His is a Horatio Alger story: An immigrant from humble beginnings, who through hard work and perseverance, chases his American dream of earning a spot among the elite.
But his is also a Jay Gatsby story: An outsider who takes up the American art of self-reinvention in order to land a spot among the elite.
And his is a startlingly common story: A student who, swept up in an admissions frenzy, resorts to bending the rules to secure a spot among the elite.
He is Akash Maharaj, once a junior in Morse College, now a convicted felon. Kicked out of Yale College in the summer of 2007 for forging his application, he now faces five years of probation during which he must pay Yale over $31,000, for scholarships he stole — or else serve three years in jail.
Akash Maharaj achieved the dream of thousands, gaining coveted spots in some of the most selective institutions in the world. He wanted to make something of himself. So he made himself someone else.
I. Scaling the heights
His story starts on June 7, 1981. Or, depending on when you ask him, 1985 or 1986.
Then began the life of the charming charlatan who outsmarted several of the world’s most elite universities. And so, too, began the lies — his date of birth was the first, and the one whose discovery led to the discovery of the rest.
He was born that day in Trinidad and Tobago, a South American archipelago, to a middle-class family of Indian descent. His dad was a high-school teacher, he said, and his mom was a banker.
By high school, he knew he couldn’t stay.
“I hated every minute of it,” he said in an interview with the News at the Starbucks on Church Street last Friday after his sentencing. (Since he had been banned from campus, there were few places left in New Haven he could go.) “It’s really suffocating in terms of sexually-other people.”
He knew he was gay, but being “out” was neither part of the culture nor the vocabulary, he said.
“I knew, and close friends knew,” he said. “High school was really like torture.”
He escaped in 2000, he said, immigrating to New York with his younger brother. Maharaj was 19 — not that he would admit it now.
He married and moved in with a close friend.
“She’s still in New York, and she’s one of my best friends,” he said.
“… and my wife,” he added as an afterthought. “We’re in love.”
Then he got his green card.
Maharaj won’t talk about his first two years in the United States, though a spokesperson for St. John’s University, a Catholic school in New York, said Maharaj was enrolled there starting in 2002. Maharaj insisted he never went there. His is a common Indian name, he said, and St. John’s must have confused him with someone else.
From there, he transferred to New York University’s College of Arts and Science for the 2003-2004 academic year, NYU’s records show.
Maharaj explained that he was never in a degree-granting program at NYU, that he just attended some classes there with his friends. As for the tuition bills and other official mailings he received? Someone must have stolen his identity, he said. Again, they were confusing him with someone else.
His stint at NYU remains a mystery, since Maharaj insists it never happened, and NYU officials are bound by confidentiality.
From there, Maharaj continued scaling the heights of academic prestige, making his Ivy League debut uptown.
Maharaj attended Columbia from fall 2004 until spring 2006. He liked it well enough, he said. But he was dissatisfied with the dispersed community and the campus’ constant competition with the City of New York, he said.
“Columbia has been disappointing in almost every way,” he told the Spectator, Columbia’s student newspaper, in March 2006. The Spectator also reported that Maharaj said he transferred to Columbia from Yale at the beginning of the academic year and wanted to transfer back.
The story Maharaj told the Spectator is different from the story in Columbia’s enrollment records, different from what he told his other Yale classmates and different yet again from the story he told Yale. The article’s author, Barnard College senior Aviva Erlich, said in an interview last spring that she didn’t remember much about interviewing Maharaj two years earlier. But she did remember interviewing him in person in spring 2006. Maharaj told the News in April that he spent that semester doing volunteer relief work in Sri Lanka.
The Spectator article misrepresented him, he said. Asked if there was ever a correction, he said there was none. He couldn’t explain why.
II. Making the Grade
Akash Maharaj’s transfer application to Yale was, by any measure, an outstanding one. His transcript boasted 18 rigorous courses with perfect A’s in each. He had a glowing recommendation from a Slavic languages professor at Columbia.
