Student Pleads Guilty to Computer Fraud, Trying to Preserve Scholarship
Memphis, TN –Michael Geddati, 20, of Memphis has pleaded guilty to computer fraud. U.S. Attorney D. Michael Dunavant announced the plea today.
According to the information presented in court, during the 2017-18 academic year, Michael Geddati was a freshman pre-med major at Rhodes College in Memphis. He received a scholarship valued at approximately $30,000 per semester. Continued receipt of the scholarship depended, in large part, on maintaining a particular grade-point average.
Beginning in approximately December 2017 and continuing through the spring semester, Geddati obtained credentials and passwords for instructors whose courses he was taking and then unlawfully accessed those instructors' accounts to downloaded exams and exam keys and change his official recorded grades.
Near the end of the spring term, one of Geddati's professors noticed a discrepancy between her off-line and online records for Geddati. According to her offline grade book, the grade that Geddati had earned in class was different, and lower, than the grade reflected in online records kept by Rhodes. A subsequent review of the college’s servers indicated that a residential IP address had been used to access the professor's account, as well as the accounts of several other faculty members, all of whom had Geddati as a student. Rhodes' server logs also contained evidence that in the preceding months, a laptop with the identifier "Michaels-MBP," also associated with Geddati, used an internal Rhodes IP address to access both Geddati’s student account and the credentials of his instructors. A total of more than 100 unauthorized access events were recorded. The same IP had also been used to access Michael Geddati's student account.
Records obtained during the investigation showed the IP address in question was assigned to Geddati's residence in Memphis during the period of unauthorized access to the Rhodes accounts. Forensic examination of Geddati's laptop confirmed that the laptop’s MAC (media access control) address matched that found on Rhodes’ servers and used in the unauthorized access to the faculty accounts.
U.S. Attorney D. Michael Dunavant said, "Protection of academic institutions and their computer systems infrastructure is a critical mission for us. Unfortunately, this defendant chose to use dishonest tactics to exploit the integrity of the Rhodes computer system for his own unjust benefit, and has now lost the opportunity for a quality higher education degree at a premier college. This case demonstrates the commitment and ability of the U.S. Attorney’s office, working with our federal law enforcement partners, to detect compromises of sensitive academic information, hold offenders accountable for such fraudulent schemes, and recover restitution for victimized institutions."
"This case is a great example of the cooperation between the target of a cyber-attack and law enforcement, and further illustrates that no one is immune from cyber intrusion," said M.A. Myers, Special Agent in Charge of the Memphis Field Office. "With continued partnerships with the community, cyber-crimes will not go unanswered and those who have committed or are committing similar computer intrusions are on notice that the FBI can and will identify them, and we will make every effort to bring them to justice."
"We take academic integrity and the security of our computer systems very seriously. Each of our students pledges to uphold the Rhodes College Honor Code. Our community does not tolerate lying, cheating, or stealing. We would like to thank the agents of the FBI’s Memphis Field Office who investigated this matter and the U.S. Attorney and assistant U.S. attorneys in the Western District of Tennessee who prosecuted it," Rhodes College Provost Dr. Milton Moreland said.
Rhodes convened an honor council; following a hearing, Mr. Geddati was expelled. Pursuant to the plea agreement presented in court, Geddati has agreed to make restitution to Rhodes College that will include the value of his unearned scholarship.
Geddati faces a maximum penalty of five years imprisonment, $ 250,000 fine and supervised probation. Sentencing is set for May 24, 2019, before U.S. District Court Judge Thomas L. Parker.
This case was investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Debra Ireland prosecuted this case on the government’s behalf.