PENSACOLA, Fla. (WTXL) — A mother and daughter in Pensacola are accused of rigging a high school homecoming court election by accessing accounts without authorization, authorities said Monday.
Laura Rose Carroll, 50, was arrested Monday and booked into the Escambia County Jail with a bond of $8,500, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) said in a news release. Her 17-year-old daughter was taken into custody and transferred to the Escambia Regional Juvenile Detention Center.
Agents with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement charged both women with one count each of offenses against users of computers, computer systems, computer networks, and electronic devices (a 3rd-degree felony), unlawful use of a two-way communications device (a 3rd-degree felony), criminal use of personally identifiable information (a 3rd-degree felony) and conspiracy to commit these offenses (a 1st-degree misdemeanor).
The investigation began in November 2020 when the Escambia County School District contacted FDLE to report unauthorized access into hundreds of student accounts.
The investigation found that Carroll, an assistant principal at Bellview Elementary School, and her daughter, a student at Tate High School, had accessed student FOCUS accounts.
Carroll had district-level access of the school board’s FOCUS program which is the school district’s student information system. FOCUS users are required to change their password every 45 days and Carroll’s annual training for the “Staff Responsible Use of Guidelines for Technology” was up to date.
In October 2020, hundreds of votes for Tate High School’s Homecoming Court voting were flagged as fraudulent, with 117 votes originating from the same IP address within a short period of time. Agents uncovered evidence of unauthorized access to FOCUS linked to Carroll’s cell phone as well as computers associated with their residence, with a total of 246 votes cast for the Homecoming Court.
Multiple students reported that the daughter told them about using her mother’s FOCUS account to cast votes for herself.
The investigation also found that beginning August 2019, Carroll’s FOCUS account accessed 372 high school records and 339 of those were of Tate High School students.
The Office of the State Attorney, First Judicial Circuit will prosecute this case.