The suspected test takers came from prominent, respected families, some of them in financial distress — among the five facing felony charges were the sons of a well-known lawyer, the president of the local library board and a wealthy philanthropic family.
Samuel Eshaghoff, 19, a 2010 Great Neck North graduate, was charged in the cheating case.
The youths who are accused of paying them as much as $3,600 to take SAT and ACT tests were largely undistinguished students willing to cut corners to strengthen their modest résumés.
The combination yielded one of the most conspicuous cheating scandals in memory, a telling reflection on the college admissions rat race — and, perhaps, contemporary ethics more broadly. According to prosecutors, principals, parents and teenagers here on Long Island’s Gold Coast, it was common knowledge at some of the nation’s most prestigious high schools that if you had the money, you could find someone with a sharper vocabulary and a surer grasp of geometry to fill in the blanks for you.
One 2011 graduate of Great Neck North, the center of the scandal, matter-of-factly acknowledged having asked his parents whether they would pay to hire an SAT stand-in. “They said, ‘No way,’ ” he recalled one recent afternoon.
People briefed on the investigation said that Samuel Eshaghoff, a 2010 Great Neck North graduate, scored in the 2,100 range (out of 2,400) on his own SATs; he is accused of taking tests for at least 15 people over three years, and the people briefed on the inquiry said he obtained scores for them between 2,170 and 2,220 on the SAT and as high as 33 out of 36 on the ACT.
He was proficient at making fake identification cards, they said, and allowed clients to pay in installments and based on what they could afford.
That two of the people for whom he is accused of taking the tests after showing a fake ID were girls only raises further concerns about testing security.
Mr. Eshaghoff, 19, has pleaded not guilty to the charges of scheming to defraud, criminal impersonation and falsifying business records. Soon after his Sept. 27 arrest on Long Island, Mr. Eshaghoff was arrested in Arizona, and accused of possession and use of drug paraphernalia and having a fake ID, according to the Maricopa County sheriff’s office, though charges were never filed.
In a brief interview this week at Emory University, where he is a sophomore economics major, Mr. Eshaghoff said he had flown home three times to deal with the charges, and was now cramming for exams — his own. “I’m trying to focus on school,” he said. “I’m missing classes. That’s obviously tough.”
In Great Neck, a place where the high-achieving schools are the center of public life, and where high-priced tutors and admissions consultants are routine advantages for the wealthy, educators and parents are mortified that the community’s reputation could be muddied by the SAT scandal. But while it is clear that only a tiny proportion of students at the schools cheated, the scheme came to light only because it was widespread and well known enough that officials at North got wind of it.
“It’s almost like drugs,” said Jill Madenberg, a former guidance counselor at nearby New Hyde Park High School, and now an independent college consultant in Great Neck. “You know it’s out there, but do I want to do it?”
So far, 20 teenagers at five schools in Nassau County — Great Neck North, Great Neck South, Roslyn High School, the North Shore Hebrew Academy and St. Mary’s High School in Manhasset — have been arrested: the five suspected of taking the tests were charged with felonies, while the 15 accused of paying them $500 to $3,600 to do so face misdemeanor charges.
Kathleen M. Rice, the Nassau County district attorney, said that she had evidence against 20 others, but that they could not be pursued because of the two-year statute of limitations regarding misdemeanors, or the absence of testing records.
Of course, cheating on the SAT did not begin last year and is not limited to the North Shore of Long Island. One parent in Roslyn confided that back in the 1960s, his brother took the test for at least two friends, charging $25 and guaranteeing a 1,200 out of 1,600. According to the Educational Testing Service, which administers the exam for the College Board, about 3,000 scores are canceled each year because of suspected cheating, 150 involving impersonation.