The former private tutor at the centre of a high school grade-fixing scandal in California has been charged with a further 16 felony counts, on top of five he was already facing, and could be looking at 16 years in jail.
Timothy Lance Lai, now 29, was sought for questioning after disappearing from his home in Irvine in the wealthy Orange County area in late 2013.
Police wanted to interview him in relation to a cluster of suspicious changes to students’ grades at Corona Del Mar high school in the first half of 2013.
After the changes were spotted by a member of school staff, the investigation led to the expulsion of 11 students and the search for the missing Lai.
He was eventually picked up by police eight months later, when he arrived at LAX airport on a flight from South Korea in October 2014.
On his arrest he was charged with one count of “second degree commercial burglary” and four of “computer access and fraud”, which would have seen him facing up to five years and eight months prison time.
The charge list has now been bumped up substantially with an additional 16 computer access charges, bringing the potential maximum sentence up to a hefty 16 years and 4 months.
Lai is accused of breaking into the school (hence the “commercial burglary” charge) and attaching a keylogging device to a system used by teachers. Data gathered from the device was later used to access school databases and adjust the grades given to several students, many of them thought to have studied under Lai in his role as a private tutor.
The number of times these systems were accessed are most likely the reasoning behind the number of charges levied against Lai.
Local police have released details of their investigation to local reporters, claiming that one of the students connected to the hacking was persuaded to place a recorded call to Lai from the police station and that Lai then “made statements implicating himself in the elaborate cheating scheme”.
Lai has entered a not guilty plea and will face initial hearings in late April.
It seems unlikely that he will have to serve as much as the 16 years being threatened, but the heavy possible sentence should send a pretty stark message to anyone considering dabbling in hacking to improve their school or university performance.
Good grades may give you a better chance of bagging a good job, but a criminal record and a spell behind bars really aren’t going to set you up for a successful career.