The Tactics That Led To The Expulsion Of A Harvard Law School Student

HE BLAMED IT ON HIS YOUNGER BROTHER
But he left the fake transcript on a desk in his room, and the real one in a file cabinet. Later, when Thomas had to fly to California for a job interview, he asked his younger brother to duplicate and assemble the materials for his applications for a clerkship. His brother, who had no idea that Thomas had created a fake transcript, used the forgery on his desk. Thomas’ mother then mailed the applications with the doctored grades to 23 separate judges in the U.S. Court of Appeals.
When Thomas ultimately found out in mid-January, he became “extremely angry” and “had a huge argument” with his brother. At least that’s how Thomas remembered it. His brother, however, recalls him saying simply that “this was the wrong one” after which the brother “just left the room.” Still, his brother, mother and father all testified on behalf of Thomas, claiming his account was accurate.
What did the board think of this narrative? “Some members of the Board conclude without substantial doubt that Mr. Thomas’s account of how the altered transcripts were sent is false and that he either sent the altered transcript or with knowledge or willful ignorance caused it to be sent,” the report said. “Other members of the board believe that although Mr. Thomas’s account is highly improbable, there is insufficient basis to find with certainty that it is false.”
THE CLERK TO A JUDGE CALLED HARVARD LAW SCHOOL TO REPORT THAT SOMETHING WASN’T QUITE RIGHT
One thing was sure. It didn’t take long for the fraud to be detected. During the first week of January, a clerk in the office of a judge to whom Thomas had applied for a job called the school’s registrar. The clerk said the transcript appeared not to be correct. A check by the school confirmed that the transcript was false.
On Feb. 1, just before 9 p.m., Thomas sent an email to the secretary of a professor, Morton Horwitz, who had agreed to write a recommendation for him. “Just checking to make sure everything is in order for clerkship stuff,” wrote Thomas to secretary Sandra Mays in the message.
A day later, Thomas retrieved a telephone message from Registrar Stephen Kane who asked to see him. When they met that afternoon on Feb. 2, Kane confronted Thomas who quickly acknowledged that he had altered his transcript. But he insisted “it was all a joke” on his parents.
DEAN OF STUDENTS CATCHES HIM IN AN APPARENT LIE
There was another meeting that afternoon as well with Dean of Students Suzanne Richardson. Thomas reiterated what he said earlier that “the application was a joke and that he really did not intend to pursue a clerkship.” In fact, he said, he “had already sent withdrawal letters to the judges.”
That night, at roughly 10:20 p.m., Thomas shot off an email to the secretary to Professor Horwitz telling her that it was no longer necessary for the faculty member to write a recommendation. “I am no longer looking for a clerkship,” Thomas wrote.
Letters by Thomas withdrawing his applications for clerkships, dated Jan. 31, was received by the judges to whom he had applied. But the letters, the board discovered, had been postmarked on Feb. 3—the day after Thomas was confronted by Harvard Law School’s registrar and dean of students. Asked about the discrepancy in timing, Thomas insisted that he hadn’t had a chance to mail the letters of withdrawal when he spoke with Dean of Students Richardson as he had told her. He stated that he had already written the letters and had “stamped and addressed” them but did not mail them until the night of Feb. 2.
THOMAS IS INCREASINGLY BACKED INTO A CORNER AS MORE PECULIAR EXPLANATIONS COME
The twists and turns of this narrative get even more convoluted as Thomas finds himself increasingly backed into a corner. And the board report starts sounding more and more like a legal brief as it tries to unwind the tale of the email message to Professor Horwitz’s secretary.

“It is conceded that this message was transmitted on February 2 at around 10:20 p.m.,” the report states. “Mr. Thomas has stated that he composed the message on February 1 at around that time and, so far as he knew, sent it at that time. The line at the top of the message indicates that it was sent on February 1 as does the message ID, which includes the date. The server log for the message, however, gives the date of transmission as February 2. The date is significant because Mr. Thomas learned that the altered transcript had been detected in the afternoon of February 2. If he sent the message to Ms. Mays on February 1, that would indicate a change of heart before he knew that the alteration was discovered, as he asserts. If, however, he sent the message on February 2, that would indicate not only that he had no change of heart until he knew that the alteration had been discovered, but also that he deliberately falsified the date of the email message in an effort to fabricate evidence in this favor.”

You’d think that Thomas would have realized he was now caught in a whole other deception and should have simply called it quits. Not so. He claimed that after writing the message and trying to transmit it on Feb. 1, there was a disconnect between his computer and the system which resulted in a failure of transmission. Thomas claims he didn’t notice the problem because he started to work on another program on his computer that obscured the email screen. The message was then queued and sent when Thomas next opened his email program and was connected to the Internet.

About The Author

John A. Byrne is the founder and editor-in-chief of C-Change Media, publishers of Poets&Quants and four other higher education websites. He has authored or co-authored more than ten books, including two New York Times bestsellers. John is the former executive editor of Businessweek, editor-in-chief of Businessweek. com, editor-in-chief of Fast Company, and the creator of the first regularly published rankings of business schools. As the co-founder of CentreCourt MBA Festivals, he hopes to meet you at the next MBA event in-person or online.