A university student in Florida on Tuesday was sentenced to 22 months in prison for his role in a bungled scheme to hack into his school’s computer system and make hundreds of grade changes.
Christopher Jacquette, 29, of Tallahassee was also ordered to serve three years of supervised release for his part in the plot, which used keyloggers to access protected computers at Florida A&M University, according to federal prosecutors. Along with cohorts Lawrence Secrease and Marcus Barrington, his caper reads like a modern-day episode of The Three Stooges.
The tale begins in August 2007, when Jacquette installed keyloggers onto several of the university’s computers after sneaking into a locked ballroom where student registration was taking place. In short order, the trio had access to the school’s PeopleSoft accounts. They promptly used it to change dozens of grades belonging to them and their friends, in many cases from Fs to As.
Naturally, these under-achieving students weren’t the sharpest tools in the shed, and they made some mistakes along the way. A university audit quickly revealed the presence of the keyloggers, and the discovery gave up several email addresses under the control of the students. University logs also showed that the grade changes were made using internet accounts from the students' homes.
When police questioned Barrington’s sister about changes made to her grades, she said she believed they were an act of God.
Then, within hours of being interrogated, Barrington convened a meeting where the trio would plan how to sneak keylogging software on university computers a second time. The university had reversed the altered grades, it seems, and the students were intent on changing them back. According to court documents, they did just that, boosting 16 grades belonging to Jacquette and 12 belonging to Barrington.
The students also used their unauthorized access to change the residency status of several students so they wouldn’t have to pay out-of-state fees that were more expensive. After Jacquette received $600 apiece from two students, he used his cell phone to send a text message instructing Barrington to change the students’ residence. After Jacquette gave consent to have his cell phone searched, investigators found several passwords belonging to university employees.
Court documents charged all three students with four felonies in connection with the alleged scheme. The status of Barrington and Secrease wasn’t immediately known. Prosecutors weren’t available late Tuesday to clarify.
In all, the trio changed some 650 grades belonging to 90 students. About 114 of the grades were Fs that were converted to As. Because the changes to grades and residency status would have allowed students to receive lower tuition fees, it could have had the effect of costing the university hundreds of thousands of dollars, prosecutors alleged. ®