A former Cornell student admitted this week to using fraudulent documents to gain admission to three colleges over several years, taking out more than $130,000 in federal loans and earning a neuroscience degree, which she held for more than a year, before her deceit was discovered.
Cavya Chandra ’13 admitted in federal court on Wednesday that she submitted forged academic transcripts and letters of recommendation to Cornell and at least two other universities over the course of about six years and received loans while attending two of the schools.
Chandra, who is 26, pleaded guilty to student loan fraud and could be sentenced to up to a year in prison, but the government is recommending five years of probation. She signed an agreement with Cornell in June to pay the University more than $70,000.
After Cornell initially denied Chandra in the fall of 2008, the Carmel, Indiana, native applied to Carnegie Mellon in Pennsylvania using a forged letter of recommendation, purportedly from a high school teacher, and enrolled at the school in 2009, she admitted in a plea deal filed in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of New York.
Then, during her second semester at Carnegie Mellon, in February of 2010, Chandra submitted a forged application to Cornell that claimed her freshman GPA was 4.0 — it was actually 2.79 — and included a forged letter of recommendation and falsely-inflated high school grades, the prosecution said.
Admitted to Cornell in 2010, Chandra moved to Ithaca in the fall of that year and conducted research in the Cornell Infant Studies Laboratory, according to an archived University website. Chandra did not respond to a text message sent to her iPhone on Thursday night and her attorney, Kimberly Zimmer, did not return an email. A Cornell spokesperson, John Carberry, declined to comment.
Chandra received more than $130,000 in financial aid while at Cornell, most of which came from the Department of Education, Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael F. Perry said in court. He added that Cornell also provided tens of thousands of dollars in grant assistance.
In the fall of 2013, Chandra began applying to medical school using forged transcripts from both Cornell and Carnegie Mellon, she admitted in the plea deal. She said in her application that her Cornell GPA was 4.0, but it was actually 1.98.
The American Medical College Application Service suspected that she had falsified her transcript, and Cornell, following an investigation, confronted Chandra, at which point she admitted falsifying information in her Cornell application and was expelled in November of 2013, the prosecution said.
Apparently undeterred, Chandra applied to and was admitted to Indiana University – Purdue University Indianapolis, again using forged transcripts and providing inflated grades, she admitted. Indiana University admitted Chandra and “gave her credit for a number of classes that she did not actually take or pass at Cornell,” the government said.
Indiana University awarded Chandra a bachelor’s degree in neuroscience in May of 2015, which she held for more than a year until the University rescinded it in August of 2016 after learning of the fraud.
Chandra’s Facebook profile and a resume posted online indicate that she studied at the University of South Florida’s Morsani College of Medicine and worked between 25 and 29 hours per week at the Herman B. Wells Center for Pediatric Research at Indiana as a research technician.
Chandra’s sentencing date has not yet been set. U.S. Magistrate Judge David E. Peebles is presiding over the case and the Department of Education’s Office of the Inspector General investigated with assistance from Cornell University, the Department of Justice said in a statement.