Skip to content
Grade-hacking case brings 16 more felony charges for private tutor suspect
Naked Security Naked Security

Grade-hacking case brings 16 more felony charges for private tutor suspect

Timothy Lance Lai, the suspect accused of breaking into an Orange County high school in order to fix students' grades, could now face more than 16 years in jail.

High school graduation image courtesy of ShutterstockThe former private tutor at the centre of a high school grade-fixing scandal in California has been charged with a further 16 felony counts, on top of five he was already facing, and could be looking at 16 years in jail.

Timothy Lance Lai, now 29, was sought for questioning after disappearing from his home in Irvine in the wealthy Orange County area in late 2013.

Police wanted to interview him in relation to a cluster of suspicious changes to students’ grades at Corona Del Mar high school in the first half of 2013.

After the changes were spotted by a member of school staff, the investigation led to the expulsion of 11 students and the search for the missing Lai.

He was eventually picked up by police eight months later, when he arrived at LAX airport on a flight from South Korea in October 2014.

On his arrest he was charged with one count of “second degree commercial burglary” and four of “computer access and fraud”, which would have seen him facing up to five years and eight months prison time.

The charge list has now been bumped up substantially with an additional 16 computer access charges, bringing the potential maximum sentence up to a hefty 16 years and 4 months.

Lai is accused of breaking into the school (hence the “commercial burglary” charge) and attaching a keylogging device to a system used by teachers. Data gathered from the device was later used to access school databases and adjust the grades given to several students, many of them thought to have studied under Lai in his role as a private tutor.

The number of times these systems were accessed are most likely the reasoning behind the number of charges levied against Lai.

Local police have released details of their investigation to local reporters, claiming that one of the students connected to the hacking was persuaded to place a recorded call to Lai from the police station and that Lai then “made statements implicating himself in the elaborate cheating scheme”.

Lai has entered a not guilty plea and will face initial hearings in late April.

It seems unlikely that he will have to serve as much as the 16 years being threatened, but the heavy possible sentence should send a pretty stark message to anyone considering dabbling in hacking to improve their school or university performance.

Good grades may give you a better chance of bagging a good job, but a criminal record and a spell behind bars really aren’t going to set you up for a successful career.

Image of high school graduation courtesy of Shutterstock.


WTF is wrong with our judicial system. “Top Silk Road drug dealer (40yr old Steven Sadler) sentenced to 5 years” and this poor kid (Timothy Lance 29yrs) could get 16 years for using a keylogger?

Steven turning over $70,000 a month in cocaine sales alone and selling 8.5 pounds (3.8kg) of cocaine, 3 pounds (1.3kg) of heroin and 4 ounces (113g) of methamphetamine in little more than a year only gets 5 years… our judicial system needs to stop buying the drugs Steven’s selling.


While I entirely agree with the point of your post, I wouldn’t classify Mr. Lai as ‘this poor kid’. Seems his tutoring business had a ‘guarantee’ of improved grades which was designed to help build his business.


You seem to be confused between sentencing and charging. Sadler was charged with more, but he entered into a plea agreement and thus his sentencing was mitigated down to the five years. I doubt Lai is going to actually *get* 16 years in prison for changing some grades.

However, considering the absolutely b@tsh!t insane prosecutors and trials that come from hacking, I could be way off. The War on Drugs is a known failure, we haven’t yet learned that lesson so we’re starting the War on Hackers. Pretty soon it’s going to be possible that having a hacking tool on your hard drive is considered “hacking paraphernalia” and is a misdemeanor.

It’s a brave new world.


“Good grades may give you a better chance of bagging a good job”

What we need to tell students, and anyone thinking of helping them in this way, is that while good grades may give you a better chance at getting to the interview, they won’t give you a better chance of bagging a good job — good jobs are ones that challenge you and reward you at your skill level. If you don’t have the skills required, even if you get hired, you’ll be miserable and will likely go nowhere in your career.

Faking your skill set helps nobody. Better to spend your time doing what you actually enjoy and are competent doing.


Of course cheating is wrong under any circumstances, but the temptation to challenge the security systems by youngsters with new found power is too great sometimes. Somehow we need to harness the intelligence and resourcefulness of young programmers so it serves society rather than destroys it. This is the great challenge of our time.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Subscribe to get the latest updates in your inbox.
Which categories are you interested in?
You’re now subscribed!