When he transferred from Columbia to Yale last spring and joined Morse College’s class of 2008, he seemed like many other Yale students: His admissions application boasted a rigorous course load, straight A’s and a glowing letter of recommendation.
There was only one problem: None of it appears to have been true, according to charges filed against him in Connecticut court.
The University rescinded his admission in June, and the student, 26 and a native of Trinidad and Tobago, was quietly arrested last September on charges of larceny and forgery for allegedly faking his application to Yale and stealing some $46,000 in financial aid to which he was not entitled, according to court documents obtained by the News.
If convicted as charged, the suspect, who currently resides in New York City, could face up to 25 years in prison under the Connecticut penal code. He could also face federal charges for scholarship money he allegedly stole. But the student has pleaded not guilty, said Glenn Conway, the New Haven-based criminal defense attorney who is representing him. He has a hearing at the state courthouse on Church Street on April 14.
The arrest followed an internal investigation by the Yale College Dean’s Office and Yale attorneys, and his alleged fraud has remained a matter discussed by top administrators only in hushed tones over the past few months, interviews with professors and administrators indicate. Most administrators contacted by the News said confidentiality rules preclude them from commenting on cases involving students.
In phone interviews with the News on Saturday, the student — whose name is being withheld by the News because of his documented history of emotional instability — said his birth date was the only part of his application that was not authentic. The University, he said, mishandled his case.
But court documents obtained by the News last week and interviews with individuals involved in the case tell a different story — a startling saga of a student who may have duped the Ivy League.
An affidavit and a hearing
When initially asked about the arrest of a former student on charges of forgery and larceny against the University, Yale College Dean Peter Salovey repeatedly told the News he did not know about the case. A sworn affidavit indicates that Salovey signed a letter rescinding the student’s admission, and he contacted at least one professor about the issue, that professor said.
When the News later obtained the affidavit and presented it to Salovey, he said he could not comment on criminal or disciplinary matters involving Yale students.
Rescinding a student’s application is the penalty for lying in an application, Dean of Undergraduate Admissions Jeff Brenzel wrote in a statement to the News on Monday night. Asked how many students have had their admissions revoked after they started attending Yale, the University did not respond directly.
After allegedly defrauding Yale’s admissions office, the student received $46,789 — by the Yale General Counsel Office’s calculation — in scholarships that he would not have obtained “had it been known that he provided false and misleading information during the admission application process,” according to an affidavit signed by Yale Police Department Detective Thomas Mullen, who declined to comment for this article, in the Connecticut Superior Court in New Haven.
That figure includes $31,750 in Yale financial aid, as well as $7,400 in federal scholarships, $6,739 in federal loans and $900 from a federal work-study program.
The News has submitted a Freedom of Information request to the Federal Bureau of Investigation about the student’s case.
The student, who said he moved to the United States in 2001, is applying for accelerated rehabilitation, a pre-trial diversionary program that gives first-time offenders a chance to have the charges against them dismissed and their criminal records expunged if a court determines that the offense was not serious and is unlikely to be repeated, Conway said.
The motion is not an admission of guilt, Conway said, and the facts of the allegations will not be contested at next Monday’s scheduled hearing.
The student told the News he expects the charges to be dismissed at the hearing. He said he thinks everything will be resolved and he will return to Columbia in the fall, although his plans are not yet final.
But if the motion is rejected, and subsequent negotiations between Conway, the judge and the prosecution break down, his case would proceed to trial, Conway said.
An aide to the state’s attorney in New Haven, Michael Dearington, declined to comment.
The YPD’s spokesperson, Sergeant Steven Woznyk confirmed the details of the arrest and directed all further questions to the Yale College Dean’s Office.
A break-up and a birth date
The case began to unravel after the YPD began investigating the student for a harassment complaint and stumbled upon his alleged deception of Yale’s admissions and financial-aid offices, according to the affidavit.
Last June, according to the document, the YPD was called to the Asian American Cultural Center, where the suspect’s ex-boyfriend told officers that the suspect had threatened to kill him.
The ex-boyfriend, who still attends Yale, had broken up with the suspect after discovering that he had lied to him about his age “and other issues relating to his identity,” the affidavit says. The suspect allegedly responded by threatening to kill himself, and the boyfriend took him to a New York City hospital.
The suspect then allegedly threatened his ex-boyfriend, who filed a complaint with the YPD. He was then admitted to Yale-New Haven Hospital for psychiatric evaluation at the YPD’s request, according to the affidavit.
The ex-boyfriend, who did not respond to numerous messages left on his cell phone seeking comment, tipped off Associate Dean of Yale College Rosalinda Garcia, the director of the Latino Cultural Center, about apparent inconsistencies related to the suspect’s identity, the affidavit says. That prompted an internal investigation that uncovered extensive discrepancies in his application to Yale.
