11 arrested in widening SAT scandal

Several students and former students turned themselves in to the Nassau County district attorney's office Tuesday to face charges in the widening SAT cheating probe, officials said. Videojournalist: Jim Staubitser (Nov. 22, 2011)

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Eleven current and former students of North Shore high schools were arrested Tuesday and face criminal charges for "choosing to scam the system" by cheating on college admission tests, Nassau District Attorney Kathleen Rice said.

Two more suspects are expected to surrender Monday, Rice spokesman John Byrne said.

The widening investigation found nine more students paid four test takers to impersonate them and take the SAT and ACT exams between 2008 and 2011. It brings the total number of students implicated in the cheating probe to 20, Rice said.

"It's fair to say that this was so systematic that people knew who to go to when they needed a high score," Rice said at a news conference in Mineola. "It was a business, and it was run like a business."

The cheating scandal has rocked some parts of the affluent North Shore, where students attend some of the nation's top-ranked high schools.

Rice identified the test takers as Joshua Chefec, 20, a graduate of Great Neck North; Adam Justin, 19, a graduate of North Shore Hebrew Academy High School; George Trane, 19, a graduate of Great Neck South High School; and Michael Pomerantz, 18, who attended Great Neck North.

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Chefec, Justin and Trane were led in handcuffs to their arraignment Tuesday in First District Court in Hempstead, where they pleaded not guilty to charges of scheme to defraud, falsifying business records and criminal impersonation. They were released without bail. Chefec attends Tulane University; Justin, Indiana University; and Trane, Stony Brook University.

Pomerantz is expected to surrender Monday because of a medical condition, the district attorney's office said. The defendants face 4 years in prison, if convicted.

Eight other students, accused of paying others between $300 to $1,000 to take the tests, arrived at court Tuesday, hiding their faces under hats, hoods and scarves, and were arraigned on misdemeanor charges. Those students include five alumni of Great Neck North, one who attended North Shore Hebrew Academy, one who graduated from Roslyn High School and one from Great Neck South. A ninth student, who attends St. Mary's High School in Manhasset, declined to surrender and officials said they plan to arrest that person.

The students charged with misdemeanors will be prosecuted as youthful offenders, their cases will be sealed and they will not be identified, officials said.

In September, six former and current Great Neck North students were arrested after prosecutors said they paid a former student to pose as them and take the SAT. Prosecutors said one student arrested Tuesday paid Sam Eshaghoff, 19, the former student, $3,600. The probe has since expanded, and Rice said her office has looked at as many as 40 possible cheaters, but can charge only a fraction of them because of issues involving evidence and the statute of limitations.

There is no evidence that the students' parents provided the money to hire the test takers, but the investigation is continuing, Rice said.

Prosecutors said they would not seek prison for those convicted. The district attorney's office also has convened a special grand jury to investigate cheating on the tests, sources close to the probe have confirmed. That probe could result in criminal indictments, a report or recommendations on the panel's findings, sources and experts said.

At the news conference, Rice pressed ETS, the Princeton, N.J.-based company that administers the SAT for the College Board, to boost test security. "This is a system begging for security enhancements," Rice said.

Thomas Ewing, a spokesman for ETS, Tuesday said it will upgrade security procedures if that is warranted. Ewing noted that the College Board has hired a consulting group run by former FBI director Louis Freeh to review test-security protocols.

A spokesman for ACT also said it was reviewing protocols in light of the investigation.

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Michael DerGarabedian, a Rockville Centre attorney representing one of the students who prosecutors say paid others to take the test, said the scandal reflects a larger problem in society.

"If these charges are proven, these kids should be held accountable," he said. But citing widely publicized cases of insider trading and athletes using steroids, he said it's not surprising that some kids have misguided values. "We need to re-evaluate the expectations we place on kids these days, and how we define success."

Chefec's attorney, Brian Griffin of Garden City, said his client was charged with taking a test for a student in 2008, and that Chefec's school looked into the allegations and deemed them "unfounded." He said, "Pushing an agenda by using the criminal justice system on the backs of schoolchildren is wrong."

Another attorney, Eric Sachs, said his client Trane denies the accusation that he took two tests for someone else in 2008. He said such accusations could be disastrous for a defendant. "If they are in school, they could get kicked out of school. If they have a job, they could lose their job," said Sachs, of Bellmore.

Justin's attorney, Arnold Kriss of Manhattan, said, "Notwithstanding this frenzy, the presumption of innocence applies in this case."

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At the news conference, Rice said criminal charges are warranted. "This is a crime," she said. "You're talking about thousands of dollars changing hands so kids can submit fraudulent test results to get into a better school. The true victims are the ones who take a backseat to the cheaters."

 

 

The accused test takers

 

George Trane

Age: 19

High school: Great Neck South

Now attends: Stony Brook University

Accused of: Taking the ACT for two students

Scores earned: 28 and 29 (Perfect score is 36)

Fees paid, according to prosecutors: $1,000 per test

 

Joshua Chefec

Age: 20

High school: Great Neck North

Now attends: Tulane University

Accused of: Taking the ACT and SAT for same student

Scores earned, according to prosecutors: 31 on ACT, SAT score not available.

Fees paid, according to prosecutors: $300-$500.

 

Adam Justin

Age: 19

High school: North Shore Hebrew Academy

Attends: Indiana University

Accused of: Taking the SAT and ACT

Score earned, according to prosecutors: SAT: 1920 (Perfect score is 2400); ACT score not available

Fee paid: $500

 

Michael Pomerantz

Age: 18

High school: Great Neck North

Attends: Unknown

Accused of: Taking the SAT for one student

Score, according to prosecutors: 1710

Fee, according to prosecutors: $500

 

Facts on SAT and ACT exams

 

 

BY MATTHEW CHAYES

matthew.chayes@newsday.com

 

The SAT and ACT exams are the two most widely given college admissions tests. The College Board says nearly 1.65 million students nationwide in the class of 2011 graduating class took the SAT. More than 1.6 million students nationally in that graduating class took the ACT. Both tests are given internationally.

Because of the test-cheating scandal on Long Island, agencies that administer the SAT and ACT Tuesday detailed some interim security steps.

ETS, which administers the SAT for the College Board

Has imposed more scrutiny of "statistical anomalies" that may indicate cheating and is to be done before scores are released.

Is reconsidering policies on what length of time answer sheets are kept in case they are needed for examination for signs of cheating.

Told test-site supervisors, who staff about 4,000 testing sites worldwide, to take an online course on thwarting cheaters.

Hired the firm of former FBI director and federal judge Louis Freeh to review test security.

ACT

Asked a "test-security task force" to thoroughly review existing procedures.

Is "actively implementing additional test security enhancements."

 

Bob Schaeffer of FairTest, a critic of the testing industry, criticized the ETS and ACT efforts, saying neither agency is yet photographing or videotaping test-takers to permanently record "who actually entered a testing center."

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