A Houston County educator was overpaid by about $50,000 over a 10-year period based on his questionable doctorate, according to an internal investigation. Roy Watford, Houston County Schools secondary curriculum/accreditation director, received extra pay for a doctoral degree he held from the University of Beverly Hills, Houston County School Superintendent Tim Pitchford said. The extra pay amounted to about $5,000 more per year between 1994 and 2004 than he should have received.
Educators are paid according to their years of experience and highest degree level obtained. To get credit for the degrees, they must come from a university or college accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools. SACS does not recognize the University of Beverly Hills.
Watford denies any wrongdoing on his part, and said he obtained the degree with the understanding it was legitimate and did not seek the extra pay from the county schools.
"I think there's just somebody who has a vendetta against me and I do not know who or why," Watford said.
Watford holds a bachelor's degree from Troy University, a master's degree from Peabody College and an education specialist's certificate, also known as an AA, from Auburn University. In 1984, while working in an administrative position at the University of Alabama, Watford obtained a doctorate in education philosophy from the University of Beverly HIlls. Watford resigned from the University of Alabama in 1985.
In a 1985 letter to Hubert Kessler, then director of personnel services at the University of Alabama, Dennis P. Prisk, dean of continuing studies, said Watford's resignation had to do with his acquisition and use of the doctorate from the University of Beverly Hills, which he describes as a "diploma mill."
"In short, Roy acquired a bogus degree and was attempting to portray it as legitimate," Prisk said in the letter. "And he committed fraud by telling others the degree was from Auburn."
Watford denies these accusations and said he returned to Dothan to be close to his family.
After resigning from the University of Alabama, Watford got a job teaching in the Houston County Schools in 1986. On Watford's employment application, he makes no mention of his doctorate from the University of Beverly Hills, and, according to Pitchford, the doctorate is not listed on his Alabama teaching certificate.
Watford said he didn't list the diploma on his application because he knew it wasn't accepted and he didn't want to cause complications.
Watford moved up the ranks of the county school system, becoming an assistant principal and later principal of Rehobeth High. Watford said in the early 90s he was approached by Doyle Bond, who was superintendent at the time, and told his doctorate entitled him to a raise.
Bond said Wednesday he approached Watford about the raise after receiving a directive from the state that all education employees with a doctorate should receive increased pay. Bond said he forwarded a copy of Watford's diploma from the University of Beverly Hills to the state and got approval for the raise.
Pitchford and the Alabama Department of Education said no documentation in Watford's personnel file shows state recognition of his doctorate.
"We have no record of any school superintendent submitting a verification of a higher degree for this individual," said Michael Sibley, a department spokesman.
Pitchford said he has consulted with Jere Segrest, county school system attorney, and Segrest recommended that he take no action in the matter. Pitchford said he would likely be talking to Watford and the county school board about the matter again in the near future.
Marie Theriault-Sabourin is a manager in the registrar's office at Algonquin College in Ottawa. She has a master's degree in business administration. Quami Frederick used her bachelor's degree to get into Toronto's Osgoode Hall law school and was offered a job articling with a Bay St. law firm.
Armed with his Ph.D in political science, police tactical trainer Augustus Michalik counts various Canadian and U.S. law enforcement agencies as his clients.
The problem is, their university degrees are fake.
They are among at least 220 Canadians with bogus academic credentials uncovered in a recent probe. Worldwide, fake degrees are a billion dollar industry, even threatening government security, investigators say.
Last week, an undercover Star investigation exposed Peng Sun, a York University grad who forges university degrees from real Canadian universities for $4,000. Sun's client list was not available, but the Star obtained a list of Canadians who bought fake degrees from an American diploma mill busted three years ago by the U.S. Secret Service and Homeland Security.
St. Regis University, which granted degrees under various names, was a complete fake. Canadians on its "buyers list" gave the Star one of three explanations: some admitted the degrees were bogus, some claimed they submitted course work (but did not provide proof to the Star), and others thought they were awarded real degrees for life experiences.
"I don't want my name in (the story)," said Theriault-Sabourin, who is the manager of scheduling in the registrar's office at Algonquin, a 16,000-student college in Ottawa. She said she now understands the master's degree she purchased in 2000 for $1,350 is bogus.
Her husband, Leo, bought two, a bachelor's degree in business and an MBA in marketing. The couple have a turbulent financial past and it's unclear what role the fake degrees played. Leo was found guilty in an Ottawa court of tax evasion and fraud last May for evading almost $5 million in income taxes he prepared for dozens of clients, mainly chiropractors.
Marie declared bankruptcy earlier this year with more than $680,000 in debts and Leo declared bankruptcy in 2002, owing $483,000 (Leo was discharged from bankruptcy, and Marie's more recent bankruptcy is facing a court hearing).
"I never used it, and never will use it," Marie said of her degree, which she obtained just before she began her duties at Algonquin. Her husband, who is awaiting sentencing, could not be reached for comment.
Responsibilities of the registrar's office at Algonquin include authenticating degrees from other educational facilities. A college spokesman would not comment.
The couple's degrees came from a Washington State diploma mill. Eight ringleaders pleaded guilty to mail and wire fraud charges. They set up 120 fake schools with names like St. Regis University and James Monroe University. There were no courses or classes.
The head provost of St. Regis University was a high school dropout.
The gang raked in more than $7 million in sales to 131 countries. It sold everything from high school diplomas to PhDs and medical degrees. Dozens of U.S. government employees are on the list, including a White House staff member, National Security Agency employees, a senior State Department official, and a Department of Justice employee.
Tens of thousands of people are walking around with "ticking time bombs in their resumes," says Allen Ezell, a former FBI agent who has spent a big chunk of his career investigating diploma mills.
This week Quami Frederick's blew up on her.
A third-year Osgoode Hall Law School student, Frederick, 28, is on the list as having paid $1,109 for a "B.A." in Business Administration, plus a transcript of marks. Using the degree transcript, Frederick got into Osgoode as one of 290 students selected from 2,500 applicants in 2006.
Contacted by the Star several weeks ago, Frederick initially denied everything, suggesting she might be the victim of identity fraud.
"I'm not worried because I never bought any degree from any university," said Frederick, who expected to graduate next year and has a job lined up with Wildeboer and Dellelce, LLP. The law firm noted her degree on its website, welcoming her aboard as an articling student.
