May 18, 2010— -- The fresh-faced 23-year-old accused of faking his way into Harvard University and thousands of dollars in scholarships and financial aid entered a plea of not guilty in court today.
Adam Wheeler, a Delaware native who bragged about having perfect SAT scores, faces 20 charges, including identity fraud, larceny and forgery. Wheeler is being held at the Middlesex Jail in Massachusetts. A bail of $5,000 was set and his next court appearance is June 9.
Prosecutors said Wheeler faked his entire educational career, duping college and scholarship officials alike and snagging more than $45,000 in grants, scholarships, financial aid and other funds that he didn't deserve.
Wheeler's parents and a female friend looked stricken in court, especially when Assistant District Attorney John Verner told the court that a call from Yale to Wheeler's parents may have prompted them to say something that inadvertently led to their son's arrrest.
His lawyer, Steven Sussman, noted today that Wheeler had no prior "involvement with criminal law."
But prosecutors said Wheeler kept up his ruse for years, using realistic-looking fake transcripts and documents.
Wheeler also allegedly used a fake resume to apply for a prestigious literary internship with The New Republic, the magazine reported on its Web site today. Among other accolades, the resume, which the magazine posted online, claimed that Wheeler had been contracted to write several books, speaks French, Old English, Classical Armenian, and Old Persian, and also is on demand on the lecture circuit.
Wheeler's apparent lies began to unravel in September when, as a senior at Harvard, he applied for the prestigious Rhodes and Fulbright scholarships.
He submitted an application packet that included a transcript showing he had perfect grades, which even included a list of books and articles he claimed to have written, prosecutors said.
But when a Harvard professor noticed some of Wheelers' writing appeared to have been plagiarized, officials took a closer look and found that his entire record was allegedly a fabrication.
"The crux of these offenses are identity theft, fraud, larceny and falsification of documents," Middlesex County District Attorney Gerry Leone said.
Leone called the alleged deception "an elaborate, entangled web of lies and deceit in a brazen and offensive scheme."
Officials said they also discovered that Wheeler had allegedly lied his way into Harvard to begin with, forging documents that said he'd attended the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Phillips Academy in Andover, Mass. And that he'd gotten perfect SAT scores.
But his actual record shows he attended a public high school in Delaware and did not have perfect SAT scores. He'd been kicked out of Bowdoin College in Maine.
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Students at Harvard said they were astonished Wheeler got so far, but that there is immense pressure in higher education.
"What are these accomplishments if they're not something that you kind of have done yourself?" one student asked.
Wheeler's parents, who own an interior design company in Delaware, refused to comment.
Officials said Wheeler didn't give up his ruse, even after he was accused of plagiarism at Harvard -- he went on to apply for an internship at the prestigious McLean Hospital. But it turned him down after a background check allegedly showed he was misrepresenting himself.
And, according to the Boston Globe, Wheeler had also applied to Brown University in Rhode Island and Yale University in Connecticut as an Ivy League transfer student.