More than a dozen current and former high school students in Nassau County are facing charges for their part in what District Attorney Kathleen Rice described as a “high stakes, high dollar” SAT cheating scandal that has exposed security vulnerabilities within the college entrance exam system.
Four students—three who surrendered to authorities Tuesday morning—face felony charges for allegedly taking test for others, authorities said. Seven students who allegedly paid others to take the test for them were also arrested Tuesday morning and face misdemeanor charges. Prosecutors said the test takers earned up to $3,600 for each test.
“We now know that the security vulnerabilities we exposed in September are a systemic problem that compromise the integrity not only of the SAT, but also the ACT, in several schools in Nassau County and beyond,” Rice said during a press conference Tuesday.
The accused test takers include former Great Neck North High School students Joshua Chefec and Michael Pomerantz, Great Neck South graduate George Trane and Adam Justin, a graduate of North Shore Hebrew Academy. They were each charged with scheme to defraud, criminal impersonation and falsifying business records.
Chefec, Justin and Trane surrendered to investigators Tuesday morning. Pomerantz is expected to surrender Monday due to a medical condition and will face additional charges, Rice said.
Rice did not release the names of the seven other students because of their age and the nature of the charges they face. One who attends St. Mary’s High School declined to surrender to investigators Tuesday but arrangements are being made, officials said.
In September, seven current and former students at Great Neck North High School were arrested in the alleged cheating scandal. One student, Samuel Eshaghoff, allegedly impersonated students to earn them high marks on the exam, and netting him thousands of dollars.
Twenty current and former students in all face charges for their part in the scandal.
The alleged cheating ring was first uncovered when Great Neck North High School faculty members heard rumors that students were being paid to take the test for others. The school then identified six suspects by reviewing records of students who had taken the test at a different school and noticed discrepancies in their academic records and SAT scores.
Students allegedly registered to take the test at a different school where proctors wouldn’t know them.
The investigation also uncovered 40 more students who either took the SAT for someone else or paid to have the test taken, but some were unable to be charged because the statue of limitations ran out, Rice said. She added that while the investigation is continuing she will push for reforms within the system.
“From the very beginning I felt it was important to not only prosecute the test takers but the test payers,” Rice said. “You don’t have a Sam Eshaghoff and the four individuals I just mentioned today without having kids willing to pay them to take the test for them.”
“This is a crime,” she added. “You’re talking about criminal impersonation, you’re talking about creating fake ID’s, you’re talking about thousands of dollars changing hands, so that kids can submit fraudulent test results to get into a better school.”
When Rice was asked where students got the money to pay for the tests, she said, “That’s anyone’s guess. We’re talking about a lot of money, we’re talking about some schools that are obviously in relatively affluent neighborhoods. I don’t have an answer to that question.”
The district attorney’s office hasn’t ruled out that parents were involved, but as of now there’s no direct evidence linking the parents to test payers, Rice said.
“Anyone involved in perpetrating a scheme like this needs to be held responsible,” she added.
The district attorney also called for security reforms to be instituted as quickly as possible because the scandal goes far beyond just students paying for test, since scores effect college admissions and scholarships, Rice said.
During a hearing called by New York state’s subcommittee on higher education last month, officials said a security firm run by the former FBI director would review security and recommend changes to the two non-profit organizations, The College Board and Educational Testing Service.
“I will propose additional security enhancements and legislative reforms to prevent this kind of cheating scandal from continuing,” Rice said, “and to ensure that students who work hard and play by the rules are not unfairly disadvantaged by those who cheat.”