TULSA, Okla. (AP) -- A judge has sentenced a Palestinian immigrant accused of tampering with the grades of other foreign students at a community college to 16 years in prison.
Tarig Al-Tawell was convicted of eight computer-related felonies linked to accusations that grades were changed for Middle Eastern students at Tulsa Community College's Northeast Campus.
Investigators said Al-Taweel, 33, worked with registrar employee Dlorah Jean Hogle, 46, to change grades of failing Middle Eastern students. Hogle is awaiting trial on two felony counts of violating the Oklahoma Computer Crimes Act.
Tulsa County District Judge Tom Thornbrugh told Al-Taweel he had squandered his "chance at the American dream."
Concluding that his crimes "strike at the very heart of social institutions," Thornbrugh sentenced Al-Taweel to eight consecutive two-year terms, in accordance with a jury's verdicts last month.
Al-Taweel, a Palestinian raised in Saudi Arabia, talked about his family as he made an impassioned plea for leniency.
"I came to this country when I was 16," he said. "I had no leadership. I hung around with the wrong people. That was my mistake."
Al-Taweel said his family includes doctors and engineers, and he indicated that he lacks nine credit hours to get an engineering degree himself.
"I'm going to do my time," Al-Taweel told the judge. "Whatever you come up with, that's fine. I'm going to take it like a man."
Prosecutor David Robertson urged Thornbrugh to impose the 16-year prison term, saying the defendant's actions caused a "great deal of embarrassment and disruption" to the college.
Robertson pointed out that Al-Taweel has prior convictions. Al-Taweel went to prison in 1993 after pleading guilty to drug felonies.
Defense attorney John Watson urged Thornbrugh to "consider the severity of the crime" in the TCC case and to also consider that Al-Taweel has been jailed since Nov. 4, 2001.
Al-Taweel will get credit for time served. Irregularities in student grades were discovered in May 2001, and, as a result, 76 Middle Eastern students were expelled for altered grades or for falsified English proficiency test scores.
Al-Taweel still faces two Tulsa County counts of false impersonation, linked to allegations that he tried to forge English proficiency test score certificates. He also faces federal prosecution, and the Immigration and
Naturalization Service has asked that he be held for possible