You'd think a 29-year-old tutor accused of helping three Corona del Mar High School students cheat last year was facing the crime of the century, given the lengths Irvine's Timothy Lance Lai went to to avoid prosecution.
Then again, it has now been revealed the cheating scandal may have extended beyond CdM to Santa Ana and other points beyond.
"There's probably hundreds of kids affected by this individual," says one school official.
It was originally believed about 150 students were involved in the CdM cheating scandal but only 11 were ultimately expelled–leading to the parents of some of those youths to accuse the Newport-Mesa Unified School District of singling out their kids.
The district's "farce" expulsions also caused one administrator to quit.
The number of students has been further winnowed down to three, based on the charges Lai now faces: one felony count of second degree commercial burglary and four felony counts of computer access and fraud. Conviction could put him behind bars for up to five years and eight months. Prosecutors are seeking $200,000 bail at his pending arraignment, according to the Orange County District Attorney's office (OCDA).
Lai was a private tutor last year when he allegedly broke into CdM High School and inserted a USB device into a teacher's computer that was able to record the teacher's keystrokes. From April 1-June 14, 2013, Lai accessed the school's network using the information from the recorded keystrokes and changed the grades of three students from two different teachers, the OCDA claims.
One of the teachers discovered the changed grades and contacted school administrators, who in turn notified the Newport Beach Police Department. Their investigation uncovered another USB device on a third teacher's computer, according to OCDA.
While the probe was going on, Lai allegedly fled the country. He was arrested upon arrival at the Los Angeles International Airport Monday. Since he is only now in custody, police may be able to fill in more blanks in their ongoing investigation, including exactly how many students Lai allegedly helped cheat.
"This is the first time we've had contact with him," Jennifer Manzella, the Newport Beach Police spokeswoman, told City News Service. "We are going to interview him if he elects to speak with us."
Lai may disclose the cheating extended beyond Newport Beach, to hear Newport-Mesa district board member Katrina Foley tell it. He tutored students at many other area schools, Foley told the news service.
"We don't know the number (of students affected) because he was tutoring at Mater Dei" and elsewhere, said Foley, in reference to the private Catholic high school in Santa Ana.
"There's probably hundreds of kids affected by this individual."