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19 June 2018, 13:28 | Updated: 21 June 2018, 09:13
When clarinettist Eric Abramovitz was awarded a scholarship to study with a prestigious L.A. professor, his girlfriend Jennifer Lee faked a string of emails to stop him going.
Eric Abramovitz was at McGill’s Schulich School of Music in Montreal, Canada, when he won a scholarship to study clarinet with a prestigious L.A. professor.
His girlfriend, Jennifer Lee, impersonated Abramovitz in a series of fake emails in order to sabotage the scholarship and prevent him from moving away from their flat in Montreal.
Lee has been ordered to pay $375,000 in compensation, after the judge ruled her actions a “despicable interference” that robbed Eric of “a unique and prestigious educational opportunity, one that would have advanced his career as a professional clarinetist”.
Jennifer Jooyeon Lee and Eric Abramovitz met at McGill’s in September 2013 and started a relationship almost immediately. By October, he lived in her apartment and trusted her with his laptop and passwords.
The couple were both skilled musicians: she played flute, while he played clarinet. He won several competitions for his playing and featured on CBC Radio 2.
In December 2013, Abramovitz applied to finished his degree under the wing of Yehuda Gilad, a top clarinet professor at Colburn School, L.A..
Excited by the opportunity to advance his career, he flew to L.A. with his parents to audition for just one of two positions with the prestigious teacher. He was told to expect an answer by 1 April 2014.
As it turned out, Abramovitz won the place, along with a full scholarship. The music college, Colburn School, emailed him the acceptance – but Lee intercepted.
Posing as Abramovitz, she declined the offer and said he would be “elsewhere”. She then deleted the offer email, and created a fake email account in the name of Yehuda Gilad – firstname.lastname@example.org – to send a new fake offer email.
“In this fake email, Ms. Lee wrote that Mr. Abramovitz had not been accepted at Colburn,” the judge wrote in his decision.
The fake email offered Abramovitz a different spot at USC with Gilad, but with a less lucrative scholarship of $5,000. He would therefore have to pay a further $46,000, plus living expenses, to fund his place – which Lee knew he couldn’t afford.
“She apparently did these things so that Mr. Abramovitz would not leave Montreal, and instead would stay in Montreal and remain in his relationship with her,” ruled Judge David Corbett of Ontario Superior Court.
The judge found Abramovitz was “completely taken in by this deception”. The clarinettist finished his bachelor’s degree at McGill and won a place at USC. In this spot, he would have an hour’s worth of interaction a week with Gilad – far less than he would have had with his original scholarship. Then Abramovitz got a position in Nashville, before taking a position with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra.
Gilad has sworn an affidavit supporting the claim that Abramovitz’s case was disrupted: “I am certain that had Eric not been robbed of his opportunity to study with me two years earlier, he could already have won an audition and been commanding this respectable salary two years earlier.
“I am very frustrated that a highly talented musician like Eric was the victim of such an unthinkable, immoral act that delayed his progress and advancement as an up-and-coming young musician and delayed his embarking on a most promising career.”
In an interview with the National Post, Abramovitz said he managed to uncover Lee’s plan months later, long after their relationship had ended in September 2014 for separate reasons.
During a second audition with Gilad at USC, Gilad asked: “Why did you reject me?” As Abramovtiz told the National Post, it was a fair question – “you don’t reject him!” Confused, Abramovitz asked in return: “Why did you reject me?”
After weeks of uncertainty, Abramovitz decided to forward the fake email to Gilad, who replied: “I’ve never seen that in my life.”
“That’s when I knew that something underhanded was afoot,” Abramovitz said.
One day in 2015, Eric and a friend tried to gain access to the fake email account. Because Abramovitz and Lee had once shared a laptop, he knew one of her passwords, which he tried.
“Miraculously, it logged right in,” he said. Her email was listed as the recovery email and her phone as the recovery phone. “We felt like Sherlock Holmes.”
He then discovered that Lee had also faked emails replying to his successful application to the Juilliard School in New York, and declining them.
Abramovitz said he is not sure he will be able to collect his damages, as he does not know where she is and she has blocked him on social media. Lee could not be contacted, and she did not appear at the proceeding that led to the judgement against her.
The damages are for “loss of educational opportunity and loss of income caused by redirection of Mr. Abramovitz’s career resulting from Ms. Lee’s wrongful conduct,” the judge wrote.
Abramovitz also sued for loss of reputation – but the judge decided his existing ruling already found Abramovitz was worthy of studying with Gilad – and it was Lee’s fault that he did not.
“Imagining how his life would have been different if he had studied for two years under Mr. Gilad, and earned his teacher’s respect and support, requires more speculation than the law permits. One hears, particularly in the arts, of the ‘big breaks’ that can launch a promising artist to a stratospheric career.
“I cannot speculate as to how high and how quickly Mr. Abramovitz’s career might have soared, but for the interference by Ms. Lee. But the law does recognize that the loss of a chance is a very real and compensable loss.”