultant Susan Joan Mauriello disagreed, saying she has heard of donations making a significant difference in admissions decisions only in "development cases," which involve families with multiple generations of alumni that have made significant donations over the years.
Harvard declined to comment on whether donations influence admissions decisions.
The IECA said "no educational consultant will act as a middleman for donations to a school," adding that consultants "will put the family directly in touch with a university's development office and donations would be made directly."
But the appetite among Hong Kong's elite for getting their offspring into top universities is unlikely to fade.
"The way to differentiate yourself is "that one line on your resume that says what university you came from," Capstone's Po said. "That's one of the few elements that sticks with you for the rest of your life professionally."