This week, after much soul searching, Frederick changed her story.
"I'm sorry. I shouldn't have lied to you," Frederick said. "I should've levelled with you. I figured you'd call the university and theywouldn't tell you anything and that would be the end of it."
The change of heart came after the Star found she never attended St. George's University in Grenada, from where she claimed to have an undergraduate degree. Frederick's case is different from others. St. George's is a real university and it appears the degree mill forged documents from there.
Frederick now says "the truth" is she spent $8,000 for a six-month, "fast-track" online business degree in 2004. School spokesperson Lisa O'Connor said St. George's does not offer this type of online course.
"Her degree is completely bogus," said O'Connor, noting the fake transcript shows Frederick spent four years at the school and made the Dean's honour list with a near perfect 3.93 grade point average. "No one by the name of Quami Frederick has ever been a student at our school."
Frederick told the Star this week that the associate dean of Osgoode Hall Law School at York University has launched an investigation into "a potential breach of academic honesty" and she may be expelled. A York spokesperson said they have a department that verifies applicant's credentials, but would not comment on Frederick's case. The law firm removed her name from its website yesterday and is investigating.
The St. Regis degree mill was shut down in August 2005 after a Secret Service agent, posing as a retired Syrian army weapons specialist, applied for three degrees, saying he needed them urgently to stay in the United States.
The only requirement St. Regis made of this potential terrorist was whether he would be paying with Visa, MasterCard or American Express. Two weeks and $1,277 later, the fictional Mohammed Syed got his degrees in chemistry and environmental engineering, based on his "life experience."
Seeing St. Regis as a threat to national security, a task force comprised of eight federal agencies moved quickly. In six years of operation, St. Regis had spread its tentacles around the globe ensnaring clients across Europe, Russia, the Middle East and Asia.
Operators used email to spam potential customers with tempting offers that included, "buy one degree at full price, get a second free."
Wayne Victor Cook bought two.
A former provincial and municipal candidate in Ontario, Cook claims his public affairs company Wayne Cook Public Affairs Consulting confers with the president of the United States at the White House. He also claims on his website that he played a key role in getting John Tory elected as leader of the Ontario Conservative Party.
Listing numerous blue chip companies and Ontario universities as employers and clients on his curriculum vitae, Cook also claimed to have an Executive MBA from the very real Heriot-Watts University in Edinburgh, Scotland.
He does not.
What he does have is two bogus degrees, an MBA and a Ph.D., purchased from the St. Regis diploma mill in 2004.
Cook, who ran for the Ontario Liberals in Beaches-Woodbine in 1981 and Toronto City Council in 1997, losing both times, paid $1,133 for a Ph.D. and an MBA in Human Resources Management.
Just hours after being contacted by the Star, Cook's online bios underwent radical changes. His Executive MBA from Heriot-Watts is now "expected" in 2010. All references to his MBA and PhD were deleted.
"I don't have an interest, and really don't have any comments for you," Cook replied when asked to explain the vanishing degrees.
A spokesperson for John Tory denied Cook played any role in his election as leader.
Design engineer Terry A. Hrushka is so proud of his three degrees from St. Regis that he's posted them on his website – a Bachelor of Science in Natural Physics in 1992, a Master of Applied Science in 1994, and a Doctorate in Process Physics in 1996.
The problem is St. Regis University, which falsely claimed it was accredited by the government of Liberia, didn't issue any degrees, bogus as they were, until 1999. What they did do was graduate any student with a credit card on any date they wanted.
"What you have written to me has devastated my life," Hrushka said in an email to the Star, responding to written questions. Hrushka said he thought his degrees were real. "I have now wasted six years of my life and just over $50,000 U.S."
"I wish I had the records to prove all this," Hrushka wrote, claiming he took correspondence courses from St. Regis. "But unfortunately they were lost over time as I moved around a great deal."
Martial arts expert Augustus Robert Michalik counts the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, the U.S. Navy Seals, CIA agents and police officers from across Ontario as students of his Police Tactical Training and Black Arts courses he has taught for years.
Proudly posted on his website are certificates of achievement including one issued to "Dr. Augustus Michalik, PhD", by the United Nations Institute for Training and Research for courses in Global Terrorism.
Author of several books, including The Knife Fighting Anti-terrorist Handbook, Michalik purchased his degree in "Political Science" for $1,340 in 2003, and paid for it with a credit card, according to the information compiled by the U.S Justice Department.
"You've got the wrong guy," Michalik said when reached on his cell phone at his base in London, Ont., saying he had just returned from a consulting job in the Philippines. "That's not me."
His Ph.D. is in " political philosophy dealing with terrorism," Michalik said, but refused to name the university. "If you want, you can talk to my lawyer," Michalik said, then hung up.
Days later, all references to his Ph.D. disappeared from the website of Homeland Security Inc. where Michalik is the CEO. The Star was unable to determine which officers from the RCMP or other forces Michalik has trained.
One degree recipient, Dr. Anthony Alsayed, says he has instructed his lawyer to sue the people behind St. Regis in an attempt to clear his name.
A Lebanese-born Canadian with a medical degree from People's Friendship University in Moscow, Alsayed admits he made a mistake in trying to piggyback a PhD from St. Regis on to his medical degree from Russia.
"I'm a victim in this. It's not as if I'm a plumber who was looking for a PhD in education," Alsayed, said in an interview at his Mississauga home. "I have my MD. I'm a real doctor."
His medical degree is recognized in Canada, Alsayed said, but he is not licensed to practice as a physician. Until recently he ran a company that prepped students to take their medical exams.
Alsayed showed the Star a receipt for $1,659 for his PhD in "Medical and Health Care Education." He also paid $650 to a U.S. degree certification company that checked out St. Regis and told Alsayed his degree was issued by a bona fide university accredited by Liberia. What Alsayed did not know was that the St. Regis scam artists had fooled everyone, creating a website purporting to be that of the Liberian government, which heaped praise on St. Regis as a great university.
To add insult to injury, St. Regis took the marks Alsayed got from his medical courses in Russia, and lowered them in the transcripts they sold to him. When he protested, they sent him an email saying a PhD in "Medical Management" from St. Regis was a very tough degree to earn.
"My wife says I'm naïve," Alsayed said of how he fell for the scam. "I thought this was the way they did things in North America."
