MINEOLA, NY (CBSNewYork) – Ten students surrendered Tuesday in connection with Nassau County’s expanding SAT scandal.
1010 WINS’ Mona Rivera reports Joshua Chefec, 20, Adam Justin, 19, Michael Pomerantz, 18, and George Trane, 19, face felony charges after they were accused of being paid to take the college entrance exams for others.
Chefec, Justin, and Trane, from Great Neck North High School, North Shore Hebrew Academy and Great Neck South, respectively, are charged with scheme to defraud in the first degree, falsifying business records in the second degree and criminal impersonation in the second degree. They all pleaded not guilty on Tuesday and face up to four years each in prison if convicted, CBS 2’s Jennifer McLogan reported.
LISTEN: 1010 WINS’ Mona Rivera reports
Pomerantz, also from Great Neck North, along with another student, cited medical issues and will surrender Monday. A third student declined to surrender and Rice said arrest arrangements will be made.
Pomerantz’s friend, Oren Kohn, quickly defended him, saying Pomeranz has big plans to study in Israel. Kohn said he highly doubts the charges.
“He’s a very good kid. He’s outstanding. He knows the [difference] between right and wrong and he knows that taking a test for others is wrong,” Kohn told CBS 2’s Emily Smith.
Another friend of the accused told CBS 2’s Hazel Sanchez, “The kids are truly good people. They all are smart students. They all have A average without cheating.”
District Attorney Kathleen Rice said the four defendants are accused of taking $500 to $3,600 to stand in for nine students, who are also facing charges for allegedly hiring the accused imposters, on SAT or ACT exams.
In all, 13 former or current Great Neck North students have been arrested, reports CBS 2’s Sanchez.
Rice said the scandal was well known within the halls of their schools and beyond.
“This scheme was so systemic; this fraud is so systemic that there were people who knew who to go to when they wanted to get a particular score. It was run like a business. There were referrals that were made. There was word of mouth,” Rice said.
Rice said Trane attends SUNY Stony Brook and that he took the ACT for two students, earning scores of 29 and 28. Rice said Chefec attends Tulane University and he took the ACT for a student and got a 31. Rice said Justin attends Indiana University and he took the SAT for a student and received a 1920. Rice said Pomerantz took the SAT for a student and received a 1720.
Prosecutors also said the accused may have even used fake IDs to assume the identity of test takers.
Chefec’s attorney, Brian Griffin, said his client has already been cleared of the charges.
“Mr. Chefec’s matter was investigated some three years ago at the school level and it was unfounded,” Griffin said. “We intend to vigorously defend these charges and obviously he maintains his innocence.”
Griffin said Chefec — a graduate of Great Neck North High School — was not suspended or sanctioned.
Attorney Melvin Roth tells CBS 2’s Kristin Thorne that his client, a 17-year-old boy accused of hiring a stand-in, denies all the charges and will plead not guilty.
“I think this is overkill for this kind of thing,” Roth said. “We look forward to resolving this thing in court.”
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Rice called the recent string of arrests “a systematic problem that compromises the integrity not only of the SAT, but also the ACT, in several schools in Nassau County and beyond.”
The D.A. also went on further to criticize the “gaping hole” in standardized test security, saying that ETS and ACT “do not report verified incidents of cheating to high schools or colleges.”
“This is a system begging for security enhancements,” Rice said.
State Sen. Ken Lavalle, chairman of the committee on higher education, says it’s not just students who may be in trouble.
“There are parents that are complicit in this,” said Lavalle. “They are involved. You can’t tell me that students are walking around with $3,500.”
On Tuesday, Rice said no parents have yet been charged with complicity, but she is not ruling that out. Even the students’ own lawyers questioned the parents’ involvement.
“We train our kids to hedge their bets, to get edges, to cheat, to take steroids, to trade on inside information and that’s the way these kids see it — on TV, on the computer. And, in essence, we are now punishing them for what we are training them to do. It’s a horrible, horrible testament to the way we are raising our kids right now,” defense attorney Michael Dergarabedian said.
Lavalle said every district attorney in the state ought to follow the lead in Nassau and investigate their own high schools.
The schools with accused students say they are fully cooperating with authorities.
Some students are not entirely surprised by the arrests.
“This stuff has been going on for a very long time,” said one student. “Everybody wants to succeed and go to the best college.”
Rice said those students charged as misdemeanor juvenile offenders will not be identified, and the courtroom will be sealed when they are arraigned.
Law enforcement negotiated Tuesday’s surrender date with the lawyers for the students, keeping it close to their Thanksgiving breaks from colleges.
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