Navy football recruit charged in test thefts

Academy officials revoke offer to high school senior


May 10, 2002|By Ariel Sabar | Ariel Sabar,SUN STAFF

A teen-ager recruited to play football at the U.S. Naval Academy has been charged with breaking into his high school in central Pennsylvania to steal advance copies of exams, police said.

Luke Wascovich, 18, and four other seniors were charged Wednesday with repeatedly entering Lower Dauphin High School at night during the past year and a half, first to steal tests and then to take about $23,000 worth of laptop computers and calculators, authorities said.

"The original intent was to have access to tests to give them an advantage in the test-taking process," said Charles M. Dowell, the chief of police of Hummelstown, a suburb of Harrisburg. "It progressed to taking objects like computers."

The charges of test stealing call to mind the academy's 1992 cheating controversy, in which football players were found to have played a prominent role in circulating advance copies of an electrical engineering final exam. Football players have figured in several other scandals at the academy, most recently in 2000 when three players were accused of sexually assaulting a fellow midshipman.

Cmdr. Bill Spann, the Naval Academy spokesman, said last night that the military college had withdrawn its offer of admission Monday after learning about the case through sources he would not identify. Wascovich, who had made the Associated Press Big School All-State team last year as a punter, told a Harrisburg newspaper in January that he planned to major in aerospace engineering and play quarterback at the academy. He was scheduled to arrive in Annapolis in July for the rigorous indoctrination known as plebe summer.

"I'm looking forward to it," he told The Patriot-News. "It's really flattering to get accepted there."

He added, "It's working out perfectly."

A man who identified himself on the telephone yesterday as Wascovich's father declined to comment.

School and law enforcement officials said Wascovich and the four other seniors had been better-than-average students with no history of discipline problems or arrests.

"Ironically, many of these students were at or near the top of the class," said Edward M. Marsico Jr., the district attorney for Dauphin County.

The students had been suspended two weeks ago after an internal school probe and then expelled by the school board Monday night. "It's upsetting to the school and the student body," said the principal, Landry K. Appleby.

Police said someone would prop open a classroom window during the day and return at night to steal tests and electronics equipment. Police believe that some of the computers and calculators were later sold on eBay, an Internet auction site.

The students stole advance copies of math, social studies and English tests and memorized them in an effort to boost their scores, according to court documents and school officials.

The 1,200-student high school, in Hummelstown, had reported nine laptop computers and four calculators stolen between December 2000 and last month.

The suspects began to talk about their alleged roles in the thefts, and classmates reported them to school administrators, Marsico said. "As typically happens, criminals can't keep their mouths shut," the prosecutor said. "They bragged, and the crime was solved."

Wascovich, of Hummelstown, was charged with two felony counts of burglary and one felony count of conspiracy to commit burglary, all in connection with the theft of exams.

Those charges are punishable by up to 30 years in prison. But because he would be a first-time offender, Wascovich, if convicted, would be more likely be sentenced to probation or a few months in prison, Marsico said.

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