Three indicted in grade scam

Following a year long investigation into illegal grade changes, three Florida A&M University students were indicted on federal charges after being accused of gaining unauthorized access to FAMU computer records.

Marcus Barrington, 23, Christopher Jacquette, 27, and Lawrence Secrease, 22, were charged with five counts including conspiracy to commit wire fraud, unauthorized computer access, and aggravated identity theft.

In the indictment announced by United States Attorney for the Northern District of Florida, Thomas F. Kirwin, allegations were made against the three men, stating they attempted to alter grades and residency statuses in the FAMU People Soft computer system.

The indictment alleged that Secrease, along with Barrington and Jaquette, had an effect on the grades of 90 students at FAMU and 650 total grades from June to December 2007. Most of these students had failing grades changed into “A” grades, giving them the opportunity to receive thousands of dollars in grants, scholarships, and loans that they would not have received otherwise.

Thousands of dollars were also taken off the tuition of some out-of state students, when their residency statuses were changed to in-state.

In order to make these alterations, the indictment stated that the three individuals accessed the FAMU computer system by installing “keystroke loggers” onto computers in the registrar’s office. This helped them obtain passwords and usernames of the employees in the office.

After FAMU caught on to the conspiracy and reversed the changes, similar changes were made to grades and residency statuses a second time. The university has been investigating the matter since November 2007.

Secrease, one of the accused, said he is not guilty of any of the alleged crimes. Instead, the Houston, TX native said he surrounded himself with the wrong people, and has since distanced himself.

“I don’t know what happened,” said the senior computer engineering student. “As far as I’m concerned, it’s the company I kept. In the end the company you keep really affects a person’s future.”

Secrease said that fighting through the allegations has not been easy.

“There’s a lot of animosity in the air with certain individuals that are involved,” he said. “If you have to gang up on people to get them to say what you want to say the truth is going to come out.”

Avery Mcknight, general counsel for FAMU, said the university will examine its protocol before making any major decisions.

“The university has its own student code of conduct and in light of the information that has been presented to us (it) will evaluate the allegation pursuant to the student code of conduct and appropriately make a decision about the status of the gentlemen,” Mcknight said.

Despite the allegations, Secrease said he plans to stay at FAMU.

“I have a year and a half,” he said. “I go to FAMU daily, as far I’m concerned I will finish at FAMU.”

Andrew Collins,22, student body president, said he believes the justice will prevail.

“I have no doubt that the university as well as the young men in question will cooperate with the U.S. Attorney’s office throughout the investigation,” Collins said. “I trust that the justice system will carry out its duties and ensure that all those involved are granted a fair trial.”

Barrington was contacted, but declined to comment. Jacquette could not be reached at press time.

Jacquette and Secrease are currently enrolled at the university. Barrington graduated in Spring 2008 while the investigation was still being conducted.