None of it was true.
But the admissions officers didn’t know that yet. They were impressed. He was in.
With 800 applicants and as few as 20 spots, the transfer pool is even more competitive than admission to Yale’s freshman class.
Yale’s admissions officers were not the only ones he duped in New Haven. Maharaj fooled everyone he met when he got to Yale, too.
Arriving at Yale as a junior in fall 2006, Maharaj was shy. It was awkward joining the class of 2008 midway, his social slate blank when most of his classmates had long since drawn their circles. Why had he left where he was, and why did he come here?
Again, he had all the answers. He was a wealthy 21-year-old, born in Britain, who just didn’t fit in at Columbia. But mainly he came because Yale’s English Department was better. He had his sights set on an English doctorate from the University and imagined a Yale College diploma would boost his chances.
Maharaj thought he was on the right track. English professor Margaret Homans was “basically telling me that I would get a spot into [Yale’s] Ph.D. program,” he said. “Unless I, like, flunked out in my last semester, it would be easy, you know? I had A’s at Yale. Years of work down the drain.”
Homans did not reply to requests for comment.
Maharaj fit in academically, impressing his professors and peers with his contributions in the classroom. His participation in seminars could sometimes become overbearing, classmates said. He took such criticism in stride; class was sometimes just a conversation between him and the professor with a few other students around, he said.
“From what I can ascertain, the kid did a really good job of keeping everybody unaware,” said Stephanie Wright ’08, who took an English seminar with Maharaj her junior year. “He didn’t stick out as someone who didn’t have a clue about what he was doing academically.”
Professor Shameem Black, who taught Maharaj in her “Fiction Without Borders” class, said he was bright and a joy to teach.
A paper Maharaj wrote for Wai Chee Dimock’s seminar on Hemingway, Fitzgerald and Faulkner won the English Department’s Henry H. Strong Prize in American Literature. The subject: The Great Gatsby.
Dimock said Maharaj would constantly ask to rewrite his papers until he was satisfied with his mark. “He was obsessed with getting a good grade,” to the point of being pushy, she said.
Why would someone who would forge his transcript to change the grades anyway care so much about getting real A’s?
“I think what Akash cared about the most was the grade itself,” Dimock said. “If he could, he would probably prefer a real A; if not, then he would fake one.”
Maharaj wasn’t as successful outside of the classroom. He spent his first semester engrossed in academics, focusing on his professors and his schoolwork to the point of being “anti-social,” he said.
He said he can be emotionally distant and — maybe not surprisingly — a hard person to really get to know.
Saddled with three papers during the December finals period, he told friends he had become dependent on sleeping pills. He used the break as a chance to play up his biography as a well-heeled Englishman, telling friends he would stay at the Ritz in Paris with his mother, then cross the Channel to visit his three best friends from high school in London.
Maharaj said he made few close friends at Yale. (One of them, he said, was Aliza Shvarts ’08, whose senior art project involving purported self-induced miscarriages he called “brilliant.”) But many former classmates remember meeting him and thinking nothing was unusual.
“He didn’t seem like somebody who didn’t deserve to be at Yale,” said Jonathan Thompson ’09, also a transfer student in Morse, who said he remembers sharing a few lunches and casual conversations with Maharaj.
The conversations Maharaj had were dominated by politics, his lifelong passion. He expounded about it to friends and posted long and frequent rants on his Facebook profile.
“People think it’s abstract, but it’s really f–king important,” he said. “It’s the ideas that run our world.”
Although he cannot vote in U.S. elections, Maharaj identified himself as a fiercely liberal Democrat.
His true affinity for politics, perhaps, surfaced in a 982-word guest column published in the March 28, 2007 edition of the News. The overarching metaphor uniting the piece: “The power players in Washington should have their own reality show,” he wrote. “They know how to distort truth, and how to create scandalous episodes that inspire water-cooler conversation.”
