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34 suspected in scheme to change grades

Employees at a Bay Area community college allegedly were paid to change student records.

July 25, 2007|From the Associated Press

BERKELEY — Nearly three dozen students and former students at a Northern California community college face felony charges in an alleged grades-for-cash scam, prosecutors said Tuesday.

Contra Costa County Dist. Atty. Robert Kochly said his office has filed 65 counts of computer fraud and conspiracy charges following an investigation into allegations that some employees at Diablo Valley College were paid to change or add grades in the computer system.

Thirty-four people are suspected in the alleged scheme, which prosecutors say goes back to at least 2001 and ended in 2006, when a professor's suspicions triggered the investigation.

Some of the students went on to transfer to four-year schools, including campuses in the University of California and California State University systems, prosecutors said.

"This case affects so many people, especially the innocent students at Diablo Valley College," said Deputy Dist. Atty. Dodie Katague. "For years, those students who have legitimate grades are going to be looked on suspiciously even though they earned their grades.... It isn't just changing one grade. It's affecting the integrity of the grade system."

About a dozen of the suspects were in custody, and the rest were being sought Tuesday, Katague said. He expected arraignments to be scheduled over the next few days.

Four of the suspects are former part-time student employees alleged to have accessed the computers at the college to change grades. The rest are former or current students who paid up to several thousand dollars to have grades boosted, or to have classes and grades added to their transcripts, prosecutors said.

Officials at Diablo Valley College in Pleasant Hill, about 25 miles east of San Francisco, did not immediately return a call seeking comment.

According to prosecutors, a student employee started the scheme in 2001, soliciting buyers by word-of-mouth and having middlemen arrange deals. That student recruited a successor when he left to attend a four-year college, prosecutors said.

The system came to a halt in February 2006, when a professor tried to drop a student from his class. The student had withdrawn earlier in the year, but his name kept reappearing on the class roster with an A grade, prosecutors said.

The discovery prompted a yearlong investigation by the district which looked at more than 400 suspicious grade changes that involved more than 80 students.

Some students were cleared during the investigation, but 55 names were turned over to prosecutors in May.

Court records detail numerous occasions of students allegedly buying better grades. In one instance, a student paid more than $4,000, using credit card cash advances, to get grades boosted and courses added, according to documents.

After the investigation began, the number of student workers with access to the computerized records was sharply reduced.

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