Whiz kid off to college despite charges of faking SAT

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Larry Adler will soon be on his way to college in Florida, but he'll be packing some unusual baggage -- criminal charges of perjury and obstruction of justice.

The charges arise from ambition gone awry and a web of deception that the Potomac youth started to weave last fall when he paid a friend to take the Scholastic Aptitude Test for him.

Mr. Adler, 19, will fulfill his part of a plea bargain Tuesday by pleading guilty to one charge of perjury and one count of subornation of perjury -- inducing someone else to lie under oath -- according to his attorney, John Bell of Rockville.

Each count carries a maximum sentence of 10 years. As part of the plea bargain, three other counts against Mr. Adler in Montgomery County Circuit Court will be dropped.

A charismatic whiz-kid entrepreneur with a checkered academic career, Mr. Adler hoped his friend's outstanding scores on the college entrance exam -- recorded in Mr. Adler's name -- would ease his way into a prestigious college and the start of a business career.

Instead, they brought him notoriety, lawsuits and criminal charges. In fact, the parties involved say it's the first time anyone has been prosecuted criminally as a result of SAT fraud.

Mr. Adler will be attending a Florida college, but definitely not one of his first choices. Mr. Bell, who refused to let his client be interviewed, would not identify the school but said it's aware of Mr. Adler's situation and "has not withdrawn its offer to accept him."

To make the test scheme work, Mr. Adler enlisted two friends from high school -- David Farmer, a bright University of Virginia freshman who looks like Mr. Adler and took the test for him, and David Scrulevich of Rockville, who testified in court that he saw ,, Mr. Adler take the test.

Scrulevich, 18, who attended Winston Churchill High School with Mr. Adler and lifted weights with him, admitted to lying under oath earlier this month and pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice -- a crime that carries a maximum sentence of three years in jail.

One count of perjury against Scrulevich was dropped.

Mr. Adler and Scrulevich will be sentenced in October.

Described by his mother as an "honor student" at Churchill, Scrulevich left this month for a community college in Florida. But his attorney, Martha Kavanaugh of Rockville, said "it was just a coincidence" that her client and Mr. Adler are going to school in the same state.

"My client was more of a pawn than a player, a young man doing a favor for a friend," Ms. Kavanaugh said. "I think no one thought of the consequences. Then, of course, it fell apart."

Ironically, Mr. Farmer has not been prosecuted. He admitted last spring that he took the SAT test for Mr. Adler on Nov. 2, 1991, at Paint Branch High School in Burtonsville.

He did very well, too. His combined verbal and math scores of 1410 out of a possible 1600 would have put Mr. Adler in the top 2 percent of the nation's high school students.

The scheme began to unravel when the Education Testing Service of Princeton, N.J., which administers the SAT, got an anonymous tip that Mr. Adler had not taken the test himself.

Ray Nicosia, an ETS spokesman, said the agency called in handwriting analysts who determined that the writing on the SAT answer sheet was not Mr. Adler's. ETS notified Mr. Adler that his scores were being questioned and offered him "a series of options," including a free retest or the opportunity to send ETS more information.

Mr. Adler chose the latter.

"I submitted as much background on me to prove credibility that I wouldn't do something like this," he said in court last March.

ETS was not convinced.

Meanwhile, Mr. Nicosia said, ETS got a call from an admissions counselor at a college who said Mr. Adler's high scores didn't match up with his high school grades.

ETS subsequently canceled Mr. Adler's scores. The service "looks into" suspicious scores of about 1,800 students a year and subsequently cancels 450 to 500, Mr. Nicosia said. About 1.8 million people take the college admission test.

Instead of backing off, Mr. Adler countered with a lawsuit against ETS, hoping to force it to release his scores.

Although it proved to be Mr. Adler's undoing, suing ETS was a bold move, concedes Mr. Bell, who did not represent him at the time.

Bold moves were Mr. Adler's stock in trade.

