|A Basketball Player's Big Lie|
Odessa, Texas, is known for a few big things -- oil, gas, and a high-school sports scene so devoted that Hollywood turned it into a hit TV series, "Friday Night Lights." But to some, the town will always be remembered as the temporary home of one infamous resident: "Jerry Joseph," a young man who stepped off a Greyhound bus in February, 2009, with a heartbreaking story.
He said he was only 15 years old, an orphan from impoverished Haiti, and just wanted a chance to pursue his greatest passion: high school basketball. It wasn't long before Odessa Permian High School basketball coach Danny Wright took him in, almost like one of his own children. Joseph enrolled at the school, and joined Wright's struggling basketball team.
He had a few tattoos and towered over almost every other student, but Joseph's adoptive community seemed to welcome him with few reservations. And while high school, especially for an outsider, can be awkward and difficult, Joseph appeared to have the routine down pretty well, both in the classroom and on the courts. He even joined a local church, where he was baptized. It's a symbolic ritual, but for Joseph, seemed to mean much more. "I mean, the new Jerry. Everything from before was just gone off of me... I just felt brand new," he told "20/20."
Maybe he felt brand new because his identity was brand new. The truth is, Joseph wasn't 15, or an orphan… and his name wasn't even Jerry -- it was Guerdwich Montimer. In reality, he was a 21-year-old college dropout from Florida who had been born in Haiti. And years before this "new Jerry" played for Permian High, he was a star player at Ft. Lauderdale's Dillard High School.
Montimer successfully kept up the charade for over a year. But the big lie fell apart at a regional high school basketball tournament in Arkansas, when players from a Florida team recognized him -- and realized he had no business playing on yet another high school team, years after he had graduated. The word was out and Montimer was busted for fraud.
The town of Odessa might have forgiven or at least forgotten him, if it hadn't been for a 15-year-old girl who thought her boyfriend "Jerry" was 15 when she says she had sex with him. In July, 2011, at a courthouse in Odessa, the man formerly known as Jerry Joseph pleaded guilty to sexual assault of a child and received a sentence of three years.
But Montimer hasn't totally let go of his Odessa identity; he insists he really is Jerry Joseph now, and that it is Joseph who is doing the time.
"I'm not an impostor," he told "20/20." "I'm just me."
Click through to check out four more shocking stories of student impostors.
In the early 1990s, James Arthur Hogue attended Princeton University under the name Alexi Indris-Santana. The ruse was the subject of a profile in The New Yorker in 2001 and a 2006 documentary film, "Con Man."
According to The Daily Princetonian, Hogue applied to Princeton claiming to be a self-educated orphan who had traveled the world. After receiving offers of admission and financial aid, he deferred his enrollment saying he wanted to spend time with his ailing mother in Switzerland. In fact, he was in a Utah state prison for possession of stolen property.
He was on parole when he was at Princeton, and the end of his lie was when local police arrested him on a warrant from Utah, the paper said.
Hogue was a successful distance runner on the varsity track team. He had recently been initiated into Ivy Club, the student eating club described by F. Scott Fitzgerald as "breathlessly aristocratic" in "This Side of Paradise." The Princetonian cited friends as saying Hogue held Friday night champagne parties with seven or eight woman students.
Hogue was 31 when he was unmasked, and was born and raised in Kansas City, Kan., according to multiple press reports. He attended University of Wyoming and later University of Texas without graduating.
|Climbing the Ivory Tower|
Adam Wheeler, a Delaware native, seemed to have an insatiable appetite for academic prestige.
Wheeler lied his way into Harvard as a transfer applicant -- from MIT, he claimed. His application claimed perfect SAT scores and a diploma from Phillips Academy, in Andover, Mass. Harvard admitted him, and awarded him thousands of dollars in scholarships and financial aid.
In December 2010, the fresh-faced then 23-year-old pleaded guilty in Massachusetts to charges including identity fraud and larceny, Boston.com reported.
Prosecutors said Wheeler kept up his ruse for years, using realistic-looking fake transcripts and documents. Wheeler's lie began to unravel when, as a senior at Harvard, he applied for the Rhodes and Fulbright scholarships. His application claimed perfect grades and included a list of books and articles he'd written, prosecutors said.
When a Harvard professor noticed some of Wheeler's writing appeared to have been plagiarized, officials took a closer look and found that his entire record was allegedly a fabrication.
Wheeler attended a public high school in Delaware and did not have perfect SAT scores. He'd been kicked out of Bowdoin College in Maine. He never attended MIT.
Even after Wheeler's lie was exposed, he didn't stop. He applied to transfer to Brown, Yale and Stanford, which accepted him, the Harvard Crimson reported.
According to the Crimson, in November 2011 Wheeler, who had been sentenced to 10 years of probation, was jailed after he violated a term of his probation. The term stipulated Wheeler was not to say he attended or had attended Harvard.
The Crimson reported his probation officer told the court that Wheeler had submitted a resume to U.S. Green Data, Inc. saying he had attended Harvard.
|From Carpenter to Yalie|
A spiritual ancestor of Hogue and Wheeler whose hoax may have inspired each of them in different ways, Patrick Michael McDermit falsely won admission to Yale in 1976, stayed in character four months, then came clean.
According to The New York Times, McDermit applied as Andres Alrea, a 21-year-old who:
had nearly perfect grades and extolling recommendations;
was fluent in Portuguese and a dialect of an extinct Native-American language (Wheeler's resume claimed fluency in Old Persian);
in the three years since high school had made $30 million speculating in silver and investing in Alaska hotels.
McDermit was really a house remodeler from California with a poor high school record, the Times said, quoting him as saying, "I did it on a dare with a friend."
The paper quoted Worth David, Yale's dean of undergraduate admissions, as saying his office tried to verify candidates' claims "only if something appears irregular."
Next to Mike Romanoff, Adam Wheeler is an amateur.
According to a 1932 New Yorker profile, Romanoff posed as a graduate of Harvard -- and Eton, Oxford and Cambridge.
The man who called himself Prince Michael Alexandrovitch Dmitry Obolensky Romanoff -- nephew of Tsar Nicholas II of Russia -- was really Harry F. Gerguson, a Lithuanian-born hustler who grew up in New York City as an orphan.
As a young man, Romanoff acquired an upper-class British accent and manner, as well as detailed knowledge of Eton, Oxford and Cambridge. He may have attended them; he had by this time conned rich men to send him to Harvard, Yale and Princeton, the article says.
Later in his life, living in New York and famous for being an impostor, Romanoff was introduced to a member of the Guinness brewing family who had gone to Oxford as a ploy to test Romanoff's claim.
"He knows more about the place than I do," Guinness said.