BS in GS: Former Student Convicted of ID Theft

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Harvard rejects can always feel bad that Ted Kaczynski was accepted, and now Columbia has its very own esteemed criminal alumni. Esther Reed, a Montana woman who attended Columbia for two years under an assumed identity, was sentenced yesterday to four years in prison for identity theft.

Starting in 2004, Reed spent two years studying in New York under the assumed name Brooke Henson. Reed is pictured on the right, and Henson is on the left. Henson, a South Carolina woman, went missing in 1999. Though police still have a missing persons webpage for her that’s still soliciting leads on her whereabouts, the lead detective believes the real Henson was murdered (Reed was not involved in her disappearance). The working theory is that she stole Henson’s identity after seeing a news story about her. More after the jump

According to the Huffington Post, Reed took courses in “intro-developmental psychology, organizational psychology, social cognition, emotion and gender in Muslim studies, sociology of the US economy, introduction to psychology, introduction to political thought, origins of humanity, criminology, algebra, human rights and social justice, university writing, and astrology.” Her reported grade point average was a 3.2.  Most news agencies have called her a graduate student, but, upon her apprehension last year, the Spectator reported she was in General Studies. During her time at Columbia, Reed defrauded the University out of almost $100,000 in financial aid.

Perhaps not surprisingly, Jon Campbell, the lead detective on the case, has repeatedly insisted that the Columbia administration was very unhelpful during the investigation. HuffPo claims that Campbell contacted “Kim Finnergan,” Columbia’s Head of Security (Bwog has yet to find record of Campus Secuity employing someone named Kim Finnergan, but there is Ken Finnegan, Columba’s Director of Investigations). His Columbia contact was initially helpful but then refused to assist him until he got a federal subpoena.

“It was like pulling teeth,” he said to HuffPo. Welcome to Columbia, Mr. Campbell!

His comments to the Spectator in 2007 were even more abrasive: 

“They [Columbia] got caught with their pants down on this one, and they seem to be very embarrassed by it,” he said. “And they should be, because they really aided her in this whole thing. They didn’t check anything.”

Bwog has contacted the Office of Public Affairs and is awaiting a response. Columbia has declined to comment on its role in the investigation. If anyone knew Brooke Henson or Kim Finnergan, send in a tip to bwog@columbia.edu.

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  1. Anonymous  

    Is it just me, or is that a poorly written article in the extreme? I'm suddenly more thankful for grammar pedants, copy editors and expensive J-School degrees.

  2. SVU  

    I know I just saw an episode of law and order svu that went just like this

  3. lbj  

    Bwog, just wanted to point out that it could be possible that Columbia Security isn't terribly helpful to outsiders except when student's families are involved in order to protect the identities of students. A sort of catch-all code which may have its flaws, but is otherwise generally sound.

  4. woah  

    huffpost needs copy editors

  5. l&o

    Me too! That was a good episode.

  6. ummm  

    reed is pictured on the right, henson on the left...

  7. penn had worse

    Penn had those two kids stealing credit cards and putting up shots of them around europe etc

  8. ...  

    what the fuck?! $100,000 in financial aid?! for only two years?! so they gave her a full ride? that doesn't make any sense.

    unless they're using classical gs parlance, where financial aid == loans.

    which still doesn't make sense, because as far as i know, the university does not do direct lending to gs students.

    • Anonymous  

      Let's think about this. Financial aid includes both loans and grants. The latter would more obviously be stealing. But why not the former? I think the philosophy behind loans being in a financial aid package is that the terms are gentler and the interest rate lower than if one borrowed from a private lender. It's also likely that some of the loans are federal.

      Of the two types I posited above, the more gently-termed ones and the federal ones, wouldn't then this woman's actions constitute fraud? Each is money she otherwise had no access to, and whose offer to and subsequent receipt of was predicated on her academic/identity records being what she said.

  9. hmmm

    It sounds like she took quite an interesting set of classes, although I never had any idea that Columbia offered an Astrology course. Where is it given? The Alchemy Department or the Phrenology Institute? On a different note, I'm curious as to what is meant by "algebra." Abstract algebra or solving the quadratic equation?

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