Maharaj pleads guilty to scholarship theft

Akash Maharaj, who was kicked out of the University last summer for forging his application to Yale College, has pleaded guilty to stealing more than $46,000 in scholarships.

Although he faces a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison and $15,000 in fines as a result of the plea, Maharaj, 26, is still pleading not guilty to the other charges being brought against him — forgery and criminal violation of a restraining order.

The plea was entered under the Alford Doctrine, a judicial precedent whereby a defendant does not admit wrongdoing but concedes that the state has enough evidence for a conviction. Such pleas are commonly used in plea bargains.

After Maharaj checked himself into a hospital instead of attending his hearing in New Haven Superior Court last Wednesday, Judge Richard Damiani, visibly unsympathetic, ordered Maharaj rearrested, forfeited the previous bond of $20,000 and ordered a new one of $150,000.

But when Maharaj appeared on Friday and pleaded guilty to larceny, Damiani vacated the arrest warrant and scheduled sentencing for Sept. 5. Maharaj, a native of Trinidad and Tobago, also received a deportation warning.

The severity of his sentence will likely depend on the extent to which Yale receives restitution, said State’s Attorney Michael Dearington, the prosecutor in the case.

Yale Associate General Counsel Susan Sawyer wrote Damiani, he said in court last week, to express Yale’s interest in full restitution for the $31,750 Maharaj received in Yale financial aid.

Glenn Conway, Maharaj’s attorney, who has not responded to calls to his office or cell phone since Wednesday, has begun making arrangements for $10,000 to be placed in a restitution fund, Damiani said.

Larceny is the most serious charge Maharaj faces, and Dearington said the guilty plea makes it unlikely that the state will pursue the other charges.

“You assume if he pleads guilty to larceny, that’s the end of it,” he said in a phone interview Monday.

The likely outcome of a guilty plea to a serious crime like larceny is some combination of jail time and probation, Executive Assistant Chief State’s Attorney Judith Rossi said.

Arrest warrants for failing to appear are unrelated to the underlying charges, she explained, and are often vacated if the absence is shown not to have been willful.

Maharaj, who did not answer calls on his cell phone Monday, was first arrested last September for larceny and forgery. He originally pleaded not guilty.

The charge of criminal violation of a restraining order stems from Maharaj’s bitter break-up with his ex-boyfriend, also a former member of the Morse College class of 2008, who tipped off the Yale College Dean’s Office about discrepancies in Maharaj’s file.

Maharaj had already been enrolled for two terms when the dean’s office rescinded his admission last June after an internal investigation concluded that his transcript and letter of recommendation were not valid. His grades and matriculation dates did not match records at Columbia, where he had formerly been enrolled, and he had omitted mention of his previous attendance at New York University and St. John’s University.

Yale officials said admissions policies and procedures are not undergoing any review in response to Maharaj’s alleged fraud. They said they believe forgeries are rare but there is no way to know how often they are attempted.

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