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Adam Wheeler: Accused fake Harvard student

Jenna Johnson

Adam Wheeler's plan to fake his way into and through Harvard University worked for years, prosecutors allege, until he tried to get a university endorsement for a Rhodes Scholarship his senior year.

That's when a professor noticed Wheeler's writings were nearly identical to those of another professor. The professor dug through Wheeler's application packet for the Rhodes and Fulbright scholarships and found fabricated recommendations from Harvard professors, a falsified transcript showing perfect grades and a much-too-impressive resume listing books co-authored, lectures given and courses taught, The Harvard Crimson reported.

The professor alerted school officials, who began an investigation into Wheeler's student file. Prosecutors allege Wheeler, now 23, also lied when he applied to Harvard in 2007, claiming to be a transfer student from Massachusetts Institute of Technology with a perfect academic record from Phillips Academy in Andover, the Associated Press reported.

Wheeler was arrested on Monday and indicted on 20 offenses, including larceny, identity fraud and pretending to hold a degree. Harvard estimates Wheeler duped them out of $45,000 in financial aid, grants and scholarships. He is scheduled to appear in Middlesex Superior Court Tuesday.

In a Boston Globe story that's rich in details from court documents an anonymous Harvard professor likened the case to the movie "The Talented Mr. Ripley.''

Here's the time line prosecutors and the media have pieced together so far:

Wheeler graduates from Caesar Rodney High School in Kent County, Delaware, according to the Boston Globe.

2005 - 2007
Wheeler attends Bowdoin College in Maine, but is suspended for academic dishonesty.

Spring 2007
Wheeler applies to transfer to Harvard. The Boston Globe reports these details from Wheeler's application:

* He claims to have attended MIT and Phillips (he was never enrolled in either). His fake MIT transcript shows perfect grades during his year there.
* He submits letters of recommendation from four MIT professors and a Andover college counselor. The letters are on the proper letterhead.
* Official documents from The College Board indicate he had received a perfect SAT score of 1600 in March 2005. A subpoena later revealed that Wheeler took the SAT twice in 2004 and scored 1160 and 1220.

April 2007
Wheeler does a mandatory admissions interview with a Harvard alumnus on the Bowdoin campus, while claiming to be a MIT freshman. The Boston Globe reports Wheeler told the interviewer he moved to Bowdoin mid-semester to work as a professor's assistant, according to court documents.

Fall 2007
Wheeler transfers to Harvard to study English and becomes a member of the Class of 2010. He joins the Kirkland House, according to the Crimson.

Spring 2009
During his junior year, Wheeler receives a Hoopes Prize for an English project, the Crimson reports.

September 2009
Wheeler submits his Rhodes and Fulbright applications to the university, launching the university's investigation. The Crimson reports that Wheeler was invited to present his case at a disciplinary hearing, but decides not to attend and to await a decision at his home in Delaware.

October 2009
Wheeler is dismissed from Harvard University, the Boston Globe reports.

January 2010
Wheeler submits transfer applications to Yale and Brown, according to the AP. He claims to have been employed by McLean Hospital, a psychiatric facility affiliated with Harvard (authorities say he never was) and provides recommendations from a hospital employee and a Harvard dean (authorities say both are fake).

May 2010
Wheeler is arrested and charged.

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By Jenna Johnson  |  May 18, 2010; 9:06 AM ET
Categories:  Admissions  | Tags: Harvard University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology  
Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: Vigil planned for GWU student killed in dorm fall
Next: Popping the question -- at graduation


Bully for this kid. I say give him a medal for pointing out the emperor's nudity. Why am I picturing the Harvard brass doing an impersonation of Governor LePetomaine in Blazing Saddles?

"We have to protect our phoney baloney jobs here, gentlemen! We must do something about this immediately! Immediately! Immediately!"

Posted by: member8 | May 18, 2010 11:52 AM | Report abuse

Sounds like Mr. Wheeler is on track to a successful career at our nation's banks and corporations. Failing that he can always consider politics. Nice to know that the next generation of Ken Lays are in the pipeline.

Posted by: caebling | May 18, 2010 12:33 PM | Report abuse

The boy must have brain, skill, and motivation. It is amazing that he was able to beat so many levels of clearance. Millions of kids apply to college paying a fortune to apply, send endless scores to institutions repeteadly to be rejected. Who are the recipient of these fees? Who are the administrators who accept or decline students? How many smart, able, and honest kids miss the opportunity to go to the school of their choice because of an initial detection system that reject their application before getting to a human hand? This kid beat them all, didn't he? School administrators and staff should be all fired or machines replaced by human (create jobs). Create a special federal compound to house these crooks instead of white collar jails. Let their brain plot for the benefit of the country. Let the produce some good versus rot in jail - use their brains.

