Student arrested for defrauding Yale

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.

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The University rescinded his admission in June, and the student, 26 and a native of Trinidad and Tobago, was quietly arrested last September on charges of larceny and forgery for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.

Comments

  • J. Jonah Jameson

    "The case began to unravel"

    I think you meant that the DECEPTION began to unravel (or, more likely, the ALLEGED deception).

  • Anonymous

    This person should have been named. There is a public criminal complaint against him.

  • Alum05

    This is insane!

  • A Student

    Having been subjected to a lifetime of lectures both in medical school and elsewhere, and having given more than my quota of them, I have seen that there are two kinds of lecturers… those very few who can inspire us to go out and want to study the material, and those who cannot. Unfortunately, most of us who are not charismatic teachers are satisfied to "cover the material"… a deadly dull process. Instead, I think we have two obligations: provide guideposts for the individual study advocated in this article, and provide explication of those particularly difficult or obscure aspects of the subject that we know from teaching experience gives our students problems in their self study.. let's end lectures as a way of "transmitting knowledge".. I agree.. books are much more efficient.

  • Mike

    Great in depth story

  • Anonymous

    First of all, there's a precedent for this. See Andreas Alrea of the class of '78 or '79. There's an excellent, hilarious article about him in the YDN Magazine from around then.

    Second, how could you withhold this guy's name? He's not a girl who got raped. He's 26, making death threats to other students, and scamming Yale. You have no problem NAMING a sophomore on the front page and calling him a rapist, but you protect a guy who's already being expelled and prosecuted for a scam. That doesn't make sense.

    Also, the admissions office is highly susceptible to this sort of thing for the same reasons that they're willing to believe everyone's BS stories about wrestling polar bears during high school. The more "unique" the background, the better the student body…

  • heartsurgeon

    hmm…lets see…first (as far as we know..) there was Hashemi (?), the ex-Taliban admitted as a special student…then the dust-up about the credentials of the Korean Prof. who claimed (falsely) that they attended Yale, and now this..

    Something isn't right in the admission office and heads should roll..anyone over there hear of due-diligence??

    How hard is it to verify records?? it should be trivia..this is inexplicable (as are the other examples cited)…..

    CYA and hiding behind "confidentiality" will now be in full force….

  • BK 07

    I wish that the YD"N" had used this type of respectful discretion when smearing a friend's name and picture on the front page the day after unfounded sexual assault charges were alleged by another student. Bravo for maturity.

  • Anonymous

    Seriously. The time lapse and "Name redacted" notwithstanding, this is a great scoop.

  • liz

    heartsurgeon, you realize they receive over 20,000 applications a year, right?

  • y09

    Yeah Liz, there's no way Yale could background check the records of 20,000 apps, but they could at least check the 1800 applicants they end up accepting. They could make a final list, then send it to some sub-committee of underlings to verify everything before releasing the names.

    I have no idea how much work that would be, but if the University wants to prevent such embarrassments in the future, they should consider it.

  • Alum

    Heartsurgeon: how exactly is the Admissions Office responsible for the false claim by the Korean "professor"? Or the administrative mistake in verifying her false claim of attendance? And I'm not sure it would be desirable to turn everything upside down to protect against the rare fraudster; I don't have a sense that it happens often.

  • heartsurgeon

    "heartsurgeon, you realize they receive over 20,000 applications a year, right?'

    Liz, you realize its nonsensical to talk about the number of applicants… it's only those accepted that need their qualifications confirmed. In the real world, its utterly routine to verify the qualifications of people. With tuition north of $40,000, and a 11 digit endowment, it doesn't seem unreasonable to expect that the admissions department should be doing a better job than this…

  • Recent Alum

    #7, I understand your loyalty to your friend, but did it ever occur to you that maybe you should blame the person who brought false charges in the first place instead of blaming a newspaper for doing what it is supposed to do?

