SANTA ANA (CBSLA.com/AP) — A tutor at the center of a high school grade-changing scandal in Orange County has been sentenced to a year in jail after pleading guilty to computer fraud and commercial burglary.

Timothy Lance Lai was also sentenced Tuesday to five years’ probation. He could have faced up to 16 years and four months in custody if
convicted at trial.

He had previously pleaded not guilty and could have faced more than five years in prison if convicted at trial.

Prosecutors say the Irvine man was working as a private tutor in 2013 when he broke into a building at Corona Del Mar High School [CDM] in Newport Beach and planted key-logging devices on computers.

Authorities say that information was used to break into the school’s computer system, steal exams and change the grades of three students.

Eleven students allegedly involved in hacking the system were expelled.

School Principal Kathy Scott addressed the court and said the scandal caused a major disruption to the school and the community.

“With his perceived status, some students he tutored were encouraged to engage in an elaborate scheme to cheat on tests, change grades, and steal teacher information,” Scott said.  “All of the students involved in this cheating scandal had never been involved in any serious school discipline before this incident.”

The ordeal “harmed many teacher/student relationships due to a newfound distrust between the teachers and students not involved in the scandal,” the principal said.

“This incident created such a newsworthy controversy that the entire community was harmed by the media attention and the disruption that occurred as a result of the cheating scandal. This damaged the academic integrity of CDM and devalued the perception of the CDM diploma. CDM counselors found it necessary to send emails and make multiple phone calls to universities and colleges in response to questions from various college admissions officers about suspected cheating by students who were not involved in the cheating scandal.”

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