IV. The Boyfriend
Although Maharaj didn’t make many close friends at Yale, he said he did find everyone very friendly.
“People are so happy here, even when they’re bull-s–tting,” he said. “It was such a huge change from high school where, like, it was bad all the time.”
Everyone, somehow, seemed to know him as that transfer from Columbia. They would welcome him and introduce themselves, and they would always ask him why he had left. Yale’s English Department is better, he would say.
One of those people was Victor Cazares, also a junior in Morse College and a transfer from Dartmouth.
The story of how they met, like almost everything related to their ill-fated romance and Maharaj’s biography, has been told many different ways. Cazares, for his part, did not respond to repeated requests for comment.
As Maharaj recalls, he was in the Dean’s Office mid-semester trying to drop a class. Cazares was there too, “and he looked like death,” Maharaj said. Cazares tapped him on the shoulder and said hello.
Cazares’s version is that the two first met at the transfer student dinner, Maharaj told the News. Cazares was attracted to him and asked a girl to find out his name. Maharaj said he remembers the girl but not Cazares.
“He left no impression on me at all,” Maharaj said. “Apparently for the entire semester he had a crush on me and was trying to get to know me and I had no idea.”
He had never known anyone to treat him that way before. It was flattering, he said, and he came to crave the attention.
“I was so shocked that anyone would do that … I wanted to hold on to that power for as long as I could,” he said.
Cazares would leave him rapid-fire strings of Facebook messages — once he posted five messages within one minute.
The next day Maharaj replied, “I love that you are all over my wall.”
He posted five more times that day, apparently returning the favor. “You’ll have to kill me to get me off this wall,” he wrote.
Their relationship was publicly possessive and widely known in the junior class. In fact, some of Cazares’s initial moves were public — on Facebook, in the form of comments on a review Maharaj had posted about Pedro Almodovar’s film “Volver.”
That review, dated March 1, 2007, is an example of the kind of plot and character analysis that might have impressed his English professors at Yale.
“A number of characters ask the truth to be told, but then add, ‘Someday, you will tell me everything’ the whole truth, the whole story is put off so that the community can reinvent it,” he wrote. “Narrative creation is an act of recreation. Memory isn’t just what happened but what we think happened, and what we’d like to have happen.”
V. The Break-Up
“None of this would have happened without Victor at all,” Maharaj said after his sentencing.
He’s right, in a way. If his ex-boyfriend had not reported him, his forged application may never have been exposed, and he could have walked away from Yale in a commencement gown instead of handcuffs.
But that’s not what he meant. He blames Cazares for the crime itself, not just its discovery.
“If there was anything to find out, no one would have found out about it,” he said. “Trust me, no one would have found out. I had a year left. It was done. It was done.”
By summer 2007, Cazares realized their relationship had grown unhealthy because of his own “controlling and manipulative behavior,” he later told police. Cazares made up his mind to end the relationship May 25, 2007, after he discovered that Maharaj was lying about his age and background. He was 26, not 21 as he said.
“Look, obviously I wasn’t, like, a great boyfriend,” Maharaj said. “I know you’re thinking, ‘Oh, he’s crazy, and he lied,’ and I’m not denying that. I’m not.
“But what you have to understand,” he continued, “is that people are complicated in relationships, and that throughout our relationship, he was not great.”
In the beginning, though, things were great, Maharaj said. But then Cazares became emotionally and physically abusive, Maharaj said. Maharaj, who has a history of anorexia, depression and other mental-health issues, was in a delicate state, and, he said, Cazares manipulated him and made him buy him anything he wanted.
“I was really distraught and upset with anxiety and depression, and I really wanted him to stay with me, and he took advantage of that,” Maharaj said. “I don’t know why I did it. It was so stupid.”
The academic term had already ended and Maharaj had left New Haven to move into a New York apartment he was planning to share with Cazares and a female friend.
But in late May, Cazares called to say they were over.
I don’t want to see you with anyone else, Maharaj answered. He began to stalk Cazares, according to police.
