Start with forgery and a false identity. Mix in a fake kidnapping, along with the alleged kidnapping and attempted murder of someone else. Stir with some cocaine, a conspiracy and the FBI. Then add a dash of Yale for flavor.
That’s the story of Tonica Jenkins, once GRD ’03, a woman whose recent past would compete with the most sordid of made-for-TV movie plots ever since it was discovered in 1997 that she had forged and fabricated her way into the Yale Graduate School.
Jenkins, 26, re-entered the spotlight this August when she was sentenced in Florida to 24 years in federal prison on drug charges for attempting — with her mother’s help — to buy 22 pounds of cocaine from an undercover U.S. Customs Service agent.
These charges are only the most recent of three different arrests in the past three years, each as strange as the next.
Jenkins first ran afoul of the law in December 1997, after University officials discovered she submitted forged transcripts that claimed straight A’s and falsified recommendations from Central State University and Cuyahoga Community College in Ohio as part of her application to Yale’s graduate program in biological and biomedical science.
Her professors first became suspicious after she made excuses about missing several exams. A University investigation revealed that Jenkins had attended but not graduated from Cuyahoga and never attended Central State University.
Jenkins was expelled, arrested and charged with first-degree larceny and second-degree fraud for taking more than $15,000 in Yale tuition and stipends.
But she was just getting started. Jenkins tried to escape from a police car as she was being transported away from the Hall of Graduate Studies, so prosecutors added a charge of attempting to escape police custody.
In July 1998 she missed a hearing in New Haven Superior Court. After authorities found her in her home in East Cleveland, Ohio, Jenkins claimed she had been raped, abducted and held in the trunk of a car, preventing her from attending the trial.
Jenkins claimed she kicked her way out of the trunk after her captor abandoned the vehicle and left the keys in the car, allowing her to drive to Ohio.
Once she returned to New Haven, the judge, not buying her story, sent her to jail and set bail at $150,000. Before posting bail, she reportedly assaulted two prison guards.
Months later, Jenkins’ lawyer received an anonymous letter that accused Yale officials of racism in their handling of the investigation. Accompanying the letter was a photograph of Jenkins bound and gagged. The University and Judge Roland D. Fasano dismissed the letter and photograph as fabrications. Jenkins never filed a police complaint.
After giving Jenkins an ultimatum over a plea bargain offered by prosecutors — which she never accepted, though she did eventually plead guilty — Fasano sentenced her to three years of probation in April 2000 and ordered her to undergo psychiatric counseling.
Three months later, Jenkins and her mother were arrested on the cocaine trafficking charge in Florida. The women claimed to be FBI informants, but an FBI agent testified that Jenkins and her mother had been terminated three months earlier.
Out on bail again, Jenkins was arrested a third time in Cleveland, Ohio, in May of this year and charged with kidnapping and attempted murder. Police said she and Kyle Martin, her cousin, abducted a woman who looked like Jenkins using drugs as a lure and plotted to alter her dental records, kill her and burn her body. To this end, Jenkins allegedly sent the woman to a dentist wearing a Yale sweatshirt.
Police said Jenkins hoped it would appear that she herself had been killed, thus escaping the drug charges. After being hit her on the head with a brick, the abducted woman escaped from the basement of Jenkins’ parents’ home April 21 and went straight to police.
Martin was found guilty of kidnapping August 3 but was acquitted on the charge of attempted murder. He received a sentence of 10 years in prison. Jenkins is still awaiting trial on the same charges.