Adam B. Wheeler, the former student accused of fabricating his way into Harvard and defrauding the University of over $40,000, will likely plead guilty to at least some charges next month.
At his arraignment in May, Wheeler pleaded not guilty to 20 felony and misdemeanor counts. He spent several weeks in prison before posting $5,000 bail in June.
Wheeler’s attorney, Steven A. Sussman, said that he is negotiating a plea agreement with the prosecution, which would spare the government the time and expense of a trial in exchange for a lighter sentence.
The change of plea hearing, which Sussman requested last week, is scheduled for Dec. 16 at Middlesex Superior Court.
When asked whether Wheeler plans to change his plea to guilty at the upcoming hearing, Sussman told The Crimson: “That’s a reasonable assumption.”
Sussman said that Wheeler has not yet decided whether to plead guilty to all counts, which include larceny, identity fraud, falsifying an endorsement or approval, and pretending to hold a degree. However, Sussman said, “If he’s going to plead guilty [on any counts], I don’t think there’ll be a trial.”
Sussman said in May that if convicted on all counts, Wheeler could receive a statutory maximum of five years in prison.
Harvard Law School Professor Lloyd L. Weinreb said that Wheeler’s decision to change his plea is not unusual for a criminal case.
“It’s very, very common for someone to plead not guilty at the start and then change it as the trial draws closer,” Weinreb said. “The person and the person’s lawyer can conclude that this is the way he can get the best deal.... There’s enough sense that the sentence will be lighter.”
At the pre-trial hearing last week, Wheeler received permission to travel to his parents’ home in Delaware before his December court appearance. He had been forbidden to leave the state of Massachusetts since his arrest in the spring.
“I think the passage of time and his compliance with his conditions of release, et cetera, are all indications that he’s worthy of that permission,” Sussman said.
In his application to Harvard as a sophomore transfer student in 2007, Wheeler produced transcripts depicting perfect grades from Phillips Academy in Andover and freshman year at MIT, prosecutors allege.
In fact, Wheeler attended Caesar Rodney High School, a public school in Delaware, and spent two years at Bowdoin College in Maine before he was suspended for academic dishonesty. MIT does not award grades at all to first-year students.
In his junior year at Harvard, Wheeler, a resident of Kirkland House, won a Hoopes Prize for a paper that prosecutors now allege was plagiarized.
A committee judging his application to the Rhodes and Fulbright Scholarships in fall 2009 became suspicious of his academic integrity, leading to an investigation of his application to the College and later a criminal inquiry. Prosecutors found fake transcripts, false letters of recommendation, and fraudulent SAT scores.
Upon choosing to leave Harvard rather than face the Administrative Board in the fall of his senior year, Wheeler applied for transfer admission to Yale, Brown, Stanford, and the Maritime Studies Program of Williams College. He was accepted by Stanford and Williams before they learned of the criminal charges against him.
In the event that Wheeler decides not to change his plea, his trial is currently scheduled to begin on Feb. 7.
—Staff writer Xi Yu can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
—Staff writer Julie Zauzmer can be reached at email@example.com.