“Have I mentioned I love you?” he wrote on Cazares’s Facebook wall a few days later.
Crushed by the breakup, Maharaj teetered on the brink of an emotional breakdown.
According to court documents, he begged Cazares not to leave him. Or else, he warned, he would kill himself.
Maharaj called his English professor, Sara Suleri Goodyear, to tell her he was distraught and suicidal and to ask to meet with her. Goodyear asked Black, the “Fiction Without Borders” professor, to be present at the meeting, where the professors persuaded Maharaj to seek psychiatric help willingly.
Cazares promised Maharaj that, if he checked himself into a hospital, he would visit him daily and make sure everything was alright. Maharaj said he didn’t think he needed help, but he agreed in the hopes of saving his relationship.
Feeling tricked, Maharaj tried to escape from the hospital once. Then again. One time he succeeded.
When he was found, he was readmitted and moved to an isolation unit. He resisted and furiously redirected his death threats against Cazares.
He was released soon after — court records don’t specify when. Cazares told police Maharaj had pulled off his release by manipulating the psychiatrist handling his case. Someone claiming to be Maharaj’s brother, who was actually his cousin, convinced the doctor that Maharaj did not need treatment, Cazares told officers.
But in his first several days out, Maharaj resumed threats to kill himself, even asking Cazares to assist him.
Cazares reported Maharaj’s threat to kill him, as well as alleged harassment by Maharaj’s cousin and that cousin’s girlfriend, to the Yale Police Department on June 9, 2007. The next day he called Maharaj to tell him their relationship was over and to stop calling him.
Maharaj returned to New Haven and, at the YPD’s emergency request, was admitted to Yale-New Haven Hospital for psychiatric evaluation in mid-June.
A few days later, Cazares, accompanied by YPD Sergeant Peter Brano and others, filed for a temporary restraining order in the New Haven Superior Court.
Cazares told Associate Dean Rosalinda Garcia — the director of the Latino Cultural Center, of which Cazares was an officer — about how Maharaj had lied to him about his identity and age. So, intending to verify his date of birth, Garcia opened Maharaj’s record on file in the Yale College Dean’s Office.
VI. The Investigation
Sergeant Brano appeared at Maharaj’s hospital room in the Yale-New Haven Hospital to confront him about the discrepancies found in his file. Was he born in 1985 or 1986, as he told Columbia and Yale, or in 1981, as he told the hospital?
“It must have been some other person,” Maharaj told the sergeant.
Peeling through Maharaj’s file, Associate General Counsel Susan Sawyer concluded that the matriculation dates, transcript and letter of recommendation that he submitted in his application were not valid and contacted the YPD about initiating a criminal investigation.
The transcript Maharaj submitted to Yale didn’t mention any attendance at either St. John’s or NYU. It said he attended Columbia from fall 2003 until spring 2005, took a medical leave in fall 2005 and spent the spring 2006 semester performing volunteer relief work in Sri Lanka. Columbia’s records showed he attended from fall 2004 to spring 2006.
The courses and grades on the transcript submitted with his application also did not match. And his letter of recommendation was neither written nor provided by a professor Valentina Izmirilieva, Yale’s internal investigation discovered.
While everything unraveled, Maharaj was in the hospital, unaware, until Dean of Academic Affairs Mark Schenker arrived to confront him about the widening suspicion engulfing him.
In what was, by now, a common refrain, Maharaj told Schenker that Columbia had confused him with another student by the same name. He said Columbia’s registrar had an incorrect transcript on file, which must have been the one Yale received.
The only reason Yale even was able to get any evidence against him, he told the News, is because administrators forced him to sign a release allowing them to request his transcripts from other schools.
“I was told if I didn’t sign it I wouldn’t be let out of the hospital,” he said. “There were a number of sketchy things that happened there.”
Because Yale officials are bound by confidentiality, Maharaj’s claims could not be confirmed by the News. But, generally, federal law does not require a student to give permission in order for schools to disclose records, without consent, to “school officials with legitimate educational interests.”
