Yale Admitted, Funded Transfer Student Who Faked Transcript
To Yale admissions officials, Akash Maharaj was an appealing prospect: He had earned straight A’s at Columbia University. Now he wanted to transfer. Yale not only admitted him; it gave him a $32,000 scholarship as well.
Since then, however, much of his application information has turned out to be false, Yale said, and he is facing charges in Connecticut of larceny and forgery. According to an affidavit from Yale, although he attended Columbia, the straight A’s were bogus, as was a Columbia recommendation and even one Columbia transcript. And before Columbia, he had attended New York University.
The tale of Mr. Maharaj, who was dismissed by Yale last year when officials discovered his misrepresentations, was revealed in The Yale Daily News on Tuesday. But new information is emerging; Mr. Maharaj had transferred to N.Y.U. from yet another college, St. John’s, where, according to a spokesman, he was enrolled from fall 2002 to spring 2003.
In addition to the Yale scholarship, Mr. Maharaj received $15,000 in federal scholarships and loans, the affidavit said.
Mr. Maharaj’s apparent deceit comes at the end of a college admissions season that is the most competitive ever. Yale, for example, offered places to just 8 percent of 23,000 applicants. Education experts say the case highlights a flood of forgeries and other frauds involving academic credentials, as the frenzy continues for spots in elite institutions.
“It is hitting us like a tidal wave,” said Barmak Nassirian, associate executive director at the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers in Washington, referring to “absolutely ingenious credential fraud.” He added, “American higher education was not prepared for the triple whammy of globalization, the Internet and higher education becoming big business.”
A Yale spokesman declined to comment on Mr. Maharaj’s case, saying the matter was before the courts. Jeffrey Brenzel, the dean of undergraduate admissions, issued a statement saying that cases of suspected fraud in the application process were rare.
A hearing was scheduled for Monday in Connecticut Superior Court in New Haven. Mr. Maharaj’s lawyer, Glenn Conway, described his client as “an intelligent young man with a good strong academic background,” and said he would ask the court to put him in a rehabilitation program, which may require education, community service, restitution or other correctives instead of going to trial.
“It is not a finding of guilt or an admission of wrongdoing,” Mr. Conway said. He said that Mr. Maharaj did not wish to comment.
Questions about Mr. Maharaj’s application to Yale surfaced only after he had completed the 2006-7 academic year there.
One professor who worked closely with him, Sara Suleri Goodyear, said that Mr. Maharaj was one of “the most brilliant” students she had had in nearly 30 years at Yale. “He was articulate, very attentive and so highly intelligent that I considered asking him to work as my assistant over the summer,” she said.”
According to Yale’s affidavit, the university police received a call in June 2007 saying that a student, Victor Cazares, was being threatened. Mr. Cazares told the police that he had tried to end his relationship with his boyfriend, Mr. Maharaj, and that Mr. Maharaj had threatened to commit suicide. He said that Mr. Maharaj had a history of mental health problems, and had subsequently threatened to kill him. He also told Yale officials that he had found that Mr. Maharaj was 26, not 21 as he had said, and that he appeared to have made other false statements about himself.
Mr. Cazares declined to comment on Wednesday.
Alerted to these problems, Yale officials delved into Mr. Maharaj’s records. They found that he had misstated his age on his application, and had not attended Columbia in all of the years he said he had. They also found that his official transcript differed from one he had filed with his application, which did not mention his year at N.Y.U.
According to the affidavit, Mr. Maharaj said Columbia had confused him with another student. And he sent Yale yet another transcript — on what appeared to be official Columbia paper, with a blue border, the university crest in the center and the official legal seal in the lower right-hand corner. Yale eventually concluded that the transcript was a forgery.
“The fact that Maharaj had possession of a fraudulently formatted transcript prepared on a genuine Columbia University document is in itself very suspicious and raises serious concerns,” Yale said in its affidavit.
Security experts also voiced concern about a student being able to obtain an official transcript form. They said that many colleges used paper with watermarks and embedded metal strips, and that accessing such paper was like a counterfeiter’s being able to obtain the special paper used for printing money.
“One important question is, did he take it or did he buy it?” said John B. Bear, an author and consultant in El Cerrito, Calif., who specializes in the issue of credential fraud in higher education.
He said that watermarks were not easy to reproduce, but that it was easy to find documents for sale on the Internet. “Registrars are turning more and more into detectives,” Mr. Bear added.
Columbia said it had “thoroughly reviewed this matter,” but would not comment further.
John Beckman, an N.Y.U. spokesman, said Mr. Maharaj’s records were being examined.
Mr. Conway, Mr. Maharaj’s lawyer, said he was not aware of any federal investigation into the grants and loans Mr. Maharaj had received. “That doesn’t mean they are not going to pursue it,” he said on Wednesday.
Sarah N. Lynch contributed reporting.