Teacher Kin-Yau "Kenny" Wong has a real master's in business from the University of Toronto, then went and endangered his career by adding a bogus Ph.D. from Belford University to his academic record.
"I tried to use it at my school, but later on I found out that was wrong," Wong said. "I can frankly say I did not use it for any financial gain," said Wong, who paid $1,540 for the bogus Ph.D. in education.
"I admit I did something wrong," Wong said. "I just tried to satisfy my own ego."
Bogus degrees are a billion-dollar-a-year industry, says former FBI agent Ezell, who has spent most of his career investigating the sale of counterfeit and bogus college credentials and is now vice-president for corporate fraud investigation for Wachovia Bank.
Ezell, who headed the massive FBI investigation in the late 1980s, estimates there are 400 Internet diploma mills spewing out 200,000 bogus diplomas a year. More than 85 per cent are located in the U.S.
The fallout from the St. Regis bust is just now being felt across America.
Fourteen New York firefighters were fined more than $135,000 after they submitted bogus degrees from St. Regis in attempts to gain promotions. Six Chicago-area police officers also purchased bogus degrees. One cop even submitted his "tuition" from St. Regis for reimbursement from the department.
His superior, who signed off on the expense, had also obtained a bogus degree from the same diploma mill.
For $3,000, Peng Sun can turn anyone into an instant graduate from the most prestigious universities in the country. For another $1,000, he'll provide authentic-looking transcripts for the dozens of classes you never attended.
All you need is a bundle of cash and the nerve to meet him in a parking lot somewhere in the GTA. In return you will get a forged university degree virtually indistinguishable from the real thing.
We know this because for $4,000, Peng Sun made a York University MBA diploma for a Star operative posing as a Toronto bank employee who needed one quickly to land a high-paying job in China. In three days, Sun produced documents that would take years and hefty tuition fees for a real student to earn.
Education leaders say the widespread production of bogus degrees damages the academic system and police warn that forged documents create security risks.
Sun's counterfeit ring, the brash 26-year-old York University grad claims, has forged hundreds of college and university degrees in the past four years. He started the business while a visa student at York.
"Three (degrees) per week, a good week, I get four," Sun told the Star's undercover operative of the high demand for his bogus degrees.
His work is top-notch. His prices are higher than those charged by diploma mills advertising on the Internet because his fakes are of superior quality, for real universities, printed on thick, watermarked paper, and stamped with university seals.
For the $4,000 Sun also provided two copies of grade transcripts in sealed York University envelopes ready to hand to prospective employers.
"Once you crack the watermark you can forge anything," Sun boasted to one of two operatives the Star used during a two-month investigation. "You can print money."
University of Toronto and York University degrees are the most sought after by his clients, mainly students who don't want to study, or immigrants returning to China who need a diploma to land a well-paying job. Sun said the price for a bachelor's degree, MBA or PhD is the same. For him, it's the same amount of work, paper and ink.
"I have friends from China who spend three years here, didn't want to go to school, but got York and U of T degree (from him) then got a job," Sun boasted. "There are many of them. It's funny."
"My quality is the best. You can't even distinguish. The paper, its weight, quality, pattern, colour, fonts, layout, logo design, stamp, seal are the same as the real thing."
"You will get your return," Sun said to the operative's comment that $4,000 was a lot of money. "If you pay 30 years of tuition fees, you still have to study for 30 years."
Sun advertises his fake degrees on an Internet bulletin board. He did not ask to see any identification before undertaking to make an MBA degree for one of our operatives, who went by the name Calvin Wai Tak Lee. After email and telephone exchanges, Calvin Lee met Sun in the Shoppers Drug Mart parking lot at Yonge St. and Finch Ave. two weeks ago. Our operative gave him a date of birth, the requested graduating year (2006), plus a $400 cash down payment.
Three days later, Calvin Lee had his Master of Business Administration from York's prestigious Schulich School of Business, bearing the embossed slogan "with all the honours, rights and privileges which appertain to this degree." The degree was delivered at a meeting that began in Sun's white Toyota Yaris in the same parking lot.
Bearing a graduation date of June 2006, the degree carries the university's crimson seal and the forged signatures of then-Chancellor Peter Cory and President Lorna Marsden. Cory is a former Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada and Marsden is a former Canadian senator.
For the $4,000 Sun also provided transcripts detailing two years of alleged study in marketing courses at Schulich, awarding Calvin Lee an A in Organizational Behaviour, but only a C+ in Strategy Field Study.
Shown the bogus degree and transcripts, York University Registrar Joanne Duklas was both impressed by the quality of the forgeries and outraged that anyone, especially a former student, would undertake such "nefarious" work.
"As a group, registrars of schools are appalled by this behaviour and find it unacceptable," said Duklas, whose forged signature is on the transcripts.
So confident was Sun about the quality of his work that before taking his payment, he drove Calvin to the York University bookstore at the Keele St. campus to compare his newly minted forgery to framed samples on display there.
Back in the car, Sun demanded the remaining $3,600 before turning over the degree, stashing the cash in an empty Godiva chocolate box and shoving it under his car seat.
As he drove the Star's operative back to the Shoppers' lot, Sun sought to involve our operative in another of his scams, asking Calvin (who was posing as a banker) if he could put him in contact with someone at the bank who deals with mortgages and loans.
"Some people want to return to China, sell their passports, SIN cards, and we can use their names to go to the bank and get loans," Sun explained. "Once you get the money in hand ..."
When they reached Shoppers, two Star reporters confronted Sun as he was about to drive off. Startled, Sun said little, then grudgingly handed over the box of money when asked by the Star.
"I'm just doing research," Sun said several times, when told that he had been the subject of the newspaper's probe into fake university degrees.
"I reserve the question," Sun said several times, when asked to explain his actions.
"Can I go now?" he asked, then sped off in the Yaris in the direction of his luxury condo two blocks away on Greenview Ave. Property records show that he paid $410,000 for the unit and it is mortgage free. At a previous meeting Sun had arrived in a $60,000 BMW 525xi, bearing the vanity plate A 001. Subsequent phone calls to Sun's cellphone have gone unanswered.
Sun's own York University degree is real. He graduated from the Atkinson School of Administrative Studies in 2007 with a Bachelor of Human Resources Management and upgraded it to an honours degree this year, the university confirmed. But in discussions with our operatives, Sun played down his academic achievements, saying his degree has been of limited use to him. In China, as it is in Canada, it's who you know and your work experience that counts, he said.
