More than a dozen current and former students from some of America's top ranked public high schools turned themselves in on Tuesday in the high-stakes SAT cheating scandal that has now spread to several New York communities. NBC's Rehema Ellis reports.
By msnbc.com and news wires
UPDATED at 2:30 p.m. ET
NEW YORK - Officials announced 13 arrests Tuesday in an SAT scandal in which test-takers allegedly accepted money to impersonate other students, two months after prosecutors first charged a 19-year-old man with forging identities, even posing as a female student to take the exam for her at one point.
Thirteen former and current Long Island, N.Y. high schoolers turned themselves in on Tuesday, authorities said, bringing the total charged in the cheating ring to 20. Four of the new defendants are accused of taking payments of $500 to $3,600 to stand in for students on SAT or ACT exams. The Associated Press reported that nine others are accused of paying the alleged impostors to take the test for them, Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen Rice said.
The scandal broke in September, when Samuel Eshaghoff, 19, a 2010 graduate of Great Neck North High School, and six current Great Neck North students were arrested. Eshaghoff flew home from college to impersonate the high schoolers, accepting between $1,500 and $2,500 from each of them to take the exam for them, prosecutors said. He also allegedly took the test for a seventh student, a girl, but did not make her pay.
All 13 arrested Tuesday were current or former Long Island high schoolers. Five graduated from Great Neck North High School, two went to North Shore Hebrew Academy, one was from Roslyn High School, and another went to St. Mary's High School, authorities said, reported NBCNewYork.com.
Separate cheating ring, or same scandal?
Prosecutors said the latest group of test-takers did not work directly with Eshaghoff but said they all knew each other.
None of the students' names were published by NBCNewYork.com. But The New York Post identified one of the alleged test-takers who came forward Tuesday as Joshua Chefac, 20, a graduate of Great Neck North High School. Chefac, now a senior at Tulane University, was charged with first-degree scheme to defraud, second-degree falsifying business records and second-degree criminal impersonation, according to The Post.
The Post interviewed Chefac's father 10 days ago, before Chefac turned himself in.
“Josh is a very smart kid. I really doubt he would be involved in anything like that. He works hard, and he’s earned everything he’s gotten,” David Chefac said at the time.
Others who turned themselves in Tuesday, the Post said, were Adam Justin, 19, a graduate of North Shore Hebrew Academy and George Trane, 19, a graduate of Great Neck South.
Officials have not found any evidence that students' parents gave them money to hire the test-takers, District Attorney Rice said.
"Educating our children means more than teaching them facts and figures. It means teaching them honesty, integrity and a sense of fair play," Rice said in a news release. "The young men and women arrested today instead chose to scam the system and victimize their own friends and classmates, and for that they find themselves in handcuffs."
The Great Neck North cheating scandal surfaced after teachers heard rumors of the scheme and discovered a discrepancy between some students' SAT scores and their high school grades.
Great Neck North is a public school that ranks among the nation's best, with notable alumni, including filmmaker Francis Ford Coppola.
Prosecutors say Eshaghoff presented a forged driver's license with his picture and the paying student's name each time he took the SAT for them. The high school students had registered at different schools so their faces wouldn't be recognized, prosecutors said.
Last month, officials from The College Board and Educational Testing Service, which run the SAT, hired a security firm run by the former director of the FBI to review standardized testing procedures following the initial arrests on Long Island. Bernard Kaplan, the principal at Great Neck North, has criticized the lack of security procedures used during the exam.
"Very simply, ETS has made it very easy to cheat, very difficult to get caught, and has failed to include schools in the process," he told The Associated Press in October.