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Erick Martinez has been charged in the DVC grades scandal.
The U.S. legal system, first a means of sanctuary for Diablo Valley College grade-changing suspect Erick Martinez, has become a nightmare for him.

Martinez, a 33-year-old Benicia resident, is being held in a Richmond jail, charged with improperly changing grades during the two years he worked in the DVC records office. The former DVC student faces nearly 11 years in prison if convicted on all 11 felony counts and, possibly, deportation.

The past week has been a sobering turn of events for the Guatemala native, who was granted asylum in the United States 10 years ago after being threatened with violence in his homeland. Martinez claims the charges are a mistake.

"I'm innocent of everything they've said," Martinez said during a jail interview. "It would be stupid for me to jeopardize all the things I have in this country for one little thing."

Prosecutors say Martinez ran one of two DVC grade-changing scams that have led to felony charges against 34 people. Unlike most of the defendants, Martinez has not been accused of accepting money in exchange for the falsified transcripts.

But it was a professor's suspicions about Martinez that helped administrators discover the dual schemes, which prosecutors and school officials say involved more than 50 students, 400 grades and thousands of dollars. A series of e-mails sent between DVC administrators in February 2006 outlined their suspicions about Martinez.

"This looks interesting," one administrator wrote to another on Feb.


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15, listing nearly 20 of Martinez's impressive grades. "He is an hourly (employee)."

Martinez, who had planned to attend UC Berkeley and become an artist, said he has never changed a grade, legitimately or otherwise. His job was to register students and enter data, he said.

"I was a good employee," he said. "The line went fast when I was working for them."

The DVC admissions and records office had serious problems, Martinez said. Shoddy record-keeping and security measures are the likely reasons for the accusations against him, he said.

Administrators have acknowledged that too many people -- about 90, including student employees -- were authorized to change grades. Most schools allow three to five people to alter transcripts.

Prosecutors declined to elaborate on Martinez's case Monday, but court documents show he is accused of using DVC computers to improve his own grades and those of two other people. He said he believes someone else tampered with his grades, but he could not explain why.

What Martinez does know is that he never expected police to swarm his Benicia home last week or that he would end up behind bars, surrounded by violent criminals. He is being held in lieu of $275,000 bail, although that is likely to be reduced when he returns to court with a public defender this week.

"It would be so stupid of me to do something like this," he said. "They're treating me like I'm a criminal, and I'm not."

In addition to the prison time he faces, Martinez could also run into immigration problems. As a legal permanent resident -- but not a citizen -- he could be deported if immigration authorities determine his crimes amounted to "aggravated felonies."

If that determination is made, Martinez would not be allowed to even argue his case for remaining in the country, said Jayashri Srikantiah, a Stanford University law professor.

"If it is considered to be an aggravated felony," she said, "sadly, he would be subject to mandatory deportation."

Matt Krupnick covers higher education. Reach him at 925-943-8246 or mkrupnick@cctimes.com.