"I've forgotten everything (I learned) in school. All theoretical. Nothing useful."
Sun came to Canada as a visa student years ago and took courses at Humber College before enrolling at York. Known to friends, clients and in Internet chat rooms as "Randy," he has advertised on the Internet for years, primarily on YorkBBS.ca, a bulletin board popular with Chinese visa students. He calls his company Golden China Overseas Studying.
That's where a Mandarin-speaking Star operative saw his ads, not only for diplomas, but automobile insurance, student cards and other types of identification.
Contacted by email, Sun boasted openly of his ability to produce degrees from most Canadian universities, with the exception of the University of Western Ontario in London. A University of Toronto degree would have to carry a graduation date prior to June of this year. U of T has started using holographs on its diplomas, which are harder to copy, but Sun said recently he is now in a position to fabricate the new U of T degrees, for $6,000.
"We have the watermark paper, we have the seals," Sun said. "My quality is very, very, good. As close as you can get to the real thing."
Besides the degrees, he offered for sale numerous other counterfeit documents, which could push the price to more than $10,000. These include forged letters from the Chinese Consulate in Toronto and the Chinese Ministry of Education in Beijing attesting the client as a bona fide student in Canada.
"I can get all these documents pretty fast," Sun said in an email prior to the first of three face-to-face meetings with the Star's operatives. "If it is not urgent, give me a week. The pivotal question is, when you will need it?"
He does not provide samples of his work, he said, because he can't take a chance of being caught with any evidence or have his work fall into the hands of his competitors. "I used to show samples to all customers. One evening I was in a parking lot at Finch and Leslie. I was showing samples. Not even five minutes, police came to us. I was quick. I put them away. Police said someone called police and reported you selling fake documents. I said, no, I'm here chilling out with friends.
"Since then I don't carry any samples with me."
Chinese employers rarely check the authenticity of foreign degrees, he told one of our operatives. Even if they do, universities don't normally give out information over the phone, preferring a faxed request, he said. In that case, the applicant should provide the employer with a fax number in Toronto. Confirmation of the degree will then be faxed to China on the university's letterhead. For his protection, and that of his clients, Sun claims he purges all client information from his laptop, and shreds all documents a week after the transaction is sealed and delivered.
"The last person you want to see, after you buy a degree from me, is me," Sun told one of our operatives.
The bogus-degree market is a billion-dollar industry, authorities say, with hundreds of Internet sites pumping out an estimated 200,000 fake diplomas a year around the globe. Fake degrees pose a security risk in the hands of potential terrorists, who might use them to gain entry into North America or advance into sensitive jobs. Two of the terrorists involved in the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks entered the United States on student visas.
"The dangers posed by a diploma mill are real,'' says University of Illinois Professor George Gollin, who has studied the problem for years. "It is bad enough that persons using fake degrees obtain undeserved status or swindle unwitting victims, but there is a real danger when phony physicians treat the sick, untrained engineers design bridges or teachers with purchased credentials instruct our children."
In April 2007, York Regional Police arrested five Chinese visa students alleged to be operating a "full-service" forgery mill in the basement of a house in Markham.
The gang had produced "hundreds, if not thousands" of top-quality degrees, passports, visas, driver's licences and marriage certificates and sold them on the Internet. Among the hundreds of documents seized by police were degrees from U of T, York, Western, Carleton, Acadia, Brock, Seneca College and George Brown, as well as stamps used to produce the university seals and blank watermarked transcripts.
"This was quite the brazen operation," York Regional Police Chief Armand La Barge said at a news conference to announce the biggest takedown of a forgery den in Ontario's history.
"They were charging $18,000 for immigration papers and enough other documents that you could create an entire false identity."
The sophistication of the degree-making operation was such that diplomas matched the correct university president's signature to the year of the graduation.
"I've never seen quality like this," Det. Mathew Ma, an expert on high-tech crime, told reporters. "I can't tell the difference between the false and the originals."
But the case blew up in court last month after a judge ruled police entered the house initially without a warrant or reasonable grounds. Charges were withdrawn against three of the accused, and Justice Richard Blouin acquitted the other two, a husband and wife.
The quality and volume of fake documents presented serious national security concerns, Blouin said in his ruling.
The Star has no evidence linking Peng Sun to that forgery operation.
Bogus diplomas diminish the value of the work legitimate students put into obtaining real degrees, said George Granger, executive director of Ontario Universities Application Centre, which acts as a clearing house for student seeking admission to Ontario's 21 universities.
"No one really knows how extensive this is, but we do know it is a problem and the universities are taking steps to deal with it," Granger said. Some of those measures include changing the look of their degrees every so often.
Watermarked paper, which is intended to foil forgery attempts, is kept under lock and key. Transcripts are printed on special paper that can't be photocopied without the word "copy" showing through. Each sheet is numbered and spoiled transcripts are destroyed.
"We treat our degrees like currency," said Laurie Stephens, director of media relations for U of T. New degrees are imprinted with a hologram to deter would-be forgers.
Employers and other interested parties can now request verification of any U of T degree online, if they know the student's name, social insurance number or student number. They will get an answer in five days. York University is considering a similar move.
U of T graduates about 12,000 students a year. Both U of T and York get several hundred calls each week from prospective employers and other universities, many of them overseas. Anyone with a concern about the legitimacy of a degree should contact the Registrar's Office at either school.
Canada has no law specific to degree forgery, though in 20 American states it is a crime to use fake degrees and the U.S. Congress is studying legislation to deal with diploma mills.
In Canada, allegations of degree forgery come under the forgery section of the Criminal Code. "Possessing a false document could be defended on the basis that it is a novelty item," said criminal lawyer Scott Cowan, who defended one of the accused in the Markham bust. "But passing off a fake degree as an original in a job application would amount to the offence of uttering a forged document. It could be as serious as using a counterfeit bill."
"Make sure you buy a frame to frame your diploma," Peng Sun told Calvin Lee as he left his car with the bogus degree in his briefcase. "You can even get it from Wal-Mart. If you have a problem, call me. Good luck."
A man who ran a bogus college in a £16m fraud which involved 80,000 students has been jailed for seven years. Michael Smallman, 45, of Northallerton, was convicted of fraudulent trading while his wife Angela was convicted of money laundering in October.
