(U-WIRE) CAMBRIDGE, Mass. – For the past two months, Edward Francis Meinert Jr., an Harvard Extension School student, posed as a transfer student in the College class of ’02.
Meinert had conned his friends and colleagues, hiding the fact that he was not an undergraduate and that he was also facing an impending federal sentence for fraud.
Meinert, who declined to answer repeated attempts to contact him, impressed students at Harvard with his intelligence and congeniality.
He joined several campus organizations this fall, but his normal Harvard life ended following the publication of an article in The GW Hatchet describing the fraud charges.
At least one group, the Sigma Chi fraternity, suspended Meinert from his status as a pledge because of the deception.
Meinert’s trouble began at GW. U.S. Attorneys D.C. said Meinert’s pattern of theft began at GW and spanned two years.
The allegations range from stealing more than $8,000 from a federal credit union to obtaining a loan under false pretenses.
Meinert pled guilty to one count of theft and one count of fraud in October. At his sentencing Dec. 13, Meinert could face up to 10 years in federal prison.
A two-page D.C. Superior Court finding of fact, issued before Meinert’s guilty pleas and obtained by The Crimson, shows that Meinert was held responsible for writing dozens of fraudulent checks over a two-year period beginning in 1997.
The most specific charge against Meinert leveled in the finding of fact deals with the U.S. Senate Federal Credit Union, which serves congressional employees.
Prosecutors said Meinert opened an account there with $5 and a fake social security number.
During a one-month period in 1998, Meinert deposited money into the credit union account from other illegally obtained accounts. He then withdrew money from the bank before the checks could be processed, prosecutors said.
A judge found that Meinert stole more than $8,000 from the credit union.
Prosecutors claim Meinert illegally financed a spring break trip to Europe by using a friend’s social security number to obtain a loan.
The discovery of Meinert’s real identity – both his criminal record and his Harvard status – startled the students at the college who considered him a friend.
It was a complete shock when I found out about it, said Hector G. Bove, Sigma Chi president.
Posing as a sophomore transfer student living off campus, Meinert joined Sigma Chi as a pledge.
For the past month, he attended fraternity activities and, members say, cultivated several friendships.
From the first day I met him, he was very gregarious, said Bove, who is also a Crimson executive.
Meinert has been suspended by Sigma Chi for, in Bove’s words, misrepresenting himself and (being) dishonest with us.
Bove said Meinert would likely be de-pledged.
Meinert was an active member of the International Relations Council, participating in its Intercollegiate Model United Nations and winning awards for his performance.
Brian R. Smith, an IRC member, said he first met Meinert, then a GW student, at a Model U.N. conference at Yale University.
At (GW), he was known as a really great Model U.N. person, Smith said.
At Harvard, the two friends’ conversation broached the subject of Meinert’s status as a student.
I asked him what his concentration was, Smith recalled. He said he was doing government and computer science – at first, I was like, `Wow, Harvard is letting you do this?’
Never did it occur to me that he was lying, Smith said.
(College regulations say) non-undergraduates are not allowed to be members, IRC President Mustafa M. Siddiqui said, adding that IRC bylaws contain the same rule.
He is obviously, by default, disbarred, by the IRC, Siddiqui said.
Meinert’s acquaintances said he lives in Somerville, Mass., but they did not know how to contact him at home.
At GW, former friends of Meinert remember him as a charismatic kid with a talent for cementing relationships.
Meinert, who was a member of the GW class of 2000, became active in several civic organizations there. In the spring of 1999, he ran for the presidency of the school’s student government.
Damian McKenna, who was once president of the student government, said he remembers Meinert as a hard worker.
He was a really nice kid.I liked a lot of his ideas, McKenna said.
As a GW first-year student in 1996, Meinert organized a pediatric AIDS benefit run.
A year later, he joined GW’s Colonial Cabinet. The organization is highly selective, choosing only 20 of nearly 400 students who apply annually.
In 1998, Meinert ran for a spot on a D.C. neighborhood association, narrowly losing.
Like many GW students, Meinert served as an intern on Capitol Hill.
Dan J. Kaniewski, a GW senior, said he was one of Meinert’s closest friends.
On the urban D.C. campus, Meinert knew everybody. He was one of the most popular people on campus, Kaniewski said.
Kaniewski said he began to suspect Meinert’s integrity when his friend visited seven different countries and stayed in four-star hotels during spring break in April of this year, all without a steady source of income.
Published Extension School regulations prohibit students from misrepresenting themselves, or their University affiliation.
-Marc J. Ambinder, The Harvard Crimson