A mom faces six felony charges for allegedly hacking into her children’s school computer to change their grades and read school officials’ emails.
45-year-old Catherine Venusto of New Tripoli, Pennsylvania , has been accused of changing her daughter’s failing grade from an F to an M for “medical” in June 2010, and then changing her son’s 98 to a 99 in February 2012.
This came nearly a year after she quit her job as an administrative office secretary to work at another school district.
Venusto was arraigned in Lehigh County Magisterial Court on three counts of unlawful use of a computer and three counts of computer trespassing and altering data. All six charges are third degree felonies.
“I’m concerned on numerous levels,” said Jennifer Holman, Northwestern Lehigh School District’s assistant superintendent. “When we say systems, there were three difference systems violated. There were 10 different users that at some point had their email violated.”
Holman first realized something was wrong when a teacher asked why Superintendent Mary Ann Wright was in that teacher’s online grade book. Once Wright explained she was never in the grade book, administrators and state police began looking for whoever used Wright’s username and password without permission.
State police discovered Venusto used Wright’s username and password 110 times to access the district’s online grading system, according to the District Attorney’s office. Venusto also allegedly accessed nine other faculty members’ email accounts without permission, and accessed the human resources “H-drive” to view “thousands of files associated with district policy, contract information, employee reports and personnel issues.”
“We deeply regret this incident and that this unauthorized access occurred, and we sincerely regret any inconvenience this may cause,” Wright wrote in a statement. “We are doing everything we can to prevent this from happening again, and new security procedures are in place to better assure that our systems are protected from such attempts.”
Holman said the district’s news release and email purposefully left Venusto’s name out to protect her children, but the District Attorney’s press release revealed the name.
“It’s not their fault,” Holman said of Venusto’s children. “If the students continue to go to school here, which I assume they will, we need to do our best to support them in whatever way they need.”
The court set bail at $30,000, but Venusto will not have to pay it unless she does not appear in court for her preliminary hearing on July 26, according a District Attorney’s office spokeswoman. If convicted, Venusto could face fines, jail time, and restitution payments.
Venusto could face a maximum of 42 years in prison or a $90,000 fine, according to District Attorney’s office spokeswoman Debbie Garlicki, who said the maximum penalty on each count is seven years or a $15,000.