Smallman ran the National Distance Learning College (NDLC) in Middlesbrough which collapsed in 2001.
His wife was jailed for 15 months. Only 18 students received diplomas from the college, Teesside Crown Court heard.
The college's directors, Peter Kenyon, 43, and John Hornsby, 59, were cleared of fraud after a four-month trial earlier this year.
The court heard Smallman tempted 80,000 students to sign up for his home study courses, netting him £10m in 15 months.
But only 18 of the would-be graduates ended up with a genuine qualification when they finished their studies.
Between September 2000 and November 2001, Smallman's company was running a massive fraud, cheating the students and the government by offering inadequate training, refusing to refund students who chose not to go ahead with the course and claiming the qualification was accredited by the City and Guilds of London Institute when it was not.
'Unlike Robin Hood'
When it collapsed, the business owed £3.5m to creditors. The hearing also heard that millions made from the college had been spent on horseracing and property renovation.
Prosecutor Andrew Wheeler said: "Even at the early stage his (Smallman's) intentions were clear, money was the prime driving factor to the detriment of students.
"This was not just sharp practice, it went well beyond what ordinary and decent people would regard as honest - it was fraudulent."
Peter Woodall, defending Smallman, of Leeming Lane, said that he had not set out to commit fraud but had struggled to keep the college afloat.
Judge George Moorhouse told him that unlike Robin Hood he had robbed the poor to make himself rich.
The article in the Nov. 20 edition of the News Leader ("State Department of Education warns against diploma mills") addresses an important issue for the state of Missouri. Diploma or degree mills -- rogue providers of higher education -- undermine the value of legitimate colleges and universities in Missouri as well as other states. Mills reduce the value of degrees that are awarded. Moreover, mills and their fraudulent credentials threaten public safety, especially when fake degrees are offered in such vital areas as health and engineering. The Council for Higher Education Accreditation has sent a letter to the governors, attorneys general and secretaries of education of all 50 states, as part of CHEA's ongoing effort to combat degree mills. The purpose of CHEA's letter is to urge that states take additional action, as needed, to discourage and ultimately eliminate fraudulent providers of higher education.
In the letter, CHEA specifically recommends that states consider, if they have not done so, establishing or strengthening definitions in state law for "degree mills." CHEA also urges that states take legislative and regulatory steps, such as those being urged in Missouri, to discourage or eliminate use of fraudulent credentials issued by degree mills.
Working together, we can be effective in reducing or eliminating degree mills in the United States and internationally. Doing so will benefit students throughout the country, including the state of Missouri.
OLYMPIA - Thurston County prosecutors are reviewing State Patrol's criminal investigation of nine troopers on paid leave because they may have used phony college diplomas to receive higher pay grades - but no decision has been made on whether charges will be filed, a prosecutor said today. Chief Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Jon Tunheim said Tuesday that State Patrol has made no recommendation in its investigative file as to whether criminal charges should or should not be brought against the troopers on leave. Tunheim said it may take his office until the end of the year to review the investigation and make a charging decision on the nine troopers.
"They specifically have not made any recommendation on charges," Tunheim said of the State Patrol.
State Patrol spokesman Bob Calkins confirmed Tuesday that when the patrol presented its investigative file to the Thurston County Prosecutor's office on Friday, there was no recommendation on charges.
State Patrol's investigation began during the summer, after information came to light about a Spokane diploma mill that offered fraudulent online high school and university degrees for a fee, State Patrol Capt. Jeff DeVere has said.
The patrol subsequently launched an audit of its employees to determine whether any of their degree were fraudulent. As part of the patrol's union contract, troopers can obtain a 4 percent pay increase for a bachelor's degree, and a 2 percent increase for a two-year or master's degree, according to DeVere.
Nine troopers, including three sergeants, are on paid leave as a result of the investigation.
The nine troopers who have been on leave since Oct. 13 have been identified as: troopers Bryan Ensley and Gabriel Olson, and Sgts. Jason Linn and Rob Brusseau, all of Vancouver, Wash.; troopers John McMillan and Spike Unruh, both of Wenatchee; trooper Dennis Tardiff of Seattle; Sgt. Chris Sweet of Kelso; and trooper Dan Mann of Spokane.
Jeremy Pawloski covers public safety for The Olympian. He can be reached at 360-754-5465 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
The new owner of the Kress building in downtown Fort Worth is exploring the idea of turning the exposed brick wall of the building's north side into public art space. Mark Moran, whose family bought the historic building at 604 Main St. in March, presented a couple of ideas to the Downtown Design Review Board last week. Both ideas, designed by the Kress building's superintendent, Tom LeVesque, were 40-by-80-foot-by-9-inch relief sculptures incorporating the words Kress Fort Worth.
"I knew before we bought the building I wanted to do something," Moran said. "To me, it's a canvas."
Board members expressed enthusiasm for the idea, but suggested that Moran work with the Fort Worth Arts Commission to explore options.
"We've looked at that blank wall for an awfully long time," said board member Bill Boecker.
S.H. Kress Co. built the structure in 1936 and occupied it until 1960.
Continental National Bank used the upper three floors for a decade until the early 1980s. Those floors reopened in 2006 as 24 loft apartments.
The Fox and Hound English Pub & Grille is on the street level, and Hyena's Comedy Club is in the basement.
Does business 'pillar' have dubious degree?
Harold Rafuse, a man described as a respected "pillar" of Waco's business community, apparently bought his Ph.D. from a Wyoming diploma mill that has disappeared in the Bahamas after changing its name.
Rafuse, aside from owning a technology and consulting company that does business with Lockheed, sits on the board of a publicly traded company, Life Partners. Remarkably, the Waco-based Life Partners doesn't give a flip that Rafuse's doctorate in "engineering management" from Hamilton University is, ah, questionable.
All of this came to light because of Barry Minkow.
As a teenage entrepreneur, Minkow launched a carpet-cleaning service called ZZZZ Best that made its money lying to shareholders about revenues.
He emerged from prison claiming to have found Christ and wanting to do good works, like exposing other people's scams and wrongdoing.
Minkow's Fraud Discovery Institute and www.degreefraud.com checks out the credentials of executives and board members of public companies, screens for shenanigans and then alerts the media.
By the way, it sometimes sells the stock short to profit from any negative feedback. So far, TheWall Street Journal and Bloomberg News Service have followed up his tips.
