TODAY   |  September 20, 2012

Writer earned $50K helping students cheat

After graduating, Philadelphia native Dave Tomar faced unemployment and student loan debt. So he started writing college papers for an online company who sold them to students for up to $40 a page. NBC’s Kerry Sanders reports on how he made $50,000 a year helping students cheat.

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>>> let us begin this half hour with a guy who admits he helped thousands of college students across the country cheat. now he's revealing how in the new book "the shadow scholar," nbc's kerry sanders has details on this. good morning.

>> well, good morning. for those who went to college, this is a familiar setting. professor down there, students sometimes hundreds of them up here, getting assignments to write academic research papers. but for some students, that's just too much work, so they decide to subcontract. the author you're about to meet wrote more than 3,500 pages for students who decided to cheat rather than do the work themselves.

>> reporter: for ten years, no one knew his name. and this anonymous 32-year-old liked it that way. with incense to set the mood and endless cups of caffeine, this philadelphia native worked a little known underworld from the keyboard in his apartment. now, for the first time, dave tomar is stepping out from the shadows revealing his identity and exposing a dirty little secret at some of our nation's colleges.

>> very simply, i was paid to help students cheat.

>> reporter: for up to $40 a page, dave tomar said he wrote college papers for students who either too lazy or too inept to do the work themselves.

>> a comparative study of one flew over the coo coo 's nest and elephant man.

>> in a just published book called "the shadow scholar," he's telling all.

>> you're sarcastic, you're laughing.

>> i am, but not at anybody in particular.

>> reporter: alleged cheating scandals have been in the news at prestigious high schools , students accused of cheating to get into better colleges, even at harvard university . and according to experts, it's more common than you might think.

>> it's maybe a maximum of 10% of the people that are doing it, but that's far too many.

>> for those that are guilty of cheating, this is not an ethical question. it's a practical question. it's a practical question of how do i get through school? how do i get a leg up? and if you're in a better school, it's so competitive. how do i get a leg up on students that are so smart?

>> tomar said he started writing papers for other students while he was in college. unemployed after graduating, he wrote papers for online companies who sold them to students who made specific requests. the companies called them study guides with a disclaimer that the papers were not to be handed in. and he says students were not the only ones contacting him.

>> i have interacted with a lot of parents, as well.

>> parents completely aware.

>> not only completely aware but completely complicit.

>> he said he earned up to $50,000 a year writing other people's assignments.

>> this was pure economics. and truthfully, i didn't even have the time to think about the moral implications. not only was i angry, i was scared. you get out of college and it's terrifying, you're paying your loans off immediately and nobody's handing you a job. and it was a scary experience.

>> are you ashamed for what you've done?

>> no, i'm not ashamed.

>> because?

>> i'm not proud of it either. but you know, it was what i had to do to get by. it was what i had to do to make a living as a writer. and when push comes to shove , it also gave me the opportunity to look inside of our schools and see that a lot is wrong with them.

>> he wrote papers for medical students , accounting majors, would be lawyers, which is all a little scary when you consider we may now be doing business with those people, matt.

>> that's right. kerry sanders , what a fascinating story. thank you very much. it's now 35