BOSTON — On paper, Adam Wheeler had undeniably strong credentials to get into Harvard: a perfect SAT score, straight A’s at a prestigious prep school and glowing recommendations from four professors at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
While at Harvard, Wheeler seemed a shoo-in for a Rhodes or Fulbright scholarship. His applications included his Harvard transcript, which also featured all A’s, as well as a list of books he had co-written, courses he had taught and lectures he had given.
But authorities say it was all a big con.
In fact, Wheeler had never attended the exclusive Phillips Academy prep school in Andover or MIT. And his academic record at Harvard was far less dazzling than he claimed. Instead of straight A’s, Wheeler had received some A’s, a few B’s and a D. His SAT scores were also much less impressive: 1160 and 1220, not the perfect 1600 he had claimed, according to court documents.
Wheeler, 23, of Milton, Del., was ordered held on $5,000 bail Tuesday after pleading not guilty to 20 counts of larceny, identity fraud and other charges. If he posts bail, he must stay away from Harvard and the other academic institutions involved in his alleged scheme, surrender his passport and remain in Massachusetts, a Middlesex Superior Court judge said.
Wheeler was tossed from Harvard last fall after he tried to get the school’s endorsement for Rhodes and Fulbright scholarships, and a professor reviewing his applications found evidence he had plagiarized from another professor, prosecutors say. Wheeler’s parents gave him up to a Yale official who called to ask about their son’s transfer application.
Prosecutor John Verner said in court Tuesday that Wheeler essentially stole $45,000 in financial aid, scholarship money and academic awards from Harvard.
“This defendant’s actions cheated those who competed honestly and fairly for admissions and for the scholarships that this defendant fraudulently obtained,” said Middlesex District Attorney Gerry Leone.
Wheeler, an English major who would have graduated from Harvard this spring, tried to transfer to Yale or Brown after he got caught at Harvard, Leone said, again by falsifying his achievements and recommendations.
In his applications, Wheeler said he was employed by McLean Hospital, a psychiatric facility affiliated with Harvard, even though he was not. His transfer application included faked recommendations from an employee at the hospital and from his former Harvard dean, Leone said.
Yale was tipped off by Wheeler’s parents, Verner said. A Yale official called the Wheeler home to ask about his application, and one told the official that the application wasn’t truthful and their son had been thrown out of Harvard.
Wheeler’s parents refused to comment outside of court Tuesday.
His lawyer, Steven Sussman, said his client “will have his day in court and that day is not today.”
Sussman said Wheeler has no prior criminal record. He would not discuss the charges against Wheeler.
Harvard said in a statement it could not discuss individual cases because of federal privacy laws and referred all questions to the district attorney’s office.
Prosecutors said Wheeler actually graduated from Caesar Rodney High School, a public school in Kent County, Del., in 2005. He attended Bowdoin College in Maine from 2005-07, but was suspended for academic dishonesty, according to court records.
In court documents, prosecutors said that at the time Wheeler was told he would be suspended from Bowdoin, he was completing his application to transfer to Harvard. But authorities say that instead of applying as a suspended sophomore from Bowdoin, he said he was a straight-A student with a 1600 SAT.