It was Minkow's profit motive, not his revelations about Rafuse's questionable sheepskins, that upset the general counsel at Life Partners, which operates in the secondary life insurance market.
Neither Rafuse nor another top executive of his privately held Advanced Concepts and Technologies International returned our calls. But Scott Peden, Life Partners in-house lawyer, gave us an earful. And some remedial journalism tips.
The rapid-talking company counsel, who called Rafuse a Waco mover and shaker, instructed: "Rumors started by ex-felons should not be used as news sources."
But are they true?
Peden conceded that Rafuse did inaccurately describe an associate's degree from Temple University as a bachelor's.
Rafuse told Life Partners he had received a letter from Temple telling him that the three-year program was "equivalent" to a four-year one. Unfortunately, the letter got lost, Peden said. The company will correctly cite the degree in the future, he said.
As for Rafuse's doctorate, Life Partners stands by it.
"I think it's important to note the degree was awarded," said Peden.
Hamilton U., which began life in Hawaii as American State University, moved to that hallowed center of higher learning, Evanston, Wyo., (population 11,400), where it operated until closed by court order. As far as we can determine, it disappeared deep in the Caribbean after reinventing itself as Richardson University.
With a couple of keystrokes, you can do something in just seven days that takes others years to do - get a college degree. Online school Bedford University makes the claim. All you have to do is pick a field.Note: California Southern University is licensed, but NOT accredited by the State of California: accreditation can only be granted by accrediting bodies recognized by the U.S. Department of Education or the Council for Higher Education Accreditation.
The school calls the degrees legitimate.
John Bear has another name. He calls them "truly fake."
Bear is an expert on diploma mills, a billion dollar industry of phony schools that print very real looking degrees.
Some of those degrees have made their way right here to the Valley.
Last year, the Attorney General's Office in Washington state busted a group of bogus schools in Operation Golden Seal.
A list of 10,000 names became public, customers with PhDs, Masters degrees and more.
Click here to see Arizonans on the Operation Golden Seal list
The list includes Mario Rochin, Tolleson's chief building official.
Rochin has PhD in business administration from one of the schools involved in Operation Golden Seal.
Rochin didn't return our calls and had nothing to say to ABC15 at Tolleson City Hall.
Tolleson City Manager Reyes Medrano later told ABC15, "I feel horrible for him (Rochin) for being duped."
While Rochin got the degree after getting his job, Joe Cockrell with Jobing.com said some see these degrees as an easy way to get ahead.
"That's probably going to do more harm than good," Cockrell said. "Ultimately that's going to be discovered."
We had questions about a PhD listed on Dr. Kathleen Gillespie's behavioral health office in Sun City.
It's also on her resume as a part-time instructor at NAU.
Gillespie is on the Operation Golden Seal customer list, but she said she wasn't aware.
While she declined to answer questions on camera, Gillespie later emailed ABC15:
"I was fully aware that the degree being offered from Van Ives was an 'equivalency' degree that was being offered for past education, current education, and continuing education. My purpose for seeking the degree was for educational purposes only, not professional as I had all the education and credentials necessary for practicing as a Licensed Professional Counselor. The degree was never questioned by either of the Universities I have taught for or the over 50 companies I have provided services for. I have since earned an academic Doctorate of Psychology from California Sothern University which is accredited in California and accepted for licensure as a Clinical Psychologist in California."Gillespie has also taken the PhD off her online biography.
"I call it putting a time bomb in your resume," Bear said.
We put Belford University to the test, applying for a Masters degree in Veterinary Medicine for Joe Ducey's dog, Sedona.
After typing a short description of life experiences and paying $479, the degree arrived from Dubai seven days later, along with a transcript with grades for classes we never took.
A senior student counselor defended Belford, but he was surprised they gave a degree to a canine.
Belford University is not accredited with the U.S. Department of Education.
It is illegal in a dozen states to use an unaccredited degree. Arizona is not one of those states.
The Missouri Department of Higher Education plans to propose legislation that would make it illegal to get a job or a promotion in Missouri using a phony degree. KSMU's Jennifer Moore reports. Officials estimate 200,000 fake diplomas are bought and sold in the United States each year from so-called "diploma mills." Zora Mulligan Aubuchon, assistant commissioner for the Missouri Department of Higher Education, says the term "diploma mill" can include a range of different scam operations.
Aubuchon said another form of diploma mills is where the applicant does a little bit of academic work in order to get a degree, but nothing comparable to the coursework found at the university level.
One diploma mill went by the name "St. Regis University," which is a bogus institution. It was discovered by federal authorities and shut down in 2005, but not before it had sold 7 million dollars worth of fake diplomas, including ones claiming to be from the University of Missouri.
Aubuchon says new legislation is needed in Missouri clearly stating that producing and using fake degrees is against the law.
"To get an idea of just how easy it would be to fake a diploma, I'm going online right now to Google...I'm gonna type in here "get a fake diploma." Let's see what it comes up with...okay, there are about 500,000 hits..."
Zora Aubuchon says the department of higher education occasionally gets calls from employers who are skeptical as to whether the applicant really holds a degree.
She added that it may not be sufficient just to look at an applicant's transcript or to ask to see a diploma.
Aubuchon said employers can always call a university's registrar, which should be able to tell the employer if someone graduated from that school.
For KSMU News, I'm Jennifer Moore.
The owner of an unaccredited online university that drew attention to Wyoming as a haven for such schools was sentenced Tuesday to two years in prison for tax fraud. Rudy Marn owned Hamilton University, a school that existed primarily online but had an office in Evanston. Marn pleaded guilty Aug. 1 to fraud and making false statements for filing a false individual income tax return for 2003.
U.S. District Judge William Downes sentenced Marn in Casper to two years in prison and a year of supervised probation. Downes also ordered Marn to pay $618,937 in restitution to the IRS, according to IRS spokesman Bryan Thiel.
Thiel said Marn must report to prison by Dec. 30.
A message left for Marn's attorney, Tim Kingston, wasn't immediately returned Tuesday.
Thiel didn't know where Marn has been living lately. However, he said Marn has been ordered to satisfy his restitution in part through the sale of a home in Palm Beach, Fla.
According to court documents, Marn reported total personal income of $169,888 on his 2003 tax return. Prosecutors said Marn owed $239,846 that year, which would have required earning several times more income than he reported.
