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Affidavit traces origins of suspected scandal

Details of an alleged cheating scheme at Corona del Mar High emerge as fate of the dozen suspects remains unclear.

January 21, 2014|By Hannah Fry | This post has been corrected, as noted below.

The detailed cheating scheme that resulted in the suspension of roughly a dozen Corona del Mar High School students probably began in April 2013, court documents show.

The students are accused of attaching a keylogger — a small device that can be placed in the back of a computer to monitor keystrokes — to several teachers' computers to swipe logins and passwords, allegedly with the help of a private tutor.

With the recorded data, the students allegedly altered grades and accessed English, science and history exams, some at the honors and Advanced Placement levels.

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The scandal became public Dec. 17 when the Newport-Mesa Unified School District issued a news release detailing a cheating incident at the high school.

The next day, Newport Beach detectives searched the Irvine home of Timothy Lance Lai, 28, the private tutor accused of providing the students with the keyloggers and instructing them on how to use the devices to access password-protected accounts.

The 16-page search warrant and affidavit by Det. David Syvock details how Newport Beach police and school officials began investigating the alleged cheating incident in June 2013.

The warrant allowed police to search Lai's two-story home on East Yale Loop in Irvine and his vehicle, a 2001 Toyota.

Authorities seized four USB thumb drives, several electronic devices, a cell phone, a notepad bearing student names, a notebook containing multiple tests with a female student's name written on it, schoolwork, routers, an algebra quiz, a math problem packet, a pre-calculus test and a pre-algebra assignment, according to the property report.

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Two students and a nameless tutor

Many in the CdM community have asked how the issue came to light, and the search warrant and affidavit, both on file in Orange County Superior Court, provide some insight into the case.

On June 18, 2013, a science teacher notified CdM administrators that she suspected someone had accessed her computer and changed students' grades, according to the affidavit.

In addition, also according to the affidavit, it was determined that the grades were altered from a remote computer four days earlier.

During an internal review, Vladimir Anderson, the school's resource officer, and school administrators identified two female students who they believed had their grades changed.

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