John Michael Fountain was a hard-working, politically active, 21-year-old student at Harvard University who made national headlines in the summer of 1991. Headlines for trying to blackmail a doctor.

The stupidity of Fountain's crime is a wonder to consider. He was working over the summer in an accountant's office in Los Angeles and discovered through the accountant that the doctor, a client, had tested positive for the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).

Calculating that the doctor's business would be destroyed by fear that he had AIDS, Fountain contacted the doctor and demanded $10,000, lest he publicize the man's medical condition.

Herein lies the stupidity of Fountain's plan: the doctor in question (who managed through the entire scandal to keep his name out of the press), ran a largely gay practice, and had posted a sign in his office informing all his patients that he had tested positive for HIV.

That's right -- Fountain tried to blackmail the doctor with the threat of telling his patients something that every single one of them already knew.

The doctor went to the cops, who set up a sting. The doctor arranged to leave an envelope of money for Fountain in a West Hollywood bar, and were waiting to bust him after he tried to pick up the envelope with the money.

"He told us he was a Harvard University student and was in Los Angeles for the summer. He said he was broke and needed the money because he was getting ready to go back to school"

said Deputy District Attorney Deborah Kranze.

He was charged in August of 1991 with sending a threatening letter for extortion, and attempted extortion. He pleaded 'not guilty' and met bail at $5,000.

Thereafter the trail runs a little cold. I have been able to determine that Fountain received his degree from Harvard in 1994 (two years after he was supposed to graduate). This suggests that he struck a plea bargain with the district attorney and got off without any felony on his record.

If you know where John Michael Fountain is today, please let me know.

A few more thoughts --

You might think that Fountain's malice was sparked in part by a hatred of homosexuals, but this is not the case. In fact, he is gay himself and was, prior to his adventures with the law, a flamboyant and politically demanding figure on the Harvard campus. He even showed up for the Eliot House Soirée wearing a dress. (Harvard students please note that Fountain himself lived in Adams House, so he attended the Soirée as somebody's date. History does not record the lucky man's name.)

It was implied, though never explicitly stated in the press at the time, that the accountant was also gay, and that he had a largely gay practice, and that Fountain had gotten the job there through some kind of 'gay networking'. Since the doctor surely had an entirely gay practice, Fountain's crime appears politically bizarre, in addition to stupid.

Fountain's desire for $10,000 outweighed his moral instincts and any desire he might have had to defend another member of the homosexual community. Perhaps he felt pressure to keep up with fellow Crimsonites Chas Lee, who was busy stealing $160,000 from cancer charities at this time, and with David Sword, who made off with $7,000.

For other Harvard scandals, check out

and others as I get to them.

Associated Press; Saturday, August 17, 1991
The Washington Post, August 18, 1991, AGE A20
Bergen Record, August 17, 1991; Pg. A05

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