A former USC employee pleaded guilty Monday to participating in a grade-tampering scheme that authorities say may have involved as many as 43 students.
Prosecutors alleged that Darryl Gillard, 28, of Los Angeles took payoffs ranging from $500 to $2,000 to boost students' grades by altering transcripts through the university's computer system. Deputy Dist. Atty. Stephen Plafker said Gillard, whose position with USC's registration and records office already had been phased out when the alleged tampering occurred, visited his former workplace after hours to make the changes.
Gillard, who is free on $20,000 bail, was charged in April with seven counts of illegal computer access between May, 1983, and May, 1984. In addition, he was arrested May 13 and charged with selling cocaine to an undercover police officer.
In exchange for guilty pleas to the drug charge and to one count of illegal computer access, Plafker agreed to seek a maximum prison term of two years. The prosecutor said the defendant, who could have been sentenced to as many as six years on the computer charges alone, can withdraw his guilty plea if the sentencing judge does not go along with the plea bargain.
Plafker said Gillard is under no obligation to testify against Mehrdad Amini, a 28-year-old former USC student who is scheduled to go on trial this week on five counts of illegal computer access.
The prosecutor added, however, that Gillard "may be able to get a better deal" if he cooperates in the Amini prosecution.
Los Angeles Municipal Judge Leon S. Kaplan set Gillard's sentencing for Aug. 20 in Superior Court.
Amini is believed to have been one of the middlemen who brought Gillard together with students. Also charged in the case was Manuel Roberts, 23, of Los Angeles, who has fled and may be in New York, Plafker said.
Internal Probe Complete
USC officials said Monday they have completed their internal investigation of the grade-tampering matter. Confidential administrative hearings have resulted so far in the expulsion of 14 students and the suspensions of seven, according to Robert L. Mannes, dean for student life.
Evidence against eight other students was deemed insufficient for further action, and in 14 cases academic records were placed on "permanent hold" after the students failed to respond to requests to attend the administrative hearings, Mannes said.
The dean said security had been improved by adding checkpoints to the computer system to keep track of changes and ascertain if they are authorized. "No system is ever perfect," he said, "but our hope is that we have things pretty well under control."