Wheeler Sentenced to One Year in Prison After Violating Probation

WOBURN, Mass.—Adam B. Wheeler, who pleaded guilty last year to faking his way into Harvard and cheating the University out of over $45,000, was sentenced to one year in prison on Friday, after he landed back in court last month for violating his probation.

After Wheeler pleaded guilty to the fraud and larceny counts against him in December 2010, Superior Court Justice Diane M. Kottmyer suspended his prison sentence, giving him a ten-year probation term instead. But Wheeler was taken into state custody again last month after he was charged with breaking one of the conditions of his probation agreement—a taboo on identifying himself as a Harvard student.

After that violation, Kottymer remanded Wheeler to Bridgewater State Hospital, a facility in southeastern Massachusetts, for a 40-day psychiatric evaluation.

“It does appear that Mr. Wheeler suffers from a mental illness,” Kottmyer said in November.

But a doctor at Bridgewater reported that in his opinion, Wheeler does not suffer from a mental illness.

Assistant District Attorney John C. Verner said that the hospital report reinforced the Commonwealth’s argument that Wheeler should serve the 2.5 year prison term that was suspended when he first pleaded guilty.

“Despite everything that has happened to Mr. Wheeler prior to being put on probation, he still continues to do what he has been doing: falsifying resumes, lying, and stealing,” Verner said. “Mr. Wheeler is not going to stop doing what he’s doing unless he’s sentenced. He has to be punished.”

Steven A. Sussman, Wheeler’s defense attorney, requested probation rather than prison time for his client, pointing out that Wheeler would lose his apartment and his volunteer position at a shelter if he were incarcerated.

Kottmyer indicated in court on Friday that she had been inclined to send Wheeler to psychiatric therapy sessions rather than prison before reading the report from Bridgewater. But in light of Wheeler’s clean bill of mental health, she ruled differently.

Rather than a mental illness, “the defendant simply has a character flaw that makes him dishonest,” Kottmyer said. “In effect, he was thumbing his nose at the system by performing exactly the same conduct as before.”

She continued, “Sending him to treatment which he doesn’t need and doesn’t perceive himself to need … is basically feeding his sense of himself as a person who can do these things and get away with them without repercussions.”

Wheeler has already served 37 days of his one-year sentence, having been incarcerated for a month following his arraignment in 2010 and for one week in November after the probation violation.

Wheeler was charged in May 2010 with using fabricated letters of recommendation, transcripts, and SAT scores to gain admission to Harvard as a transfer student. He spent more than two years as a Harvard student before his frauds came to light.

While at Harvard, the Kirkland House resident and English concentrator raked in $45,806 in financial aid, grants, and prizes, including a Hoopes Prize that he won in his junior year. Wheeler’s essay that won that prestigious award, usually conferred on senior theses, was later found to have been plagiarized from a graduate student’s dissertation.

During his senior year, he applied for Harvard’s nomination for the Fulbright and Rhodes Scholarships with a plagiarized personal statement. When a fellowship evaluator discovered this fraud, Wheeler left Harvard rather than face an Administrative Board hearing.

Wheeler then applied for transfer admission to several other top-tier universities, using similar fake documents. He gained admission to Stanford University and a program run by Williams College before the criminal investigation which had first been triggered by his plagiarized Fulbright and Rhodes essay led to his indictment.

—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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