FAMU STUDENT SENTENCED TO 84 MONTHS’ IN PRISON IN COMPUTER INTRUSION, GRADE-CHANGING SCAM
Tallahassee, Florida -
Thomas F. Kirwin, United States Attorney for the Northern District of Florida announced Tuesday the sentence of Marcus Barrington, 24, of Tallahassee, to 84 months’ imprisonment for aggravated identity theft, unauthorized access of a protected computer, and conspiracy to commit wire fraud and unauthorized access of a computer, in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Sections 371, 1028A, 1030, and 1349. Barrington, a student at the Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University (FAMU), was convicted of these crimes in March 2009 following a five-day federal jury trial before Chief United States District Judge Stephan P. Mickle.
Evidence presented at trial established that between June and December 2007, Barrington conspired with two other FAMU students, Christopher Jacquette and Lawrence Secrease, to access the FAMU computer system for the purpose of making unauthorized grade and residency changes.
Over the course of a three month period, the conspirators caused the grades of approximately 90 FAMU students to be changed, effecting changes in approximately 650 grades overall.
The grade changes increased the grade point averages (GPAs) of the majority of students whose grades were changed, which in turn, made these students eligible for financial aid in the form of grants, scholarships, and loans to which these students would not otherwise have been entitled.
Approximately 114 of the grade changes at issue were failing “F” grades that were changed to “A” grades, which had the effect of awarding students thousands of dollars worth of credit hours to which they were not entitled.
Barrington and his co-conspirators also caused the residency status of certain students to be changed from “out-of-state” to “in-state,” thus reducing the amount of tuition owed to the University by thousands of dollars.
Witnesses testified that Barrington and his co-conspirators were paid fees of up to $600 for some of the unauthorized changes. The conspirators were able to access the FAMU computer system by surreptitiously installing keystroke loggers on computers used by employees of the Registrar’s Office.
The keystroke loggers enabled the conspirators to obtain the secure user names and passwords of FAMU registrar’s office employees. The conspirators then used these names and passwords to access the FAMU computer system to make both grade and residency changes.
After learning that FAMU had reversed the unauthorized grade changes, the conspirators accessed the computer system a second time to change their grades back, once again improving students’ GPAs and changing failing grades to passing ones.
During today’s sentencing hearing, the Court found Barrington had used sophisticated means in the commission of the offenses, to include devices intended to capture and record access information in the form of computer pass codes, that he had acted as an organizer and manager of the criminal conspiracy, and that his actions and conduct in the course of the investigation and prosecution of the offenses amounted to obstruction of justice – all resulting in an enhanced penalty.
In pronouncing sentence, Chief Judge Mickle emphasized the overwhelming evidence of Barrington’s guilt contrasted with Barrington’s lack of remorse for the offenses. Previously, Chief Judge Mickle sentenced co-defendants Jacquette and Secrease to terms of twenty-two months’ imprisonment and three years of supervised release. Their lesser sentences resulted from Jacquette’s and Secrease’s cooperation in the investigation and prosecution of Barrington.
United States Attorney Kirwin commended the dedication and tenacity of the FAMU Police Department, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation, whose joint investigation led to the conviction, as well as expressing his thanks to the FAMU administration for their ongoing cooperation and assistance in assuring that this matter was successfully investigated and prosecuted.
The case was prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Eric Mountin.