Posted by: ccmail4g | May 18, 2010 1:38 PM | Report abuse

This reminds me of the author Nathaneal West, who got into and graduated from Brown University by submitting fake transcripts.

Posted by: yetanotherpassword | May 18, 2010 2:16 PM | Report abuse

The ineptitude of the authorities at Harvard is no excuse for felony.

Every trade and profession has its felons.

Adam Wheeler certainly has not beaten every detection system, or he would not stand accused of felonious behavior.

Adam Wheeler is a person who has been charged with and, it seems, in light of a reportedly massive paper trail, committed a whole slew of evil, despicable, unethical, immoral, dishonest and thoroughly reprehensible acts. I hope, if he is found guilty, that they punish him to the maximum extent allowable under the law, then throw him into a hole along with others of his ilk, like Bernie Madoff.

Posted by: neopatetic | May 18, 2010 3:28 PM | Report abuse

Isn't bending the rules pretty much the only way to get into Harvard?

I love a good con man story. At first glance I'm really impressed by the scam, but he can't be that bright - he got caught.

He should never have gone after the Rhodes scholarship, and using a Harvard prof's writing for papers? Come on. If you're going to plagiarize at least use a paper from someone outside the university. Sloppy.

But this really says a lot about Harvard's admissions system. There is definitely a formula that has been discovered here. And its pretty elitist (surprise!). Love it.

Posted by: namwith | May 18, 2010 3:51 PM | Report abuse

It's not that hard to lie or steal. Any half-wit can manage it. Like lying, stealing from a boss, neighbor or friend is a cinch.

We aren't honest because of fear of being caught, fellows. We are honest because it is the right thing. It's part of the social fabric that keeps us from looking over our shoulders every minute. It allows us to trust when we need to.

Pity that so few understand the value of honesty.

Posted by: ginkodoc | May 18, 2010 4:03 PM | Report abuse

The two people I know personally who got into Harvard in no way bent the rules. Both were honored as NMSQT finalists, both had straight A's in tough courses, including AP courses from highly-rated public high schools, one had a perfect score on the SAT, and one was student body president. Both were also on competitive teams in high school, one had the lead in a musical, and one was an Eagle Scout. People like namwith, with all due respect, write in the ignoble and less than honest way of the fox with the sour grapes.

Adam Wheeler surely is a con man, in the same sense that Bernie Madoff is a con man. Con men rip people off. It is a myth propagated by con men that the only people they rip off are themselves both greedy and dishonest. The real fact is that con men, like other criminals, like to prey upon the weak, the old, the inexperienced and the feeble of mind: it is easier for them that way. No one should never con anyone or in any other way, as ginkodoc speaks of, lie, steal or ever behave in any way dishonestly. It is wrong: ethically, morally and, quite often, as in this case, legally.

No one is perfect. We all commit sins, whether great or small. Some here seem not to even know the difference between right and wrong. Worse, some seem to side with evil, even blatantly so. They should be ashamed. They should also be excoriated.

Posted by: neopatetic | May 18, 2010 5:04 PM | Report abuse

We've got 7.5 million illegal aliens doing the same thing, identity theft, Earned Income Credit fraud, welfare fraud, etc. and you report on this one guy.

1 person identity fraud vs 7,500,000 identity fraud. It's incredible how corrupt the media has become.

Posted by: hunter340 | May 19, 2010 7:29 AM | Report abuse

For more insight into the Wheeler case from a psychologist and a faculty Rhodes advisor, check my Psych Today blog:

Posted by: SWhitbourne | May 19, 2010 8:58 AM | Report abuse

I love that this individual has shown that colleges are nothing but a business. All we have heard is how this individual was a fraud. How about the college? Why haven't we heard about the college and the sorry job they did. Did they not check his application? The college is just as much to blame as the individual in this case. So I guess Harvard is not the college it proclaims to be. "just a business."

Posted by: lindawilson1952 | May 19, 2010 10:34 AM | Report abuse

some brains and guts he had to actually go with this for about 4 years. I am not going to lie but this man is cute but not very smart. A proffesor!!! discoverd the man. He just had to tell on the poor guy well thats what mr. Wheeler get's for actually doing this. This shows that havard unniversity is not that hard to get in i mean come on!! wheeler got in with fake lies oh man !! i am so sad so upset. I was observing his face in the video they have of him where his facial expression is so mad looking so mad that he got caught. Men if he could only fly or maybe right a book of his lies and skilled mind to do such extravegant scary way to get into harvard.

Posted by: mayra1738 | May 26, 2010 10:34 AM | Report abuse

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