Samuel Goldberg has been a Massachusetts criminal defense attorney for 20 years. Prior to that, he was a New York state prosecutor. He has published various articles regarding the practice of criminal law and frequently provides legal analysis on radio and television, appearing on outlets such as the Fox News Channel, Court TV, MSNBC and The BBC Network. To speak to Sam about a criminal matter call (617) 492 3000.

Academic Voices From Ex-Harvard Student’s Past Display Surprise At The Fraud and Theft Charges Against Him

The Boston Criminal Lawyer Blog has been discussing school campus related crimes of late. Most of these have had to do with the subject of bullying, a topic I just know we will be returning to. Yesterday, we briefly discussed a different kind of criminal behavior by a student. This one is a bit less sympathetic.

The story hails from the home of Altman & Altman LLP’s main office…Cambridge. It involves the legendary Harvard University and an ex-student who allegedly took the subjects of creative writing and social science and twisted them into a pretzel of deceit and larceny. It features the allegations against the former student with contradictory credentials, Adam B. Wheeler…perhaps a young Bernard Madoff in the making.

As you probably have heard, young Mr. Wheeler is facing a plethora of criminal charges and there may be more to come. The 20 indictments against him reflect a successful scheme to bilk Harvard University out of approximately $45,000 through a series of white collar crimes. He is alleged to have falsified documents, plagiarized and lied in order to gain acceptance into Harvard, gain scholarships, win prizes and get a grant.

In fact, should the allegations contain a cyber-fraud element crossing state boundries, which is likely, Young Wheeler could be looking at federal charges as well as those he faces by the Commonwealth.

Of course, now that the news has broken and he has pleaded “Not Guilty”, the ignited debate rages on. Everyone is trying to explain who the young gentleman is and how he did what he (allegedly) did.

For example, a former high school classmate claims that the lad was a class clown who delighted in pranks such as tossing ketchup packets around the halls like little red landmines. Further, she doubts anyone expected him capable of the complex scam that prosecutors say he pulled on some of America’s best brains in Harvard University’s hallowed halls.

“He was not a stand-out at all,” she said. “I’m pretty shocked. It’s ridiculous.”

According to law enforcement, the joke, once again, is on her and her peers. Ridiculous as it may seem, young Mr. Wheeler stands so indicted and was held on $5,000 bail.

On the other hand, a school official from his past explains that “He was a good writer…He had literary skills. . . . He was a bright young man that seemed to have a bright future going to Bowdoin (College).”

Of course, it turns out that things did not go so well at Bowdoin. The school had him on academic suspension when he finagled his way into Harvard, according to prosecutors.
The official further said of Wheeler’s current woes: “Anytime a situation like that takes place, you wonder what’s taken place in the young man’s life. That was not the same person we knew in high school.”

There is something that stands out in the young man’s life which may be somewhat revealing, and it turns out to be how his later scheme, to get into Yale once kicked out of Harvard, unraveled. Namely, it was apparently his not-so-proud parents who blew the whistle.

When Yale called Wheeler’s parents to discuss the application (apparently also falsified) to get into the school, his parents intervened and forced their son to tell the caller that the application was false and that he had been kicked out of Harvard in his senior year.

“That is the only reason Mr. Wheeler stopped his scheme,” Assistant Middlesex District Attorney John Verner said in court.

Attorney Sam’s Take:

Wheeler’s lawyer explains that, if convicted, his client faces only 5 years in prison for the felonies and one year for the misdemeanors.

While this may be true, the court can impose those sentences consecutively, in other words, one to begin after another has ended. Wheeler faces 20 counts. Math is not his friend.

You see, when it comes to crimes of deceit like this, prosecutors and judges take a dim view of the accused, particularly when and if guilt is found. Aggravating this tendency is the fact that the general public watches the media to see how such defendants are treated. Long gone are the days when white collar crimes are crimes in which no incarceration is imposed. Further, any thought of leniency toward youth is…at best…scarce these days.

“But, Sam, this kid has his whole life ahead of him.”

Yes he does. This cuts both ways. A court can also calculate that he will still be a young man when he gets out of prison.

“But, what’s the big deal? It’s a victimless crime, isn’t it?”

Not in the least. Not only was Harvard cheated out of their money, but other, more deserving students and potential students were cheated out of their opportunity by his deeds. Further, he has produced a black eye upon the Harvard name, not to mention the various scholarships, grants and awards that are offered in good faith to the needy. If these become viewed as being awarded in haphazard or negligent fashion, perhaps the money will dry up…causing damage to many in the future.

No, young Mr. Wheeler is in a world of criminal justice hurt. Aside from incarceration, this little matter will clearly decorate his CORI and even if he later applies to some school or employment in some remote part of the country where his name does not ring a bell…that criminal record (by nature of the arraignment alone) will haunt him for years to come.

On the other hand, he has pleaded not guilty and, in the eyes of the law, he is innocent unless and until he is proven guilty. At least, that’s the way it is supposed to be. Sometimes, in these white collar cases, though, long-term investigations have been performed before criminal charges are brought. During those investigations, people (particularly the unrepresented) make statements that come back to haunt.

This is why, if you ever believe you or someone you care about is being investigated for such a crime, my suggestion is that you retain experienced counsel to guide and, if necessary, represent you through the process.

If you wish to discuss such a matter with me, feel free to call me at 617-492-3000 to set up a free initial consultation.

For the original stories upon which today’s blog is based, please turn to : http://www.boston.com/news/local/breaking_news/2010/05/alleged_harvard.html, http://www.bostonherald.com/news/regional/view.bg?articleid=1255637, http://www.thecrimson.com/article/2010/5/18/harvard-wheeler-bail-monday/ and http://bostonherald.com/news/regional/view/20100519peer_student_accused_of_harvard_fraud_not_a_stand-out/

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