While the Yale College Dean’s Office scrutinized his documentation over the summer, Schenker returned to Maharaj’s bedside, now in the Yale Psychiatric Hospital on Liberty Street, with then-Dean of Student Affairs Betty Trachtenberg to question Maharaj about the apparent discrepancies in his application.
Maharaj told them that he had never “officially” attended NYU. He just went to some classes with some friends, he said.
When they asked if he had ever received anything from NYU indicating he was enrolled, he admitted that he sometimes received tuition bills. But he just threw them away because he knew they weren’t for him.
And, they asked, Columbia?
Columbia must be confusing him with another student of the same name, he said.
But the confusion was not Columbia’s. There was no other Akash Maharaj except the one that he invented.
The Dean’s Office had come to a conclusion. Maharaj had not yet been arrested or charged, but Yale officials had seen enough evidence.
Yale College Dean Peter Salovey informed Maharaj in a letter dated June 28, 2007, that, because of the problems with his application, his admission to Yale was being rescinded. His two-semester record at Yale was expunged.
The day he received the dean’s letter, Maharaj said, was the first time he tried to follow through on his threat to kill himself, he said.
“Soon you’ll have everything you want and I’ll have nothing,” Maharaj wrote in an e-mail to Cazares on June 28. “The dean sent me a letter today that was not great.”
Hours later: “don’t hate me.” And a third: “I’m getting drunk in a few minutes …”
But seven days before, the court placed a restraining order on Maharaj, forbidding any communication between the estranged lovers. So he was charged with violating his restraining order, along with charges of larceny and forgery for defrauding Yale.
Maharaj responded to Salovey’s letter by telling Schenker, again, that he had been the victim of identity theft and a records mix-up at Columbia. He sent Schenker another transcript that the Dean’s Office determined was also a forgery. It matched neither the transcript Maharaj submitted with his application nor the one Columbia had on file. Columbia’s registrar told Schenker that Columbia had no record of Maharaj’s request for an official transcript.
Maharaj denied forging this transcript and blamed Cazares for the situation. Cazares had threatened to access his Columbia records through his Skull and Bones connections, he said in a letter to Yale’s lawyers. (Cazares was tapped for the senior society in April 2007.)
But Yale’s investigation found no evidence of any tampering with Maharaj’s file. It did, however, find the documents Maharaj had submitted in his application to be fraudulent.
Maharaj maintains he was mistreated and his case mishandled by the University. He provided an e-mail which he claimed was Schenker’s response to an official complaint he filed against Cazares for an “incident” that occurred “between two students and while I was still a student at Yale” and “on campus and during the academic year.” He would not describe the incident, and he said the case was still pending. He said that, in two related phone conversations, Schenker was “dismissive and condescending,” and that the dean refused to investigate.
Schenker declined to confirm or deny whether this e-mail was authentic. But in all of his correspondence with the News, Schenker addressed the reporter by his surname and signed off “Dean of Academic Affairs.” The e-mail from Maharaj opens “Dear Akash” and ends “Associate Dean, Yale College.”
Schenker’s supposed e-mail to Maharaj was dated August 1, which would have been two days after his arrest warrant was submitted.
Maharaj, then in New York, was not arrested until September, when he returned to New Haven for his restraining-order hearing. After a few nights in jail, he said, his brother bailed him out.
He returned to New York. Unemployed, his family and friends supported him both emotionally and financially, he said. He moved back in with his brother for a few months before finding his own place in Brooklyn. When contacted by the News, his brother declined to comment and said never to call him again.
His mother, back in Trinidad, was doing okay, he said. But his father, he said, died of a heart attack last year, because of the stress of his son’s breakdown.
When Maharaj’s admission to Yale was rescinded, everything for which he had striven was gone, he said. The very cause that had brought him to these shores was lost.
