Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen Rice said the seven people charged are all current or former Great Neck North High School students, and that six of them paid 19-year-old Sam Eshaghoff thousands of dollars to impersonate and take the test for them.
Rice said that Eshaghoff, now a student at Emory University who completed his freshman year at the University of Michigan and a 2010 Great Neck North graduate, accepted payments of between $1,500 and $2,500 per student.
Eshaghoff was arrested Tuesday morning and is charged with first-degree scheme to defraud, second-degree falsifying business records and second-degree criminal impersonation. He faces up to four years in prison if convicted.
The six students who hired Eshaghoff, all from Great Neck, were also arrested Tuesday and face misdemeanor charges. They are not being identified due to their ages and the nature of the charges.
Rice said that in early 2011, Great Neck North High School faculty members heard rumors that students had paid a third party to take the SAT for them. Administrators identified the six by reviewing records of students who had taken the test at a different school and had large discrepancies between their academic performance records and their SAT scores.
Prosecutors say the students registered to take the test at a different school where their faces would not be known to the proctors, and the third party, identified by investigators as Eshaghoff, presented unofficial identification with his photo and the paying student's name on it. He also reportedly took the test at no charge for a female student.
On at least one occasion, investigators say, Eshaghoff flew back home from college primarily to impersonate two students and took the SAT twice in one weekend.
The DA's Office is currently investigating whether similar SAT scams have occurred in at least two other Nassau County high schools, as well as allegations that Eshaghoff took the SAT exam for students of other high schools.
Educational Testing Service (ETS), the non-profit organization that administers the test, told prosecutors that it conducted its own investigation of the matter, but was unable to provide some investigation documentation to prosecutors citing a computer crash. ETS does not notify colleges or high schools when students are suspected of cheating, but instead cancels their scores and offers suspected cheaters a refund, a free re-test or the opportunity to arbitrate.
"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," Rice said. "These arrests should serve as a warning to those taking the SAT this Saturday that if you cheat, you can face serious criminal consequences. I want to thank the Great Neck School District for their invaluable assistance with this investigation."
The Great Neck School District released the following statement:
"The Great Neck School District has been cooperating with the Nassau County District Attorney's Office regarding an incident of reported cheating on the SAT. Needless to say, the Great Neck School District does not tolerate cheating and we remain committed to cooperating with law enforcement in this matter. 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. In light of the ongoing nature of this matter, the district will make no further comment at this time."
Eshagoff's bail set at $1,000 bond or $500 cash. He's due back in court on October 11.
The six students were all released on their own recognizance.