A 29-year-old tutor, who investigators say fled the country following a cheating scandal, was arrested Monday afternoon at Los Angeles International Airport on charges of helping three students change their grades at Corona Del Mar High School.
Investigators had been unable to locate Timothy Lance Lai since reports surfaced late last year of the cheating scandal, which led to 11 students being forced out. Six of the students enrolled in schools elsewhere and five were transferred within Newport-Mesa Unified School District.
Newport Beach police were tipped Lai was returning to the United States and were waiting with handcuffs at the airport. Lai was expected to be booked in Newport Beach’s jail before being transferred to the Orange County Jail, said Jennifer Manzella of the Newport Beach Police Department.
Lai is charged with helping three students cheat and putting “key- logging” software on at least two computers, said Senior Deputy District Attorney Brock Zimmon. The investigation is ongoing and there could be more charges, Zimmon said.
Newport Beach police will try to question Lai today, Manzella said.
“This is the first time we’ve had contact with him,” Manzella said. “We are going to interview him if he elects to speak with us.”
Newport-Mesa Unified School Board member Katrina Foley said she was pleased to hear the news.
“The students had to deal with the consequences, but he’s the alleged mastermind of what I think is tragic for the students, and hopefully now he’ll be held accountable too,” Foley said.
Foley pointed out Lai had tutored students at many other area schools.
“We don’t know the number (of students affected) because he was tutoring at Mater Dei” and elsewhere, Foley said. “There’s probably hundreds of kids affected by this individual.”
Between April 1 and June 14, 2013, Lai allegedly accessed the school’s computer records with passwords obtained from the keylogging devices and changed the grades of three students taught by two teachers, Zimmon said.
One of the teachers realized the grades had been changed and contacted school administrators June 14, 2013, Zimmon said. That prompted a call from administrators to police, Zimmon added.
Investigators found another keylogging device on a third teacher’s computer in December 2013, Zimmon alleged.
Lai is charged with a count of second-degree commercial burglary and four counts of computer access and fraud, all felonies. If convicted at trial he could face up to five years and eight months in jail.
Prosecutors will seek to have bail set at $200,000, Zimmon said. Arraignment is expected Tuesday or Wednesday.
— City News Service
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