At precisely 9:40 p.m. on a Monday night in early February, Mr. Thomas used his Sony notebook computer to tap into Harvard Law School’s modem pool. He ended his connection exactly 14 minutes later at 9:54 p.m.
Less than 20 minutes later, at 10:12 p.m., Thomas used a friend’s computer account on AOL to connect into MIT’s computer system. He logged off 36 minutes later at 10:48 p.m.
These rather obscure details about the use of a computer by a Harvard Law School student ultimately led to an extremely rare disciplinary action: his expulsion from one of the world’s most prestigious academic programs.
A STUDENT WITH AN EXCELLENT RECORD FAKED HIS GRADE TRANSCRIPT
The investigatory tactics used by Harvard to determine the truthfulness of one of its students are not recent. They occurred 15 years ago in 1999 when the school hired a computer forensics firm to help it discover whether a JD student was lying about forging his grade transcript. Harvard found that in fact he did lie, and the details of how he used his Sony computer on that Monday night on Feb. 1, 1999, were critical in getting to the bottom of the fraud.
All of this has come to light many years later because Mathew Martoma, who went on to get an MBA from Stanford Graduate School of Business, is now on trial in New York on charges of insider trading. A jury is currently deliberating his fate. Martoma, who had changed his name from Ajai Mathew Thomas, used computer software to improve some of his first-year law school grades from B’s to A’s. He then sent the forged transcript to nearly two dozen judges when he applied for federal clerkships.
What is all the more intriguing is the extent to which Martoma went to conceal his fraud—all of it revealed in excruciating detail in the court papers which includes the full report by a Harvard Administrative Board that recommended his expulsion from the school. A close reading of the board’s report provides a seldom seen glimpse into a disciplinary procedure at a top law school, but also how the board bent over backwards to be fair to someone who was so unethical.
CHANGING ‘B’ GRADES TO ‘A’ GRADES IN THREE COURSES TO SHOW TO HIS PARENTS ON CHRISTMAS EVE
Martoma, who graduated with a degree in biomedicine, ethics and public policy from Duke University in 1995, had entered Harvard Law School in 1997 and quickly racked up what the law school board would call “an excellent record” in his first year-and-a-half. Besides his solid grades, he was on the Board of Student Advisers, an editor of the Journal of Law and Technology and a semi-finalist in the school’s annual moot court competition. He co-founded the Society of Law and Ethics.
For whatever reason, however, the academic record Thomas had compiled just didn’t seem good enough—for him. At the half-way mark of his JD education, in December of 1998, Thomas altered the transcript of his first-year grades so that he received an A rather than a B in Civil Procedure, an A rather than a B+ in Contracts, and another A in Criminal Law instead of a B. He didn’t change his B+ grade in Torts, nor his A- in Negotiation.
The day before Christmas, Thomas showed the forged transcript to his mother, Lizzie Thomas, a doctor, and his father, Bobby Martoma, who owns residential and commercial properties in Florida. They were ecstatic. Several days later, according to a statement made to the Harvard board, Thomas “realized that what he had done was wrong and showed his parents his real grades.”