It was the English Department that brought him to Yale, he said. But he was losing much more than English classes. How could he finish his degree now? How could he enter academia? How would he realize his dream of becoming a writer?
Asked what kind of writing, he answered: “Fiction.”
IX. The Others
He was not the first Ivy League impostor.
¶There was Patrick McDermit, the 21-year-old unemployed writer and Los Angeles home remodeler who spent the fall of 1976 reinvented as a larger-than-life, self-made multi-millionaire and Yale freshman named Andreas Alrea. But by the end of the semester, he gave himself up. He couldn’t handle the work, his suitemate said.
¶There was Esther Reed, also known as Brooke Henson, Natalie Fisher, Natalie Bowman and Jennifer Myers. A Montana schoolgirl who dreamed of going to Harvard, Reed disappeared in 1999 and assumed the identity of Henson, a missing high-school dropout from South Carolina. She turned up in 2005 as a Columbia student with a 3.22 GPA. Last month, she pleaded guilty to several counts of fraud in federal court.
¶There was L.T. Grammer, a popular Davenport College senior on the rugby team who transferred from a California community college in his junior year. His transcript boasted a 3.91 GPA. It turned out to be 2.077. His letters of recommendation were written by professors who did not exist. Just two months before he would have graduated in 1995, his former roommate overhead him bragging about his fraudulent admission and tipped off the Yale Police Department. In the following days, police discovered he had been indicted in 1993 on three counts of forgery and was wanted in California for check fraud. Grammer got off with probation and a suspended sentence. When heard from last, he was back in school and working in California in 1997.
¶There was James Hogue, a 32-year-old man who was sentenced to nine months in jail for posing as a 20-year-old Princeton student named Alexi Santana and fraudulently receiving almost $22,000 in scholarships. But before conning the Ivy League, Hogue crisscrossed America, racking up a series of thefts, frauds, scams, forgeries and convictions.
¶And there was Tonica Jenkins, who was accepted to Yale’s graduate program in biological and biomedical science in 1997, applying from an Ohio community college with a perfect GPA. In fact, she never graduated. Her forged transcripts and recommendations slipped by until December of that year, when her mysterious absence from several exams aroused professors’ suspicions. Jenkins took a plea bargain and, in April 2000, was sentenced to three years of probation and ordered to undergo psychiatric therapy. She was convicted in February 2003 of attempted murder and sentenced to 20 years in prison.
X. The Game
Akash Maharaj is not the first, but he is not the same. He does not exhibit the criminal impulse of a Jenkins, a Grammer or a Hogue. Maharaj is not a career criminal for whom the Ivy League was one of many scams.
No, Maharaj came to Yale for the same reasons anyone comes to Yale: He wanted an education, and Yale was the best place for him to get it, he thought.
“I really like college, I really like campus,” he said. “I really wanted to spend all my time there.”
There’s no difference, Maharaj said, between him and the next student who was admitted or the next student who wasn’t. It’s just arbitrary.
Maharaj doesn’t think he did anything wrong. And is that so absurd? After all, Ivy League admissions have become so competitive that bending the rules to get in has become part of the game, admissions experts say.
America’s best students will do “anything to get in,” said Lloyd Thacker, author of “College Unranked: Ending the College Admissions Frenzy.”
“Kids have said to me, ‘this process is so crazy that it’s making me do things that conflict with my values,’” he continued. “They’ve said to me, ‘how will anyone know I’m not lying?’”
Maharaj is not just another Grammer for a new generation. He’s a distinct product of a frenetic generation for whom admissions rates are lower than ever, applicant pools are larger and more competitive than ever, and an elite education more important than ever.
As one student told the News in the Thain Family Cafe when Maharaj’s story first broke last spring, “Didn’t we all exaggerate on our applications to some extent?”
XI. The Spotlight
Maharaj escaped publicity for more than half a year after his arrest. Since his arrest occurred over the summer, the News missed it on the police blotter.