A court document stated Marn "earned a substantial amount of income" from a business in Wyoming. Thiel couldn't confirm whether that was Hamilton University but said Hamilton was still operational in 2003. The school has since shut down.
The television program "60 Minutes Wednesday" focused on Hamilton University in 2004. The program pointed out that the school had an official-looking Web site but was located in a former motel. The television crew saw no sign of faculty or students.
Hamilton's alumni included a high-ranking Department of Homeland Security official and the CEO of Cessna Aircraft, the program reported.
Wyoming has since cracked down on unaccredited colleges. State law now requires schools doing business in the state to at least be recognized as candidates for federally recognized accreditation.
Many online schools have left Wyoming since the law was passed in 2006.
The computer guru behind a Spokane-based diploma mill operation who was caught with 11,000 images of child pornography was sentenced Tuesday to four years in prison – the longest term given any of eight defendants in the case that spanned the globe. Kenneth Wade Pearson was given six months for conspiracy to commit wire and mail fraud – the diploma mill operation – and a concurrent 48-month sentence for receipt of child pornography.
The 33-year-old Spokane father of three could have faced 108 to 135 months in prison for the pornography, but he began immediately cooperating with federal investigators in Operation Gold Seal in August 2005 – even before he was appointed an attorney.
Pearson served as the webmaster for dozens of online, fictional universities and high schools set up by Dixie and Steve Randock but was only paid an hourly wage of $9 while the masterminds racked in an estimated $8 million. He also set up a false Liberian embassy Web site used by the Randocks as part of their operation.
"He provided crucial details about the scheme," Assistant U.S. Attorney George J.C. Jacobs said, helping investigators build their case against seven other defendants.
In newly filed court documents, the federal prosecutor disclosed that Pearson told investigators the diploma mill operation also counterfeited and sold "Microsoft Certified System Engineer" certificates. Court records don't say exactly how many of those bogus Microsoft certificates were sold. A Microsoft spokeswoman had no immediate comment.
After agreeing to talk to investigators in August 2005 during their search of a Post Falls office used by the Randocks, Pearson voluntarily agreed to a search of his home in Spokane and turned over computers he used to support the diploma mill sites.
On one of those computers, investigators found 11,000 images of child pornography. Some of the pictures were of children younger than 12 and portrayed "sadistic and masochistic conduct," according to court documents.
Pearson told investigators he downloaded the images "in an effort to create a legal adult pornography Web site" at the request of his employer, Dixie Randock, court documents say.
Pearson pleaded guilty in October 2006. He became the third member of the diploma mill ring to strike a plea bargain and agree to testify against ringleaders Dixie and Steve Randock, of Colbert. The Randocks and six other defendants pleaded guilty, and there was no trial.
Dixie Randock was not charged with possession or receipt of child porn. She and her husband are serving three-year federal prison sentences for conspiracy to commit wire and mail fraud.
The state Commission on Higher Education has ordered six more individuals — including a worker at a psychiatric facility, a professor, and two high school teachers — to stop using doctoral titles that the commission deemed void under state law because they were obtained from unaccredited institutions. Both educators — English teacher Cheryl A. Lanza of Freehold and teacher consultant Lorraine Taddei-Graef of Lacey — work in the Freehold Township High School in the Freehold Regional High School District.
The orders were issued earlier this month, but issued publicly Thursday.
Lanza and Taddei-Graef had obtained doctor of education degrees from the unaccredited Breyer State University, and had used the corresponding Ed.D., or, doctoral titles.
Freehold Regional Superintendent H. James Wasser, one current and one former administrator had also been ordered to relinquish doctoral titles from Breyer State after Asbury Park Press reports this summer prompted statewide outrage.
Breyer State had been branded a diploma mill by officials in several states.
The situation prompted a bill to ban pay raises and benefits issued because of advanced degrees from unaccredited schools. That measure passed the state Senate Thursday.
"I am appalled that we even need this law," state Sen. Jennifer Beck, R-Monmouth, said.
On Wednesday, New Jersey Association of School Administrators Director Richard G. Bozza requested that all 1,000 members of the organization fully disclose their education by providing, "the communities they serve with complete transparency regarding their educational credentials," Bozza wrote in a prepared statement.
The Commission on Higher Education investigated the Freehold Regional employees after receiving a citizen complaint.
Taddei-Graef, Lanza and Freehold Regional Board of Education President Patricia Horvath could not be reached for comment.
The Press reported in August that district taxpayers reimbursed Lanza $2,050 for her degree, but Taddei-Graef was not reimbursed.
According to the commission's letters released Thursday, two others received degrees from another apparent diploma mill, Kennedy Western University in Cheyenne, Wyo., now Warren National University.
Wilhelmina P. D'Dumo, an instructor of psychiatry at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey's school of osteopathic medicine, Cherry Hill, and Edward J. Moskal of Kinnelon, an assistant professor of computer science at St. Peter's College, the Jesuit College of New Jersey based in Jersey City, were both ordered to drop their doctoral titles.
A doctorate degree is not necessary for D'Dumo's current position, UMDNJ Media Relations Director Gerald Carey said. D'Dumo received her degree while working at UMDNJ, but was not reimbursed nor did she receive a raise based on it, Carey said.
D'Dumo is also an employee of Lakeland Regional Health Center in Camden County, a psychiatric facility, but no further information was disclosed.
D'Dumo is listed as a member of the Phillipine Nurses Association of Delaware Valley, Inc. advisory committee, with the academic designations related to being a registered nurse, a nurse practitioner, and a Ph.D. in psychology.
She also has a Master of Science in nursing, which is valid, said Jane Oates, director of the commission.
D'Dumo did not return calls seeking comment.
Moskal declined to comment.
Routinely, the commission searches the Web for possible misuses of academic titles. In doing so, they found D'Dumo and Moskal in violation of state statutes that govern academic titles, Oates said.
These four responded to the commission's request, writing that they had complied with the order, Oates said, adding that those letters are on file in the commission's office.
The commission has sent two other letters to people the commission believes have improperly claimed academic titles. Those recipients have not yet responded, Oates said.
The commission has sent a total of nine cease-and-desist letters since the Asbury Park Press began reporting on the Freehold Regional High School District diploma mill controversy July 17.
