(Updates with defense lawyers’ comments starting in ninth paragraph.)
Nov. 22 (Bloomberg) -- Thirteen more students were charged with cheating on SAT and ACT college-admissions tests at high schools on New York’s Long Island, prosecutors said.
Seven Long Island students were charged in September with taking part in a scheme in which six paid the seventh to take the SAT on their behalf. Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen Rice said her office was investigating whether similar schemes occurred in other high schools in the area.
Rice’s office said today it identified nine more students who paid four others from $500 to $3,600 to take the SAT or ACT for them during the past three years.
“As was the case with the September arrests, the paying students charged today registered to take the test at a different school where they wouldn’t be known to proctors,” Rice’s office said in a statement. “The third party presented unofficial identification with his photo and the paying student’s name on it and took the test for them.”
Three of those accused of taking the test surrendered this morning and were arraigned today, prosecutors said.
They were identified by Rice’s office as Joshua Chefec, 20, a graduate of Great Neck North High School; Adam Justin, 19, a graduate of North Shore Hebrew Academy; and George Trane, 19, a graduate of Great Neck South High School. A fourth, Michael Pomerantz, 18, who attended Great Neck North, is scheduled to surrender on Nov. 28 because of a medical condition.
Seven students who paid others to take the test were arrested today and face misdemeanor charges, authorities said. Another is to surrender on Nov. 28 because of a medical condition. Five are alumni of Great Neck North. Two attended North Shore Hebrew Academy. One graduated from Roslyn High School.
Another student who attends St. Mary’s High School declined to surrender and arrangements for an arrest are being made, Rice’s office said. The students who paid to have the tests taken weren’t identified because of their ages and the charges against them, Rice’s office said. They were scheduled to be arraigned today in Hempstead.
Chefec, Justin, Trane and Pomerantz are charged with first- degree scheming to defraud, second-degree falsifying business and second-degree criminal impersonation and face as much as four years in prison if convicted.
“Notwithstanding the frenzy regarding this matter, the presumption of innocence still governs,” Arnold Kriss, an attorney for Justin, said in a statement. “This matter will be resolved in the appropriate forum in due time.”
Eric Sachs, an attorney for Trane, said his client, who was released on his own recognizance after an arraignment today, is accused of taking an ACT test for another student.
“We’re investigating the charges,” Sachs said in a telephone interview. “We just learned today for the first time what the individual accusations are. We don’t know who the individual or individuals are that my client is accused of taking tests for. Without having more information from the government from the district attorney’s office, it’s very hard to do anything.”
Brian Griffin, a lawyer representing Chefec, said his client pleaded not guilty today and was released on his own recognizance. Chefec maintains his innocence and plans to “vigorously defend the case,” Griffin said.
Accusations of cheating against Chefec, who is now a college student, were investigated by his school in 2008 and found to be unfounded, Griffin said.
No Criminal Matter
“This is a case that should not be in the criminal justice system,” Griffin said. “There is a reason we have a school system and that school system is separate. The school system has the ability to conduct hearings, to take evidence and, when appropriate, punish students. Using the criminal justice system to push an agenda on the backs of schoolchildren is improper.”
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 and ACT, the Iowa City, Iowa-based not-for-profit company that administers the ACT 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.
ACT said it’s evaluating security procedures and plans to implement additional measures over the new few months.
“ACT has been cooperating with the Nassau County District Attorney’s office and will continue to do so,” the company said in a statement. “Recent events remind us all of the importance of remaining vigilant in our efforts to deter and detect test compromises.”
Tom Ewing, a spokesman for Educational Testing Service, didn’t immediately reply to a voice-mail message seeking comment on the charges.
The investigation began this year when faculty members at Great Neck North heard rumors that students were paying someone to take the SAT for them and identified six students who had sat for the test at a different school and whose academic records diverged from their SAT scores, Rice’s office said.
“The Great Neck School District does not tolerate cheating and we remain committed to cooperating with law enforcement in this matter,” Superintendent Thomas P. Dolan 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.”
--Editors: Charles Carter, Stephen Farr
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