Published June 20, 2008
Two Orange County, Calif., high school seniors were supposed to have graduated Wednesday.
Instead, they're facing serious prison time for alleged crimes that some people might not think are all that serious.
County prosecutors allege Omar Khan, 18, of Coto de Caza, and Tanvir Singh, 18, of Ladera Ranch, broke into Tesoro High School in Las Flores to steal tests and change their own and others' grades on the school computer network.
While Singh allegedly only tried doing it once, Khan apparently did it several times.
Khan's been charged with 69 felony counts and could get more than 38 years in prison. Singh faces four counts and could wind up with three years.
"This is still an ongoing investigation," Orange County Sheriff's Department spokesman Jim Amormino told the Orange County Register. "We are looking at the possibility that more students were involved. But it's still unclear."
Khan was arrested Monday and held on $50,000 bail, but it appeared from the sheriff's department Web site he'd been bailed out by Thursday morning. He was expected to be arraigned Thursday.
Singh turned himself in Wednesday and was released on his own recognizance. His arraignment was postponed until July 8.
"These students are not accused of just committing simple 'Ferris Bueller'-type offenses," Deputy District Attorney Chuck Lawhorn told the Register. "These are very serious crimes."
The charges against Khan include altering and stealing public records, computer fraud, burglary, identify theft and receiving stolen property and conspiracy, Orange County district attorney spokeswoman Susan Schroeder said.
Defense attorney Carol Lavacol told the Los Angeles Times that Khan was "a really nice kid; he's only 18 years old."
"It's just a very sad situation all the way around," she added. "There's a lot more going on than meets the eye at this point, with a lot of kids."
Singh was charged with one count each of conspiracy, burglary, computer access and fraud and attempted altering of a public record.
"We are definitely taking these allegations very seriously," Beverly De Nicola, spokeswoman for the Capistrano Unified School District, told the Register. "Graduation should be a day for celebration. It's so sad to see something like this happen."
Tesoro High School, with 2,800 students, is often ranked as one of the country's best. Both it and Coto de Caza, the gated community where Khan lives, are featured on the TV reality series "Real Housewives of Orange County."
According to the L.A. Times, the school made headlines in 2005 when the journal entries of two football players contained passages about maiming and killing their English teacher.
"The whole idea of one of our friends going to jail for 38 years scared everyone," graduating senior Brooke Gibson, 18, who knew both Khan and Singh, told the Register. "That's all anyone was talking about last night and today. When I first heard about it I thought, 'How could this happen to two really good kids?'"
Khan allegedly was frustrated by the Cs and Ds he'd received in his Advanced Placement courses, figuring they'd lessen his chances of being admitted to the one of the campuses of the elite University of California system.
He used a stolen master key to get into the school after hours several times in January, April and May, the indictment says, and used stolen teacher IDs and passwords to log onto the school's administrative computer system and change his grades to As.
Before changing his own grades, he tested out his scheme on the records of 12 other students, altering their grades — and then changing them back when he was satisfied the method worked.
Prosecutors say Khan also installed software that would allow him to access the school network remotely, though there was no allegation he ever did do so.
On April 18, according to Farrah Emami of the Orange County District Attorney's Office, Khan got caught cheating for an English test while in class. The teacher confiscated the test and gave it to the assistant principal.
That night, Emami told MyFOXLA.com, Khan broke into school administrative offices and stole back the test.
Singh got involved when he asked Khan for help in stealing a copy of a test he hadn't studied for, the indictment says.
"Hey wana go to the school tonight," Singh allegedly text-messaged Khan on the afternoon of May 19. "Come haha I need someone with balls there with me ... I have a huge test on a book tomorrow I haven't read."
Khan seemed hesitant, replying, "Some pussies did a senior prank last night so its gonna b really risky."
Singh was undeterred: "We will go at like 7 so its not shady. Such a gay prank. Haha wow."
"Ya wow," Khan replied. "Call me when you want to go."
The two did go to the school after hours, but were surprised by a janitor and fled.
Suspicions about Khan were raised on April 21, soon after he'd been rejected from the University of California. He allegedly changed some of his own grades in the early morning, then later in the day requested a copy of his grade transcript as part of his appeal of the U.C. decision.
"Khan was known as a student with average grades. Then all of a sudden, school officials saw that he had a lot of As. That was a red flag," Amormino told the Register.
Khan had little to lose academically. But Singh's lawyer told the Register his client been accepted to U.C. San Diego, an admission that may now be in jeopardy.
"This is certainly not the first time we've heard of a kid cheating," attorney Merlin Stapleton said, arguing the charges were too harsh. "Sometimes they do these types of things simply to see if they can. The only thing that makes this case different is the technology used."
"The most important thing to realize is you're talking about a young man, a kid," Stapleton told MyFOXLA.com. "My client was one month over the age of 18 and was a very good student. He's always been a good student, never in trouble."
Tesoro Principal Dan Burch said there was still a chance the pair could graduate.
"If they meet the school's and district's criteria for graduation, they could receive their diplomas," he said to the Register.
At least one parent was angry about the alleged crimes, however.
"There's so much stress and pressure to get into college," Shelley Gibson, the mother of a graduating senior, told the Register. "It makes me angry that kids who put in 110 percent and do all the hard work get discredited by those who get good grades by a click of a button."
FOXNews.com's Paul Wagenseil and The Associated Press contributed to this report.