(Updates with comments from private investigator in 11th paragraph, probe of other high schools in last paragraph.)
Sept. 28 (Bloomberg) -- Seven Long Island, New York, students were charged with taking part in a scheme in which six of them paid the seventh to take the SAT college-admissions test on their behalf, prosecutors said.
Six current or former students at Great Neck North High School, about 20 miles east of Manhattan, are accused of paying Samuel Eshaghoff, 19, of Great Neck, to impersonate them so they could get higher scores on the test, Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen M. Rice said in a statement.
Eshaghoff, a 2010 Great Neck North graduate, now attends Emory University in Atlanta after spending his freshman year at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, Rice’s office said. He was paid $1,500 to $2,000 for each test, and took the exam for free for a female student.
Faculty members at the high school heard rumors this year that students were paying someone to take the exam for them, Rice’s office said. They identified six students who had sat for the test at a different school and whose academic records diverged from their SAT scores.
“The Great Neck School District does not tolerate cheating and we remain committed to cooperating with law enforcement in this matter,” the district said in a statement. “It is our hope that the actions currently being taken by the District Attorney’s Office will serve to bring an end to any dishonest practices which may have placed students at an unfair disadvantage and will also bring to light any shortcomings in the security of the SAT testing system.”
Scheme to Defraud
Eshaghoff surrendered yesterday and was charged with scheme to defraud in the first degree, six counts of falsifying business records in the second degree and six counts of criminal impersonation in the second degree. He faces as long as four years in prison if convicted.
The other six students, who were not identified because of their ages, surrendered yesterday on misdemeanor charges and were released on their own recognizance, said Chris Munzing, a spokesman for Rice’s office. They face as long as a year in prison, he said.
Eshaghoff did “very well” on the exams, with scores of 2140, 2170, 2180, 2180, 2210, and 2220 out of a possible 2400, Munzing said.
“The scores were high enough that it raised a red flag when compared with their academic achievement,” Munzing said.
Eshaghoff pleaded not guilty to the charges yesterday, Newsday reported, citing his attorney, Matin Emouna. Emouna didn’t return a phone message left today at his office in Mineola, New York.
“This case should have been handled administratively within the district itself,” said Les Levine, a private investigator working for Emouna, said in a telephone interview.
The students registered to take the exam at a different school, where they wouldn’t be recognized, and Eshaghoff presented identification bearing his photograph and the paying student’s name, Rice’s office said. He flew back from college at least once to impersonate two students and took the test twice in one weekend, prosecutors said.
The Educational Testing Service, the nonprofit Princeton, New Jersey-based organization that administers the SAT, told prosecutors it conducted its own probe and was unable to provide documentation because of a computer crash, Rice’s office said.
ETS doesn’t notify colleges or high schools when a student is suspected of cheating and instead cancels their scores and offers a refund, a retest or arbitration, Rice’s office said.
Impersonation cases are rare and the most common form of cheating is one student copying off of another, Tom Ewing, a spokesman for ETS, said in a phone interview. Ewing said that ETS investigated the case for about three to four months before contacting the district attorney’s office and that the nonprofit handed over all the information it had gathered.
In what was believed to be the first criminal prosecution to stem from cheating on the SAT, a 19-year-old man was sentenced to six months in jail for perjury in October 1992 after paying a friend $200 to take the exam for him, the New York Times reported.
All institutions that received SAT scores are notified when a score is canceled, and ETS and the College Board, which sponsors the test, “regularly review test administration policies and gather input from a wide variety of sources,” ETS said in a statement.
“Cases like this are isolated incidents and we are pleased that the assistance we provided to local authorities resulted in this outcome,” ETS said in the statement. “The policies ETS follows in test security cases adhere to all applicable laws, including New York State law, which outlines very specifically the importance of affording due process and maintaining strict confidentiality of students whose test scores come under scrutiny.”
The College Board didn’t respond to a phone message left at its New York headquarters seeking comment on the arrests.
“Emory University expects that all students act honorably, demonstrating a keen sense of ethical conduct,” the school said in a statement. “Students alleged to be found in violation of this code are referred to the University Conduct Council for review and possible action.”
Rice’s office said it’s also investigating whether similar schemes have occurred in at least two other schools in Nassau County, as well as allegations that Eshaghoff took the exam for students at other high schools.
--Editors: Andrew Dunn, Mary Romano
To contact the reporter on this story: Chris Dolmetsch in New York at email@example.com
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Michael Hytha at firstname.lastname@example.org