GARDEN CITY, N.Y. – A college student from New York was paid between $1,500 and $2,500 to stand in for at least a half dozen students attending a prestigious Long Island high school and take the SAT exam for them, a prosecutor said Tuesday in announcing criminal charges in the case.
Six students were also arrested Tuesday on misdemeanor charges, although authorities said the investigation remained active and that other high school students in the area may also have been involved. The six were all released on their own recognizance.
Sam Eshaghoff, 19, of Great Neck was arraigned on charges of scheming to defraud, criminal impersonation and falsifying business records, according to the Nassau County District Attorney's Office. His bail was set a $1,000 bond or $500 cash. Eshaghoff's attorney, Matin Emouna, said his client is not guilty. "He has cooperated with the investigation, and he denies the charges," Emouna said. He said he expected his client would be released.
"Colleges look for the best and brightest students, yet these six defendants tried to cheat the system and may have kept honest and qualified students from getting into their dream school," Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen Rice said.
Eshaghoff is a 2010 graduate of Great Neck North who spent his freshman year at the University of Michigan before transferring to Emory University in Atlanta.
Rice said that between 2010 and 2011, six students at Great Neck North High School paid him to take the SAT in hopes of achieving a higher score. The six students implicated in the case were not identified because of their ages, a spokesman for the prosecutor said.
Earlier this year, Great Neck North faculty members heard rumors that students had paid a third party to take the SAT for them, Rice said. Administrators then identified six students who "had large discrepancies between their academic performance records and their SAT scores," the prosecutor said.
The students had registered to take the tests at a different school where they would not be recognized. Eshaghoff then went to the schools and showed a photo ID with his picture, but another student's name on it, Rice said. At least once, Eshaghoff flew home from college primarily to impersonate two students and took the SAT twice in one weekend.
Tom Ewing, a spokesman for The College Board, which sponsors the SAT tests, applauded the district attorney's office and school officials, and said it cooperated with the investigation.
The school is rated as one of the nation's top academic high schools. Alumni include David Baltimore, a Nobel Prize-winning biologist; filmmaker Francis Ford Coppola; and Olympic figure skating champion Sarah Hughes.
The District Attorney office is investigating whether similar SAT scams occurred in at least two other high schools.
The Great Neck School District released a statement saying it is cooperating with the investigation: "It is our hope that the actions currently being taken by the District Attorney's Office will serve to bring an end to any dishonest practices which may have placed students at an unfair disadvantage and will also bring to light any shortcomings in the security of the SAT testing system."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.