Sheltered by anonymity, no one had to know about why he left Yale — and if they did, they only had to know his version. He could remold his life as easily as he had done before. He had a tested record of personal reinvention.
Into his fragile recovery entered a reporter from the News, reopening wounds eight months scabbed over.
When Maharaj first spoke to this newspaper in April, he begged for the story not to be published. If his story went to press, he warned, he would be in a worse mental state than the last time he tried to kill himself. He would have to relive the whole ordeal all over again, and he would rather not live at all.
He felt powerless. Here was a stranger taking away his control over his own life. His story was no longer his own to tell. It was out of his hands. He was desperate to take his life back — even by taking it.
Given Maharaj’s history of mental fragility, the News decided to withhold his name when it first reported his story April 8. By noon that day, however, Maharaj’s identity had already surfaced in a comment on the Ivy League gossip blog, IvyGate.
The story rocketed across the news media, appearing in dozens of outlets, including the New Haven Register, the Hartford Courant, The New York Times and local news TV stations as far away as Louisiana. Unlike previous impostor sagas, there was a new twist: the blogosphere.
On IvyGate, Gawker and a slew of gay-interest blogs, the story of Akash Maharaj took on a life of its own. Readers and anonymous commenters began speculating and gossiping.
As the lovers’ spat raged through online proxies, someone posted Maharaj’s Social Security number on IvyGate using a Yale IP address. Maharaj contacted IvyGate, which decided to shut down commenting on the thread.
Maharaj blames Cazares and Skull and Bones for posting his number.
“He threatened me a number of times with Skull and Bones,” Maharaj said. “As crazy as I am, he’s still not innocent.”
Cazares did not emerge unscathed, either. He did not graduate with his class in May.
Maharaj sees demons everywhere around him. In his ex-boyfriend and his Skull and Bones cronies. In St. John’s and NYU. In Columbia’s registrar. In the Yale College Dean’s Office. In the Yale Police Department. In the New Haven Superior Court. In the Yale Daily News.
“I’m sorry, it’s not you, I don’t trust your paper,” he told this reporter. “You’re Yale’s comrade.”
When told that the News is fully independent and the administration does not tell it what to print, he replied, “And then what happens if one of your editors is in Skull and Bones?”
XII. The Hearings
Facing up to 25 years in prison under the Connecticut penal code, Maharaj pleaded not guilty to larceny and forgery. Now the national press was watching as Maharaj was due in court on Monday, April 14.
At the hearing, Maharaj was supposed to apply for accelerated rehabilitation, which gives first-time offenders a chance to have 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.
He never showed up. The hearing was postponed to May 28.
Glenn Conway, Maharaj’s attorney, said his client asked him not to disclose the reason for the postponement, but he said such delays are not unusual. “It’s nothing sinister,” he said.
But come May 28, Maharaj was missing again.
Conway had told Maharaj he had to appear in court unless he was in a hospital. So, in the words of Judge Richard Damiani, Maharaj “conveniently” checked into one.
Visibly unsympathetic, Damiani ordered Maharaj’s rearrest, forfeited the previous bond of $20,000 and ordered a new one of $150,000 — more than Maharaj was accused of stealing.
Two days later, Maharaj appeared before Damiani.
“That was brilliant, you have to admit,” Maharaj told the News on Friday, Sept. 5. “I eluded you all.”
He added that he swears he didn’t plan it that way. He really was in a hospital.
So when Maharaj came to court two days late, Damiani agreed to vacate the arrest warrant. And he was ready to cut a deal.
Maharaj would plead guilty to larceny in such a way that he does not have to admit wrongdoing but concedes that the state has enough evidence for a conviction.
In exchange for his plea, the forgery and restraining order charges would be dropped. Maharaj would have to pay Yale back in full for the $31,750 in financial aid that he stole.
And if he could do it by Sept. 5, he could have his criminal record expunged.
XIII. The Sentence
When Maharaj showed up to court last Friday, he had grown out his hair. In the 80-degree heat, he wore a checkered collar poking out from beneath a pale blue thermal.
