Adam Wheeler Went to Harvard: A Tale Of Fraud And A University Duped
August 1, 2012
In December 23, 2011, the dons of Harvard University finally got to see Adam Wheeler sentenced to a year in prison. Wheeler, a twenty-five-year-old whom they admitted in 2007 on the strength of an academic record he’d fabricated out of thin air, had been caught again—and this was not something a young gentleman does to America’s most highly self-regarded institution of advanced credentialing.
A few months earlier, Wheeler had submitted a résumé to U.S. Green Data Inc., on which he said he had attended Harvard. Technically, this was true; he’d been one year short of graduating when someone at the school belatedly noticed he had falsified the credentials that won him admission, and that he had plagiarized the papers that won him scholarships and prestigious awards. But the ten-year probationary punishment that the Middlesex County Superior Court had meted out upon the discovery of his fabulism forbade him ever from claiming he had attended the school, and the new offending résumé landed on the desk of a Harvard alum, who forwarded it to a dean, who turned it over to the district attorney’s office. And Adam Wheeler, who attended Harvard and who had been forced by the Court to lie about his having attended Harvard, was packed off to jail for lying about his having attending Harvard. The school of George W. Bush and Henry Kissinger (the war criminal who was feted on campus this spring as a conquering hero) took all appropriate measures to ensure that its name would never be sullied by associating with an immoral, egomaniacal charlatan, at least one who never held high office. And all the useful knowledge that Wheeler picked up in more than two years of classes was no longer something from which he could draw on to contribute to society.
College credential fraud may seem like a nitpicking offense for throwing a nonviolent offender into the overcrowded prison system for a tour of the seasons. But Wheeler embarrassed Harvard; his puncture of arbitrary power was so trifling that, paradoxically, it couldn’t be ignored. Harvard officials had little choice but to make an example of him through an aggressive, custom-tailored prosecution whose real aim was to restore the correct order of things. Adam Wheeler, after all, is merely a mediocre public school graduate from Delaware. But Harvard—well, everyone knows that Harvard shines across the fair land as a beacon of meritocratic upward mobility universally accessible to a nationwide corps of upper-middle-class teenagers of arbitrary intellectual ability.
Take a look at the victim impact statement Harvard presented to the Court in 2010, and notice how the country’s mightiest and richest institution of enlightened learning asks for the maximum punishment to be inflicted upon a lying schoolboy. The victim wanted to send a message to the entire world that fraud on campus will not be tolerated, no ifs, ands, or buts about it:
Wheeler’s acts of deception and fraud not only harmed Harvard University directly, but also undermined the public perception of integrity in higher education nationally and around the world. We require honesty as well as excellence from our students, which is why, when we discovered Mr. Wheeler’s fraudulent conduct, we brought it to the attention of the district attorney’s office. In terms of sentencing, we believe restitution is appropriate, so that the financial aid and other funds that Mr. Wheeler stole from Harvard can be put to use to support deserving Harvard students. We also feel strongly that Mr. Wheeler should be prohibited from profiting from his fraudulent schemes for as long a period as the court has the power to impose. Were he permitted to profit from the notoriety he already has gained as a result of his flagrant dishonesty, all of higher education would continue to be negatively impacted.It’s not as though Harvard lacks for alums whom the institution should be ashamed to be associated with, or who have befouled “the public perception of integrity in higher education.” Wheeler’s final prosecution came just three years after a cabal of alumni known as the financial services sector destroyed the economy by playing computer games with the planet’s accumulated wealth. There was former Harvard President, Treasury Secretary, and deregulator extraordinaire Larry Summers; there was Summers’s predecessor at Treasury and mentor in the intricate art of fucking up global economies of weaker nations for no good reason, Robert Rubin (AB ’60 and member of the Corporation, Harvard’s governing body); there was the CEO of America’s most ruthless megabank (“the smart ones,” in financial expert circles), Lloyd Blankfein (AB ’75, JD ’78); and then there were approximately 100 percent of the other key figures who engineered this wholly preventable near-reversion to the state of nature—all Crimson men with at least one tour of duty. The university offers no protest as these apocalypse machinists drop John Harvard’s name in their pursuit of sinecures atop whatever remaining elite institutions and systems they have yet to destroy; instead, it covers them with laurels and showers them with money.
Take the case of Andrei Shleifer, a prominent Harvard economics professor and former head of the disgraced Russia Project at the Harvard Institute for International Development. In the nineties, Shleifer won a contract from the U.S. government to administer “shock therapy” to the Russian economy, to theorize and implement its transformation from failed socialism to a market economy dominated by private capital and guided by legal norms. The key to establishing a favorable investment climate was teaching the Russians respect for the rule of law—because every academic economist knows that underlying market economies lies a rational consensus, an agreement to play by the rules duly articulated and enforced. And out of this orthodoxy came not only a failed mission and a reaction inside Russian power circles that set a baleful course, but a tale of personal and institutional corruption as awesome as you are likely to find anywhere in scandal-plagued higher education, with sordid details of fabricated expense accounts, no-show jobs, and leisured junkets that make Adam Wheeler seem like a piker. The FBI and U.S. Attorney’s Office investigations of Shleifer’s activities turned up large quantities of credible evidence of money laundering, embezzlement, tax evasion, and fraud, evidence that directly implicated his wife, a hedge fund manager. In 2004, a Boston judge in the federal district court ruled Harvard liable for breach of contract in the Shleifer debauch and found the celebrated economist liable for conspiracy to defraud the U.S. government. Adam Wheeler’s tangle of lies cost Harvard $45,000 and change, a pittance next to the $26.5 million they paid in the Shleifer settlement, the largest in the university’s history…