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Tutor pleads not guilty in Corona del Mar High School hacking scandal

Student hacking case
A crosswalk attendant stops traffic along Eastbluff Drive as students make their way to Corona del Mar High School in September.
(Kevin Chang / Daily Pilot)

A private tutor accused of hacking into Corona del Mar High School computers to change students’ grades pleaded not guilty Tuesday to five felonies.

Timothy Lance Lai could face as long as five years and eight months in jail if he’s convicted on one count of second-degree burglary and five counts of computer fraud.

In front of Orange County Superior Court Judge Robert Gannon Jr., Lai quietly entered his plea and said little else before lawyers set a pre-trial hearing for Jan. 9, the Daily Pilot reported.

Lai and his attorney, Donald Rubright, left without speaking to reporters.

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Prosecutors say Lai, a former Irvine resident, broke into the Newport Beach high school to put a device that recorded keystrokes on a teacher’s computers so he could steal login credentials and passwords.

Lai allegedly used that information to change grades of three students between April and June in 2013. Investigators later found a second device on another computer, prosecutors said.

Lai fled the country after Newport Beach police began investigating in December, according to the Orange County district attorney’s office.

He returned to Los Angeles International Airport in October, where detectives arrested him. Lai is currently free on $200,000 bail.

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Prosecutor Brock Zimmon declined to say where Lai was returning from in October or provide any more details on the case after Tuesday’s hearing.

Parents at Corona del Mar have said Lai may have worked with more than 100 students.

In January, the Newport-Mesa Unified School District expelled 11 students tied to the hacking scandal.

Lai’s lawyer did not immediately return a phone call.

Dobruck is a writer for Times Community News.

Follow the reporter on Twitter: @jeremiahdobruck


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