At age 9, Mr. Adler started a business called Rent-A-Kid, mowing lawns, shoveling snow and giving magic shows for his Potomac neighbors. The business grew rapidly until, by the fourth year, "I had 45 people, ranging in age from 13 to 21, working for me. I wasn't a laborer myself anymore," he told The Sun in 1987, when he was 14.

From his family's Potomac home, Mr. Adler branched out into other businesses, becoming the youngest sales rep in the country for companies selling toys, clothing and other products for young people. Because he was still too young to drive, Mr. Adler often made his sales calls in a rented limousine.

His business savvy brought him plenty of publicity. Mr. Adler appeared on television and in newspapers and magazines throughout the country. He even went to school by limo.

While his mother, Rebecca Adler, called her son's business interests "a hobby," Mr. Adler himself took them more seriously.

"Through my years in high school, since my father died, I've really had no other source of income besides what I made myself. My mother was not really able to afford to take care of me for what I wanted," Mr. Adler said in court last March.

Mr. Adler's father committed suicide about 10 years ago, Mr. Bell said. He lives with his mother and stepfather but is "self-employed and supports himself." Today he operates a home-improvement business that specializes in rejuvenating decks, the attorney said.

Late in 1987, Mr. Adler dropped out of Walter Johnson High School in Bethesda because, he said, school was "boring" and interfered with his business deals.

"My views were completely messed up. I knew I wanted money. And education, at that point, didn't really mean anything to me," he said in testimony last March.

According to his own estimates at the time, Mr. Adler was making about $800 a week and putting much of it back into his businesses. Still, the teen was also looking for someone with $500,000 to help him turn Rent-A-Kid into a national franchise operation.

"I want to make the big time, and I don't want to take five years to do it," Mr. Adler said then.

He never found the backers. After more than a year of tutors and other sporadic schooling, Mr. Adler started 10th grade at Churchill in the fall of 1989. When he hit 12th grade, it was time to take the SAT.

Although it was bold, Mr. Adler's suit against ETS was not unique.

In 20 years, ETS has faced about 30 such cases. About a third were settled out of court, and ETS won 20. Earlier this month, ETS lost its first case when a New York judge ordered the release of the scores of a high school student who increased his score by 410 points between his first and second tests.

Mr. Adler was one of the losers. Despite two witnesses, including the test proctor, who said they recognized Mr. Adler as the person who took the test in November, Mr. Adler lost the case and his scores were withheld. ETS also pressed for and got a $5,000 judgment against Mr. Adler, which it says it will donate to a Washington scholarship program.

During the trial last March, Mr. Adler and Scrulevich lied under oath. The charges of perjury and obstruction of justice -- handed down by a grand jury in June -- had nothing to do with the SAT scam itself, but from the lies they told, said Matthew Campbell, deputy state's attorney for Montgomery County.

In April, ETS received a tip that David Farmer was the person who had actually taken the test for Mr. Adler, Mr. Nicosia said. They subpoenaed Mr. Adler's phone records, which showed a large number of calls to Mr. Farmer around the November test date.

Then ETS lawyers confronted Mr. Farmer in Charlottesville.

"He confessed that he took the test and was paid $200," and he said he was provided with transportation and identification, Mr. Nicosia said.

Soon after that, Mr. Adler called a press conference and admitted "to the world that he did it," says his attorney. He also, in effect, admitted he had lied under oath.

Montgomery County decided to prosecute Mr. Adler and Scrulevich because their perjury "was so blatant and deserving of prosecution," said Mr. Campbell.

The state is not prosecuting Mr. Farmer, he said, because "he did not commit a crime in Montgomery County; it was not a crime to do what he did."

Mr. Farmer was not available for interviews either, said his attorney, Roger Titus of Rockville. "It's an episode of his life that he's trying to put behind him."

Mr. Titus said that Mr. Farmer intends to return to the University of Virginia this fall.

Mr. Adler finally graduated from Churchill in June in the bottom quarter of his class. On the advice of Mr. Bell, Mr. Adler took the SAT test last spring -- in person. He has not revealed those scores.

"Getting into a prestigious school was very important to him," Mr. Bell said. "I don't think it's important anymore."

Copyright © 2019, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad
21°