FAMU student enters plea

One of the three former FAMU students in the grade change scandal has pled guilty, while a second is scheduled to follow suit today.

Supervisory U.S. Attorney Karen Rhew, said Christopher Jacquette, 27, has pled guilty on four federal charges, including wire fraud, aggravated identity theft, unauthorized computer access and conspiracy.

“Sentencing has not been set yet for Jacquette,” said Rhew.

As for the two other alleged offenders, Rhew said Lawrence Secrease, 22, is scheduled to plead guilty today and Marcus Barrington, 23, has been set to appear in court Dec. 15.

However, Rhew said Barrington’s attorney has requested to push the trial to a different date in order to further prepare for the case. No guilty plea has been scheduled yet for Barrington, she said.

Rhew added the three young men had the option to attend a jury trial or go before the court to plea guilty.

The indictment alleged that the trio changed 650 grades, which increased GPAs of possibly 90 students from June 2007 to December 2007. Loans, grants and scholarships became available to students who had failing grades changed to an “A.”

Thousands of dollars were also awarded to out-of-state students who had their residency changed to in-state.

The three were accused of installing keystroke loggers on computers in the registrar’s office, which enabled them to acquire employee passwords and usernames.

Avery McKnight, the general counsel for FAMU, said the school has developed a tighter security system to prevent similar instances from occurring.

“We make sure the office of [Enterprise Information Technology] periodically checks the actual computers to make sure there are no key loggers,” McKnight said.

He said the university has started to keep hard copies of grand changes that were made in the computer system by the Division of Academic Affairs.

“Manually, we are making sure there is hard copy maintained as well to ensure any grade changes that come through the registration,” he said. McKnight added that the signatures on the hard copy would help with authentication of the grade changes.

“These individuals [allegedly] had direct access because of the key loggers, there was no back up documentation to support what was changed,” he said.

Changes that were made to grades and residency were corrected during the beginning of the investigation, McKnight said. “Any unauthorized grade and in state or out of state was resolved last year.”

If the three are convicted, they could face a maximum prison sentence of 20 years and an additional five years for unauthorized computer access.

The FAMU Police Department, Florida Department of Law Enforcement and Tallahassee’s U.S. Attorney’s Office are involved in the on-going investigation.