Garcia said she could not comment because of rules governing student confidentiality.
The suspect told the News he lied about his birth date because he was embarrassed about being older than most of his classmates. But he denied forging any documents.
“It makes absolutely no sense,” he said of the accusations. “Everything I submitted to Yale was authentic.”
But Yale Associate General Counsel Susan Sawyer’s review of his file concluded that the matriculation dates, transcript and letter of recommendation that the student submitted as part of his application were not valid, according to the affidavit. She contacted the YPD about initiating the criminal investigation that resulted in his Sept. 7 arrest.
The student claimed in his application that he attended Columbia University from the fall of 2003 until the spring of 2005, took a medical leave in fall 2005 and spent the spring 2006 semester volunteering in Sri Lanka, according to the affidavit.
He told the News that he attended Columbia for two years, but declined to say when he matriculated. He repeated that he had taken the 2005-’06 academic year off for medical leave and then to volunteer in Sri Lanka.
But New York University matriculation records indicate he attended the university from the fall of 2003 until the spring of 2004, according to the affidavit, and Columbia confirmed that the student was enrolled there only from the fall of 2004 until the spring of 2006.
The student told the News he was never in a degree program at NYU but that he sometimes received mail from the college. He said the registrar was confused because his identity had been stolen.
The courses and grades on the transcript submitted with his application also did not match Columbia’s records, according to the affidavit.
And his letter of recommendation from a Slavic Languages professor at Columbia was neither written nor provided by her, Yale’s internal investigation discovered.
That professor did not reply to an e-mail and could not be reached by phone.
The Columbia College Dean’s Office declined to comment, and the registrar could not be reached. Columbia’s Office of Communications and Public Affairs did not reply to a request for comment Monday. The NYU dean’s and admissions offices also did not respond to requests for comment.
A revocation and a denial
While the Yale College Dean’s Office scrutinized his documentation last summer, then-Dean of Student Affairs Betty Trachtenberg and Dean of Academic Affairs Mark Schenker questioned the student about the apparent discrepancies, according to the affidavit.
According to the affidavit, the student told the deans he had never “officially” attended NYU, but had just gone to classes with his friends and discarded tuition bills sent to him. He told them Columbia was confusing him with another student of the same name.
Trachtenberg said in a phone interview that she could not remember the case but would not have commented anyway because of confidentiality requirements.
“I can’t bring it to mind,” she said. “I don’t think I dealt with that.”
Schenker declined to comment.
Morse Master Frank Keil declined to comment and directed questions to the Yale College Dean’s Office.
“I can’t say anything about it,” he said in a phone interview in February.
Salovey informed the suspect in a letter dated June 28, 2007, that, because of the problems with his application, his admission to Yale was being revoked, according to the affidavit.
In an interview last Monday morning, when asked about the arrest of a former Yale College student for defrauding the University, Salovey repeatedly denied any knowledge or involvement.
“This is not a case that was brought to my attention,” he said.
When approached with details presented in the affidavit a day after his first interview, Salovey said he could not comment “on any student who’s a party to a judicial process both in the criminal-justice system or at Yale.”
English professor Leslie Brisman told the News that when he heard the student’s side of the story, he was concerned about how Schenker was handling the investigation. He expressed this concern in an e-mail to Salovey, he said, asking him not to leave the matter in Schenker’s hands.
Salovey did not respond to that e-mail, but someone in the Yale College Dean’s Office — Brisman declined to specify exactly who — told him not to inquire further, saying that “this is bigger than you could possibly imagine,” Brisman said.
When Brisman realized the enormity of the case, he said, he wrote Salovey to apologize for interfering. Brisman said Salovey replied with an e-mail thanking him.
Salovey declined to comment on the exchange with Brisman.
“Once again, as this is a disciplinary matter involving a named student,” he wrote in an e-mail last week. “I cannot comment on any aspects of the situation, including the conversation that the YDN had with Professor Brisman.”
The student responded to Salovey’s letter by telling Schenker that he had been the victim of identity theft and a records mix-up at Columbia, and he sent Schenker another transcript on June 29, according to the affidavit.
The Yale College Dean’s Office then consulted Columbia’s registrar, according to the document, and determined that this second transcript was also a forgery.
The student denied forging this transcript.
On July 6, 2007, Mullen presented a warrant to search the student’s admissions file.
The affidavit was signed July 30 and submitted with the application for the arrest warrant. After the student’s arrest, his brother posted a $20,000 bond to bail him out of jail a few days after his September arrest, he said.
Reached on his cell phone, his brother declined to comment.
“I would not like to be contacted about this matter ever again,” he said.
See the Editor’s Note.