  • heartsurgeon

    "how exactly is the Admissions Office responsible for the false claim by the Korean "professor"? "

    i believe an article in this newspaper indicated that the admissions office verified to another university that the Korean (?) Prof. HAD attended Yale, and then had to correct the mistake, and indeed Yale is now being sued by the Korean University that was duped!!

    Is my memory wrong about what has been previously (and fairly recently) published in this very newspaper??

    False claim of attendance…that should be trivia to prove/disprove..

    Rare fraudster?? how does anyone know??

    The admissions office is responsibe for the admissions process..to one of the greatest universities in the world, with massive resources…and you don't feel they should be doing a better job??

  • A.C.

    I believe you are wrong, heartsurgeon, and it was the Yale College Dean's Office (or some similar administrative body) who verified the Koran professor's Yale degree and not the admission's office.

  • Alum

    heartsurgeon: Yes, your memory is wrong. See below from the March 27, 2008 Yale Daily News. Maybe a brain surgeon would have fact-checked before making claims, twice in your case. As you'll see, the Admissions Office was uninvolved.

    "Shin was hired Sept. 1, 2005, but officials at Dongguk quickly received information that “raised questions” about the validity of her Yale degree, as the lawsuit puts it. On Sept. 5, an administrator at Dongguk sent a registered letter to Graduate School Associate Dean Pamela Schirmeister, requesting she verify the authenticity of an ostensibly Yale-authored letter that Shin had presented to Dongguk during the hiring process as a certification of her degree.

    "That letter was signed “Pamela Schirmeistr” [sic] and, University officials now assert, had been forged by Shin. Yet on Sept. 22, Schirmeister replied to Dongguk by fax, writing: “As requested I am confirming that the attached letter was issued by the Yale Graduate School and signed by me.”"

  • Recent Alum

    heartsurgeon is probably one of those guys who just love to bash Yale for any or no reason. The admission of Hashemi was truly unforgivable, but otherwise, people make mistakes and we should just be glad that this fraud was caught in the end.

  • heartsurgeon

    "heartsurgeon is probably one of those guys who just love to bash Yale for any or no reason"

    I am critical of Yale, because I support it extensively with my wallet…I expect better from the best..

    Apparently you agree with me that the Hashemi "admission" was ill conceived.

    I will readily admit I do not know what department was involved in that decision.

    I will also admit that I do not know what branch of the administration provided the Korean University with mis-information.

    All that said, are you trying to claim this makes Yale look good? That no one is responsible? That nothing needs to change?

    I seems quite likely, that had the "ex-lover" of the student had not "outed" the poser, he may well have graduated with a Yale degree….ever think of that??

  • Anonymous

    heartsurgeon -- for me the question isn't one of image "whether Yale looks good" because I was not interested in the degree as some sort of trophy for display like a BMW or whatever. Perhaps you were a trophy hunter and we differ there. Your shocked observation that the guy might have graduated is bizarre in at least 2 senses. First, it is likely that people have grafuated after having falsified applications -- what do you think the likelihood every instance has been caught, say, even in your class year. Second, I knew, and I'm sure even you knew more than a handful if people who graduated who may not have been credits to the University academically (since that seems your concern)-- I knew a guy who graduated from my class who wrote a HYA paper on the artwork of "Circa." The admission process produces any number of such cases in every class. I don't recall you posting in concern over the question of whether athletes are held to the same academic standards in admissions. Or perhaps you were an athlete…

  • Anonymous

    I'm surprised that nobody seems to be mentioning that this guy seems to have some sort of psychiatric disorder, even when one ignores the suicide attempt and death threat. He always claims that the only thing he lied about was his age, even when several independent sources verify that he lied about quite a few other things. Either he is refusing to admit to the crime, out of pride, or he is incapable of conceiving that the materials he submitted were not authentic.

