UPDATED 8:34 p.m.
Former Harvard student Adam B. Wheeler pleaded guilty Thursday afternoon to all 20 counts against him, admitting that he duped the Harvard admissions office and defrauded the University out of over $40,000 in grants and prizes.
Upon pleading guilty to 20 misdemeanor and felony counts of larceny, identity fraud, falsifying an endorsement or approval, and pretending to hold a degree, Wheeler was sentenced by Associate Justice Diane M. Kottmyer to 10 years probation. He was also ordered to make restitution of $45,806 to Harvard University and to continue the psychological treatment that he had begun since his arrest.
In Middlesex Superior Court, Wheeler conceded today that he dishonestly gained admission to Harvard by fabricating SAT scores, falsifying letters of recommendation, and forging high school and college transcripts. He also admitted to plagiarizing essays and a research proposal that earned him a Hoopes Prize, Sargent Prize, and Rockefeller research grant while he was a Harvard student.
GUILTY AS CHARGED
Assistant District Attorney John Verner said during Thursday’s hearing that Wheeler’s dishonesty not only took money from Harvard’s coffers but harmed unknown students who might have earned the spot at Harvard and the other accolades that Wheeler fraudulently acquired.
"The bigger problem is that what Mr. Wheeler did is he took opportunities from the number two person," Verner said. "That person doesn’t get to say he or she went to Harvard, doesn’t have a Harvard diploma."
"Once he got into Harvard, that apparently wasn’t enough for Mr. Wheeler," Verner added. "Instead of going to Harvard and just simply graduating, he forged documents and plagiarized documents" to compete for several prestigious prizes.
"He wrote himself letters of recommendation from good, hardworking professors," Verner said. "He used their names and their reputations for his own personal gain, to get himself into Harvard."
In a statement to the court, Wheeler said, "I’m deeply sorry that my actions deprived others of the opportunity they rightfully deserved. I’ve been shamed and embarrassed by what I’ve done."
Though Wheeler’s attorney, Steven A. Sussman, requested a shorter period of probation for his client—he named four to five years as an appropriate range—Kottmyer granted the 10-year probation period suggested by the prosecution.
Kottmyer said that the 10-year probation period was necessary given Wheeler’s "compulsive" nature. She noted that Wheeler had continued to perpetrate his frauds even after University officials confronted him about the crimes that he admitted to on Thursday.
After his dishonesty came to light during his senior year, causing him to leave Harvard, Wheeler applied for an internship at McLean Hospital and for transfer admission to Yale, Brown, Stanford, and the Maritime Studies Program of Williams College.
"The history of these offenses indicates not only compulsivity, but a lack of moral compass that requires the lengthy period of probation that’s been requested by the Commonwealth," Kottmyer said.
In his statement before the court, Wheeler said that he has begun to work with a psychologist to better understand "compulsive quality...and ensure that this will never happen again."