Sam Eshaghoff, accused in an SAT scandel in Great Neck,...

Sam Eshaghoff, accused in an SAT scandel in Great Neck, leaves Nassau County Police headquarters in Mineola. (Sept. 27, 2011) Credit: Howard Schnapp

A former Great Neck North High School student accused of taking college entrance exams for money said he was helping his clients improve their prospects in life, and he doesn't think honest students were hurt, according to CBS' "60 Minutes."

Sam Eshaghoff, 19, a sophomore at Emory University, was arrested in September and pleaded not guilty to criminal impersonation and other charges. He told the news program he grew his test-taking enterprise through "word-of-mouth."

Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen Rice has called the charges serious, saying there is "no level playing field when students are paying someone they know will get them a premier score."

Twenty students have been arrested in the cheating probe.

But Eshaghoff, in the interview to be broadcast Sunday, said he did not believe any college applicant lost his or her slot to an undeserving student.

"I feel confident defending the fact that getting into the schools that they ended up getting into didn't really affect other people," he said.

Eshaghoff's lawyer, Matin Emouna of Mineola, told Newsday that his client entered a plea deal several weeks ago under which he will tutor underprivileged students for a substantial amount of time, though he would not elaborate. John Byrne, Rice's spokesman, declined to comment on the Eshaghoff interview, or whether any plea deal was in place.

Eshaghoff told CBS that when a struggling student came to him, what he did was like "saving his life." He said he took pride in his success like any other business person. "By giving him an amazing score, I totally give him . . . a new lease on life," he said. Emouna said his client agreed to the TV interview in an effort to move forward, and called him remorseful. Eshaghoff has been accused of taking the test for as many as 15 students for fees ranging up to $3,600.

"Taking others' SATs was the biggest mistake of my life," Eshaghoff told Newsday through a Facebook message. "I've come a long way. I hope people can overlook my mistake and recognize me for my strengths.

"I would like nothing more than to excel in school and to make my family proud," he said.

"Sam is extremely upset about this whole ordeal," Emouna said. "He has brought shame upon his family and the good name that they deserve. He is a gifted student and wants to explore the possibility of where the future will take him. He is an extremely good-hearted, kind individual, a good friend who wants to be a good son."

The lawyer said it's unfortunate that his client has become the "poster boy" for SAT and ACT cheating, which, he said, has gone on for years.

"Cheating has been an epidemic that has existed since Adam and Eve," he said.

With Ann Givens

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