Adam Wheeler faked his way into Harvard. Then he went a step too far.
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During the summer of 2003, following their sophomore year at Caesar Rodney High School, Ryan Lawrence roomed with Adam Wheeler during a two-week tour of England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales. Lawrence says Wheeler “was fun to be around.” Then, after a pause, he adds, “But I really don’t remember much of Adam during the trip.”
Talk to Wheeler’s small circle of friends from school days and you’ll hear a similar theme: “Adam was quiet. He kept to himself.” They rarely encountered him outside of school, and few have seen him since their graduation ceremony.
Over seven years later, they still haven’t seen him, but they’ve certainly heard about him. The schoolboy who led a nearly cipher-like existence underwent a 180-degree transformation. Compelled by a need for achievement coupled with a desire to be seen as the smartest guy in the room, Wheeler left a trail of deceit at some of the premier institutions of higher learning.
In May Wheeler’s secret life became public knowledge. In a Woburn, Massachusetts, court, he was charged with 20 counts of larceny, identity fraud, falsifying an endorsement or approval, and pretending to hold a degree. The charges, each carrying a maximum of five years in prison, resulted from Wheeler’s attempts to dupe Harvard University out of $45,000 in financial aid, scholarship money and academic awards.
In December he pleaded guilty to all counts. The 24-year-old was ordered to pay full restitution to Harvard and was sentenced to 10 years—30 days to serve, the remainder suspended—and is to continue counseling. He apologized in court, saying he was “ashamed and embarrassed.”
When the allegations surfaced, the Caesar Rodney community was stunned. The Wheeler family had lived a quiet life in Harrington. Father Richard taught technology at Caesar Rodney High. He and his wife, Lee, attended a United Methodist Church.
As for Adam, until his court appearance “it was like he had jumped off the face of the planet [after high school],” says Charles Hajec, who met Wheeler in seventh grade. “Now all of a sudden,” he says, “we’re reading about him on CNN.com.”
At Caesar Rodney, Hajec may have qualified as Adam’s closest friend. They hung out together in the senior Wheeler’s classroom before school each day, playing on the computers. After school they sometimes played ultimate Frisbee in the parking lot until Richard was ready to drive home. Hajec says father and son seemed to get along well.
Adam’s emergence from his social cocoon began at Bowdoin College, where he enrolled after graduating from CR. That he even applied to Bowdoin, a top-notch liberal arts school in Brunswick, Maine, came as a surprise to Hajec.
Page 2: Busted, continues...