Friday, August 22, 2008

DVC suspect a scapegoat, attorney says

A Benicia man accused of changing grades at Diablo Valley College has been made a scapegoat, swept up in a larger scheme that did not involve him, his attorney told a jury Wednesday.

In opening statements in the trial of former student employee Erick Martinez, public defender Karen Moghtader agreed that her client's grades had been changed, but said someone else with a grudge may have altered the transcript.

"The question is, who changed Erick Martinez's grade and why," Moghtader told the Contra Costa Superior Court jury of 10 women and two men. "What the district attorney has to do is prove to you beyond a reasonable doubt that Erick Martinez was the one who changed his grades."

Martinez's trial is the first involving more than 50 former DVC and Los Medanos College students charged with altering grades from the DVC records office. Three architects of the scheme have pleaded guilty and are scheduled to testify this week.

While the majority of the defendants are accused of exchanging money for better grades, prosecutors say Martinez was leading an unrelated scam in which he changed 15 of his own grades and a handful of friends' grades. He is charged with nine counts of computer fraud and one count of conspiracy, all felonies.

Martinez's grade changes were discovered by a calculus professor who noticed the student had reappeared on an end-of-semester roster with an A, even though he had attended only two sessions, prosecutor Dodie AdvertisementKatague told the jury.

"The other grade scammers would never have been detected had it not been for changes made by Erick Martinez," Katague said.

Both attorneys criticized lax security at the DVC records office, where student employees easily gained access to transcripts. Moghtader noted that accreditors had first warned DVC about the potential for security breaches in 2002, nearly four years before the illicit changes were discovered.

Despite a crackdown on grade security, accreditors have repeatedly asked the college to take their warnings more seriously. The regional accrediting body this summer issued a formal warning to the school.

If Martinez is convicted, he could be deported. He came to the United States from Guatemala in 1997 and was granted asylum two years later.

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