  • Joe Camel

    Well my point in the original post was to address issues that have been stirring amongst those in the academic review committees….namely, said professor raising a fuss and questioning students’ dedication based solely on attendance to lectures and small groups.

    After speaking with at least a dozen students that missed the infamous lecture, timelessly captured in the photo, the general sentiment is that the lack of attendance was based predominantly on low expectations of the particular lecturer (stemming from previous experiences) and partially on sleep debt. In reality, there are lectures that are nearly 100% attended that have proven to be VERY high yield (anatomy, neuro, child development, etc). Even amidst a packed lecture hall, I personally found it very easy to absorb the pertinent material. In fact I would wager a guess that a large number of students were able to pull as much out of these lectures as they could have from a small group. This is because many students don’t have to be pimped for answers to initiate learning. Many students are so interested in the material that they don’t need a dog and pony show to convince them to elucidate something worthwhile from a lecture. Finally, from personal experience, I can say that many of the “fruitful” discussions that arise in small groups are really a matter of perception. Despite the aptitude of my classmates, I find many of the questions presented to the group leaders to be off-topic and irrelevant. Many student do not adequately prepare for these sessions and thus much of the time is spent listening to students verbatim quote Up-To-Date or eMedicine (“Oh could [fill in the blank] also be part of the differential?”….when the mentioned condition is something we have obviously not covered) or ask questions that were entirely covered in the assigned reading (that they expect to be spoon fed to them to substitute for actually doing the reading on their own time). Granted there can be tremendous upside to this style of learning, but in reality I find this to be a very inadequate substitute for an informative, traditional-style lecture.

    In opposition to your example of taking a lousy lecturer and putting him in a smaller room to watch the metamorphosis, I can cite several instances of the complete opposite happening. For instance, the lead professor in path had a woeful showing in his lab section today….I believe it was 3 students. However, other sessions ballooned to over 30 students. This professor normally has a very solid attendance to his lectures, but apparently is less effective in a smaller setting.

    So….all of this proves that the Yale System IS robust and IS effective. Despite your preferences and perceptions, your view is not completely representative of the class. The beauty of the Yale System is that you can vote your approval of different instructions strategies with your feet. If you don’t like lectures…..don’t go. If I can’t tolerate the spoon-feeding and lack of legitimate PBL learning (like really using what we have been taught thus far to understand conditions and cases) in these small groups…..I won’t go. However, to extrapolate your personal opinion of lecture-based learning towards a push for policy change (affecting all students) is a bit presumptuous and overreaching.

  • Your an embarassment Yale

    You make me sick Yale. The guy was a smart student that was there to learn, and now you will ruin his life by throwing him in jail. He did not steal 46,000 from the school, the fee was simply waved, no money was ever taken. Go ahead Yale, throw a great mind in jail, go ahead, keep pretending you are high and mighty. Keep pretending you give a shit about anything other than money and prestige. Learn to earn some dignity you bastards.

  • gus

    The real victim here is the unknown student who was rejected because of this lying thief. Someone somewhere lost their place at Yale and was deprived of the financial aid this fraudster received. For those making excuses for him calling him a 'brilliant mind', think again. Yale doesn't need to graduate a criminal just because he was able to lie his way in. He could leverage any qualification they gave him to commit even greater frauds so well done Yale for weeding this crook out.

  • @ "your" "embarassment"

    Yes, he was there to learn, but the issue is that he submitted an utterly fraudulent application with forged transcripts and a forged recommendation.

    Sure, he could possibly be a "great mind", but it seems like he is also a liar and a fraud. His possible brilliance does not exclude him from the consequences of his actions.

    When it comes to the money, the student in question would NOT have been awarded the scholarships, let alone admitted, on the basis of his fraudulent application, so yes, he more or less stole the $46,000.

    When it comes to attacking Yale for being "bastards" without "dignity" or "pretending" to be "high and mighty", consider what every other school in the nation would have done. Do you believe that other universities would continue to let this fraud go unscathed?

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