“You can sit down but I’m not going to talk to you,” he told this reporter in the courtroom before his sentencing, his eyes welling.
Was he nervous? “Yes.”
Did he have a good summer? “Yes.”
Asked, after a long silence, if he had watched John McCain accept the Republican Party’s nomination for president the night before, he talked.
“It was disgusting,” he said. And Palin: “She was a good choice, in a cynical way,” he said. “She’s getting more press than I got.”
“I’m actually glad you’re here,” he said eventually. “Otherwise I’d be so bored. The thing I hate more than anything is being bored.”
The sentence had all been worked out beforehand. He would not go to jail that day. But he did not have the full restitution yet, so he would remain a convicted felon.
“I tried to give you a way out,” Damiani had scolded in court. “Now that’s going to follow you for the rest of your life, do you understand that?”
Maharaj had raised, thanks to family and friends, $18,250 since May for restitution. He is still unemployed.
The remaining $13,341 he owes Yale must be paid off over five years of probation by taking a quarter of his income. To monitor that, he has to authorize his probation officers to access his tax records to check that he doesn’t “finagle with the tax form,” Damiani said, “because you’re known to do that.”
If Maharaj can’t pay the money, or doesn’t complete 250 hours of community service, or has another violation, he’ll go to jail for three years.
And he is banned from entering Yale property or contacting Yale personnel forever.
Conway asked the judge about some friends and professors from Yale with whom Maharaj is still in touch.
“If I were him, I’d forget about Yale,” Damiani scoffed. But he allowed those exceptions.
If Maharaj pays off the restitution early, he can apply to end his probation sooner. And later, he can also apply to have his criminal record wiped.
“I think because my case was so stupid, it wasn’t a violent crime or anything, it might be more amenable,” he said. “This whole thing is ridiculous. I was an amazing student — any professor will tell you that. I’ve basically been charged with stealing English classes.”
XIV. The Victim
Now Yale will get paid back, and Maharaj will get his payback.
Maharaj’s restitution, he said, will be financed by the advance on his first book — his tell-all memoir.
Maharaj said he is close to inking a book deal. He may never be an Ivy League graduate now, but he will be a writer.
“And I’ll be published before Victor,” he added. Cazares, he said, is an aspiring playwright. “That really makes me happy. He would be annoyed if I was published before him.”
He was so excited about his book deal that he actually thanked this reporter for breaking his story, just months after he threatened to kill himself if the News did.
“I was contacted by all these agents,” he said, although he wouldn’t specify which. “Even though I think my writing is awesome, and my professors think my writing is awesome, no one’s going to care what I write unless it’s something like this.”
Maharaj said Friday that his case’s conclusion would help him finally move on. But he clearly has no intention of doing so just yet. He still wants to spite Cazares, and he said he wants to sue him to recover some of his belongings that Cazares kept. He still wants to have the last say on what happened to him. He still wants to finish his degree, he said, at Columbia or maybe in England. He still wants his criminal record dropped.
When the victim gets restitution, will the case at last be closed?
Connecticut attorney Norman Pattis, the expert on Yale impostors who represented both Grammer and Jenkins, doesn’t take Yale for a victim.
“The victim has a right to be heard, but when Yale cries poor, it gives us reason to say, ‘what?’” he said. “Yale has a fixed number of spots and a responsibility to fill them with the most qualified applicants and to pay their bills if they can’t afford it. If Yale got snookered because someone at the admissions office didn’t do their job, it’s not compelling that they need the money because they would have spent it anyway.”
The real victim is not Yale. The real victim is, perhaps, some unknown applicant who didn’t get in because Akash Maharaj did. That applicant had his own dreams and his own ambitions. He wanted to get an education. He wanted to make something of himself. He was just as qualified and would have been just as good of a student. But instead his spot went to someone else, someone who turned out to be a fraud.
The real victim, then, will never get his restitution.