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D.A. to receive evidence in CdM cheating case

Newport police are turning over their findings but it's unclear whether charges will follow.

April 16, 2014|By Hannah Fry

Newport Beach police detectives are forwarding evidence gathered in the Corona del Mar High School cheating case to the Orange County District Attorney's office next week, police said Wednesday.

The District Attorney's office will look at the evidence presented and then decide whether to file charges against the 11 students involved and Timothy Lai, the 28-year-old Irvine tutor who allegedly masterminded the scheme, said police spokeswoman Jennifer Manzella.

Criminal charges are far from a certainty. It's fairly common practice for the department to forward evidence to the district attorney when police finish an investigation, Manzella said.

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After searching Lai's home and obtaining various electronic devices, cellphones and notebooks, police detectives relied on the FBI lab in Orange to process the evidence.

Detectives often enlist the help of specialists from the forensics laboratory to make electronic evidence readable for investigators, Manzella has said.

Police have tried unsuccessfully to locate Lai for questioning since the cheating became public in December.

In the aftermath of the scandal, 11 CdM juniors and seniors signed stipulated expulsion agreements, which prohibited them from returning to the high school this school year, but allowed them to transfer to another Newport-Mesa Unified school.

Students' involvement in the scheme ranged from knowing cheating was happening and not reporting it to attaching key-logging devices to teachers' computers to swipe logins and passwords, district officials have said.

With the information, students changed grades and accessed exams, some at the honors and Advanced Placement levels.

District officials have spent the past several months investigating 52,000 grade changes made in the past year that might indicate that even more students were involved in the cheating.

The district also altered its grading system, now alerting teachers when any students' grades are changed in the computer, officials said.

Five students filed an appeal with the Orange County Department of Education in February, alleging that their signed agreements were coerced with fraud.

As it moves forward, an Orange County Superior Court lawsuit, which was filed by the county board against Newport-Mesa and the five families in March, will determine whether the Department of Education board has the authority to hear the appeals.

The county board spoke about the issue in closed session during its meeting Wednesday morning. The board's attorney did not respond to a request for comment.

So far, at least two of the five families have reached an agreement with the Newport-Mesa Unified, who agreed to clarify "sealed and destroyed" as "expunged" in connection with the students' records after graduation, and to clarify language in the document with regard to the students' return to CdM at the end of the school year.

"My hope is we can get it resolved this week and everyone can move on and enjoy the end of the school year and summer," said trustee Katrina Foley.

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