Ex-Harvard Student, Adam Wheeler, Pleads Not Guilty to Charges of Fabricating Academic History

Courtesy of Cara O'Brien

Former Harvard student Adam Wheeler, 23, was indicted on 20 counts of larceny, identity fraud, falsifying an endorsement or approval, and pretending to hold a degree.

UPDATED 4:22 p.m.

Adam B. Wheeler—the former Harvard student who was indicted Monday for fabricating an elaborate academic history that led him to prestigious scholarly honors—pled not guilty to 20 charges during his arraignment at the Middlesex Superior Court this morning.

Recounting Wheeler’s “life of lies and deceit,” Assistant District Attorney John C. Verner told Clerk Magistrate Michael A. Sullivan that Wheeler submitted fraudulent documents—including plagiarized essays, letters of recommendation, false transcripts, and fake SAT scores—to Harvard College, among other institutions.

Wheeler, 23, was indicted yesterday on counts of larceny, identity fraud, falsifying an endorsement or approval, and pretending to hold a degree. He was allegedly "untruthful" in his applications to Harvard and in various applications, such as the Rhodes and the Fulbright Scholarships, according to a statement released Monday by Middlesex District Attorney Gerry Leone.

Prosecutors said that Wheeler defrauded Harvard out of over $45,000 in the form of an $8,000 research grant, $6,000 in English prizes, and $31,806 in financial aid.

"Mr. Wheeler pled not guilty. He'll have his day in court," said Steven Sussman, the defendant's lawyer, who was surrounded by a thick crowd of reporters and cameramen. "He's not convicted of anything."

"He's a kid," he added. "He's never been in trouble before."

According to Sussman, the statutory maximum of jail time, which Wheeler may receive if convicted, is five years for each felony count and one year for each misdemeanor. Wheeler has been charged with a total of 20 counts.

Wheeler waived rendition, which allows Mass. authorities to retrieve Wheeler from another state without undergoing interstate hearing procedures. He will be held on a $5,000 cash bail. If he makes his bail, the defendant must surrender his passport and cannot leave Massachusetts until his next court appearance on June 9.

In addition, if he makes bail, Wheeler must stay away from Harvard, Phillips Academy in Andover, Yale, Brown, and McLean Hospital—all locations that have been intertwined into his web of fabrications.

Since leaving Harvard, Wheeler allegedly applied to McLean Hospital in January for an internship, claiming that he was taking the spring semester off from the University to work on two scholarly books.

According to an official statement from McLean Hospital regarding the situation, Wheeler had applied for a student visitor program, but the hospital's standard verification process for applicants revealed that Wheeler had provided "fraudulent information regarding his credentials and student status at Harvard University."

“McLean immediately terminated Mr. Wheeler’s application and notified Harvard about his fraudulent use of the University’s name,” the statement said. “McLean cooperated fully with the Harvard University Police Department’s investigation and is appreciative of its swift action to prevent additional fraud.”

That same month, Wheeler allegedly submitted transfer applications to Yale and Brown with fraudulent documents that claimed the defendant was currently employed by McLean Hospital as an intern. He also allegedly turned in fake recommendations from a hospital employee named Laura Hsu, and from Kirkland House Resident Dean David A. Smith, who had originally informed the defendant of the plagiarism accusation, according to Verner.

When Wheeler's parents received a telephone call from the Yale admissions office regarding his transfer application, the parents forced Wheeler to reveal that his application was false and that he had been thrown out of Harvard, according to Verner.

“If it weren’t for his parents, Mr. Wheeler’s pathological behavior wouldn’t have stopped,” Verner said.

Wheeler's complex web of lies began to unravel when, as a senior at Harvard in September 2009, he submitted a resume, a Harvard transcript, and an essay to apply for the Rhodes and Fulbright Scholarships. During the application review process, English Professor W. James Simpson suspected that Wheeler had plagiarized the work of Professor Stephen Greenblatt, Verner said.

Upon being invited by Smith to defend himself at a disciplinary hearing convened by University officials, the defendant told Smith that he was going to leave Harvard instead, according to Verner.

During the investigation, members of the faculty discovered that the student had forged two letters of recommendation submitted in his application packet for the Rhodes. His fake transcript reflected 36 A’s and one A minus over three years, but further investigation revealed that Wheeler had in reality received a D, a few B’s, and a few A’s in his time at Harvard, according to Verner.

Wheeler’s prompt departure moved investigators to examine his admissions application as a transfer student to Harvard. Wheeler had claimed to be a graduate of Phillips Academy in Andover and a freshman transfer student from MIT, producing transcripts from both institutions—neither of which he had attended, according to Verner.

For his transfer application to Harvard College, Wheeler submitted five letters of recommendation—four of which Wheeler allegedly said were from MIT professors. But the four authors named were actually Bowdoin professors, who all stated that they had not written the recommendations, according to Verner.

Authorities found that Wheeler was actually a sophomore at Bowdoin College who had been suspended from the school for plagiarizing various essays in one of his classes, according to Verner. The college allowed Wheeler to finish his spring semester of 2007, but instead of accepting a one-semester suspension, he applied as a transfer student to Harvard.

In addition, Wheeler's application to Harvard allegedly included a document from the College Board stating that he had earned a perfect score of 1600 on his SATs, when, in fact, he received scores of 1160 and 1220 when he took the test in March and November of 2004.

Wheeler was a member of the Class of 2010 who transferred to Harvard at the beginning of his sophomore year and became a resident of Kirkland House. An English concentrator, he received a Hoopes Prize in the spring of 2009 for a project that he had completed during his junior year.

Wheeler's plagiarized Hoopes-winning project, entitled "The Mapping of an Ideological Demesne: Space, Place, and Text From More to Marvell," was nominated by Suparna Roychoudhury, a teaching fellow in the English department. The published copy of Wheeler's work has been removed from Lamont, according to Harvard University Archives.

Roychoudhury could not be reached for comment.

The defendant did not receive a Harvard degree, according to Jeff Neal, spokesperson for the Faculty of Arts and Sciences.

—Check TheCrimson.com for more updates throughout the day.

—Staff writer Xi Yu can be reached at xyu@college.harvard.edu.

—Staff writer Julie M. Zauzmer can be reached at jzauzmer@college.harvard.edu.

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