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Student Sentenced To 3 Years For Grade Scandal

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More than three years after the university’s grade system audit led to an FBI investigation uncovering a cash-for-grades scandal, former graduate student John Escalera was sentenced to 36 months on felony probation.

The sentence came one week after his accomplice, Gustavo Razo, received a similar punishment for paying Escalera to use records he obtained as an information technology employee to change grades.

After expressing remorse for his actions while addressing the court, Escalera was verbally chastised by U.S. District Judge Lawrence J. O’Neill for what Escalera referred to in a pre-sentencing statement as, “a lack of judgment and integrity on my behalf.”

O’Neill scolded Escalera for squandering his opportunities by focusing his efforts and computer skills on “stupid things.”

“A lot of people come through those doors without the gifts you were given at birth,” O’Neill said. “By your actions you have spit in the face of those gifts.”

Attorney calls sentence “reasonable”

Robert Rainwater, Escalera’s attorney, said he felt the sentence was fair due the toll the indictment had taken on his client.

“It was a reasonable sentence, considering what happened,” Rainwater said. “There’s not much more to say to it than that, but Fresno State has learned a lesson from this [incident] too, I’m sure.”

“More important than what happened here in court today, he’s lost his degrees, his job and a lot of respect in the community. He’s learned a big lesson from this,” Rainwater added.

Assistant United States Attorney Stanley Boone and Fresno State declined to comment on the case, the university citing the involvement of other defendants.

Security measures implemented by university

The university issued a statement in November of last year, which stated that the investigation led to several security upgrades in the grading system.

The changes included increasing the frequency for which grade changing permissions are updated, a periodic review of all non-routine grade changes and creating an automated routine for teachers to be notified when grades are changed.

The university noticed the grade changes in March of 2005 during an audit of its grade system. The FBI was notified and a joint investigation began between the school’s police department and the FBI Cyber Crimes Task Force.

Grade change motivated by graduation, resulted in loss of degree

Escalera was a computer science graduate student who completed his undergraduate degree at Fresno State in the same field. He was later stripped of his degree and post-graduate work after the grade changes were discovered.

Escalera said he was about nine units short of finishing his master’s degree when he made the changes; a D to an A in a math class, an Incomplete to an A in a computer science class, and an additional grade change for Razo.

Escalera said he was currently freelancing part-time computer work when he could get it, and didn’t know when or if he would try to enroll in another university.

“I haven’t thought about it yet,” he said. “I kind of just want to put all this behind me and see. I would kind of want to take the same classes just to prove that I could pass them.”

Escalera said time was the motivating factor for the changes, citing a project in a computer science class he earned an Incomplete in and didn’t have time to finish before he was supposed to graduate.

“I was just running out of time and I was getting ready to graduate and it was ruining the plan,” Escalera said. “I was in a tough situation and made a bad decision.”

Even though he looked back with regret on the decision that led to spending time in jail, losing his job, friends and being expelled from school, he said he feels the ordeal has tested him and he is stronger as a result.

“If I had to go back over again and do things differently, I would,” Escalera said, “But what I can’t regret is the lesson I’ve learned.”

Reported by The Collegian - California State University, Fresno

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