US maths professor who sold grades for cash gets one year in jail

Over the course of seven months last year, Edward Ennels solicited bribes from 112 students.
Over the course of seven months last year, Edward Ennels solicited bribes from 112 students.PHOTO: MYBCCC/FACEBOOK

NEW YORK (NYTIMES) - One mathematics lesson that Edward Ennels taught at Baltimore City Community College was, according to prosecutors, pretty simple: US$150 (S$283) for a C, US$250 for a B, and US$500 for an A.

In some courses, an A could go for as little as US$300.

Over the course of seven months last year, Ennels, 45, solicited bribes from 112 students and received 10 payments from nine, totalling US$2,815, Maryland Attorney-General Brian Frosh said on Thursday (Aug 5).

In another scheme, Ennels sold online access codes that enabled students to view instructional material and complete assignments, prosecutors said. From 2013 to 2020, he sold 694 access codes for about US$90 each.

Ennels, a professor at the college for 15 years who served on the faculty senate's Ethics and Institutional Integrity Committee, pleaded guilty on Thursday in Baltimore County Circuit Court to 11 misdemeanour charges, including bribery and misconduct in office, according to prosecutors and online court records.

He was sentenced to 10 years in prison, with all but one year of the term suspended and to be served in a local jail. He was also ordered to pay US$60,000 in restitution and will be on probation for five years upon his release.

Mr Frosh said in his statement that Ennels employed "an elaborate criminal scheme to take advantage of his students", including using multiple aliases to hide his identity.

In March 2020, Ennels sent an e-mail using one of his aliases, "Bertie Benson", to another of his aliases, "Amanda Wilbert", prosecutors said. In the e-mail, "Benson" offered to complete "Wilbert's" mathematics assignments, guaranteeing her an A for US$300, prosecutors said.

Then, as "Wilbert", Ennels forwarded that e-mail to 112 students enrolled in a class that he was teaching, prosecutors said.

"Ennels often haggled with students regarding the amount of the bribe, and set different prices based on the course and grade desired," according to the statement.

Most students declined to pay the bribes and Ennels "often persisted, offering to lower the amount of the bribe or offering payment plans", the statement said.

According to the statement, one student rebuffed the US$500 solicitation for an A by saying: "Oh, I don't have that, sorry. I will be sure to keep studying and pass my exam."

Ennels' response, according to prosecutors: "How much can you afford?"

That student ultimately paid a bribe, but it was not known how much it was.

A telephone message left at the Baltimore City Community College, which has around 14,000 students - many from the Baltimore City area - was not immediately returned on Thursday night.

Mr Benjamin Herbst, a lawyer for Ennels, said his client did what he did "only to keep up with a gambling addiction" and was "in no way motivated" by greed.

He did not live a lavish lifestyle or squirrel the money away for later, Mr Herbst said.