On Aug. 21, letters were sent to Wasser, Assistant Superintendent Donna Evangelista, and former Assistant Superintendent Frank J. Tanzini ordering them to relinquish their doctoral titles, which were obtained from Breyer State University, then located in Alabama, then, briefly, in Idaho, and now in Los Angeles, Calif.
Freehold Regional paid for the administrators' Breyer State degrees, $2,900 each, and awarded all three additional $2,500 a year, upon obtaining their degrees.
Wasser complied with the order to relinquish his doctoral title and stopped receiving the accompanying raise. Although he did not pay back tuition payments or the higher pay he received up until that point.
Later, Wasser publicly apologized at a district board meeting, and the district's Web site, www.frhsd.com, features a video apology from the superintendent.
Nine state troopers are under investigation over college diplomas they claimed to have earned to get higher pay. Six troopers and three sergeants, including one trooper assigned to Seattle, were placed on paid administrative leave last week when the State Patrol launched a criminal investigation, Capt. Jeff DeVere said.
"We're taking this very seriously. This presents some very serious issues should these allegations be proven true," DeVere said.
The State Patrol began auditing personnel records last summer after the principals in a Spokane diploma mill scandal were convicted of counterfeiting and selling degrees and transcripts from some of the largest schools in the United States, as well as from 125 phony schools.
Dixie and Steve Randock, of Colbert, were sentenced to prison. The federal investigation, which lasted several years, uncovered government employees, including members of the National Security Agency and a White House staffer, who purchased fake degrees.
It was too early to say whether any of the diplomas came from the Spokane company, DeVere said, explaining that he couldn't comment on the specifics of the investigation.
Four of the troopers, including two sergeants, work in Vancouver. Three are assigned to Wenatchee. One sergeant works in Kelso and another trooper is assigned to Spokane, DeVere said.
They all have been employed for eight years or more with the agency. Three have been troopers for more than 15 years, DeVere said.
Under the State Patrol's labor contract, troopers can boost their base pay by 4 percent for earning a bachelor's degree and additional 2 percent for a master's degree. Troopers with a two-year degree are eligible for a 2-percent raise, DeVere said.
The audit, which is ongoing, raised questions about other troopers' degrees that turned out to be legitimate, he said.
"In some cases, we found some small, obscure colleges that are indeed valid," DeVere said. "With these, it wasn't readily apparent, so that's why the investigation has started."
The investigation is focused in some cases on whether troopers put in legitimate course work to earn a degree that would qualify them for the incentive pay, he said.
"Some of the things you look at online, you can put down your life experiences and pay $500 and you have a diploma," he said. "But there are valid online programs through major institutions. So what we're trying to determine is what type of institution was it and what kind of coursework was it."
Stephen J. Arnett, currently under investigation for promoting online and foreign medical schools from Magoffin County, was recently given a license to practice as a surgical assistant in Kentucky. The license allows him, while being supervised, to assist surgeons with opening and closing incisions and other procedures during surgery. It is not clear whether Arnett is actually working in that capacity. He indicated to the Board of Medical Licensure that he intended to start a surgical assistants company. Arnett was a key figure in Degrees of Harm, a Herald-Leader series in October, that examined his role in recruiting students to treat patients, study in clinical settings or receive online medical degrees. Three men Arnett was involved with have been convicted of practicing medicine without a license -- one in Kentucky, one in Nevada and one in Rhode Island.
In the past, Arnett has described himself as having medical degrees and other medical credentials that he did not have. He has been investigated by state and federal authorities, but has never been charged with any crime as a result of his medical activities. He is not licensed as a medical doctor in Kentucky or any other state.
Kentucky's Board of Medical Licensure denied Arnett a physician's assistant's license in 1988 and warned him not to "hold himself out" as one. The board investigated him in 1997 after a complaint that he was again working as a physician's assistant, but when the board shared the results with law enforcement officials, nothing was done.
C. Loyd Vest, an attorney for the medical board, said that Arnett was granted a surgical assistant's license in March.
The board initially approved Arnett's application on its face, Vest said. However, when questioned by a reporter about it recently, he said: "We are now reviewing the information that he provided to get a surgical assistant's license."
In Kentucky, payments for the work of a certified surgical assistant have recently become reimbursable through third-party insurance.
Arnett has not responded to several requests by the Herald-Leader for an interview. But in a court deposition from a lawsuit against him that was later dismissed, he said he was always honest about his degrees and that they were all legitimate.
After the publication of the Herald-Leader series, Kentucky's medical licensure board began investigating how Arnett helped other people get medical degrees.
Why, Vest was asked, was Arnett, who had previously been turned down for a physician's assistant's license, granted a surgical assistant's license?
The requirements for the two licenses are different, Vest said. More is required of a physician's assistant, who acts as an agent of the supervising physician and is allowed to treat patients and prescribe medication.
Under Kentucky law, a surgical assistant's license can be obtained if a person is certified by one of several national surgical assistant's groups and completes 800 hours in the three previous years as an assistant in surgical procedures under the direct supervision of a physician licensed in this country.
Arnett presented documents to the board in January showing he had passed a test given by a national group approved by the board -- the North Carolina-based national Surgical Assistant Association.
Officials from that organization did not return telephone calls or respond to an e-mail seeking comment.
Arnett also told the board in his application that he had trained as a surgical assistant at two Florida clinics for 850 hours between 2002 and 2005.
One of the clinics was the Hallandale Orthopedic and Outpatient Surgical Center in Hallandale, Fla. That facility's current Web site lists it as Orthopedic Rehab of Hallandale Inc. It does not mention surgical procedures, but advertises chiropractic and alternative and natural medicine services.
A licensed chiropractor on staff at the clinic advertises having a naturopathic degree from St. Luke School of Medicine and Southern Graduate Institute, schools where Arnett once held key titles. Naturopathy involves using only natural elements or the body's own immune system to treat disease.
The Hallandale clinic's Web site also says that the osteopath is a faculty member at a university in the Caribbean that Arnett once promoted.
At a second clinic in St. Petersburg, Fla., clinic director Joseph DiStefano said that Arnett observed several hours of surgery and other medical procedures performed by a licensed physician until the clinic stopped performing surgeries more than a year ago, when a staff member retired.
Arnett's application to the board said he was employed by Kentucky Surgical Arts #2 Ortho-Rehab on James Trimble Boulevard in Paintsville.
Arnett now maintains an office at 624 James S. Trimble Drive inside the Paintsville Ramada Inn, called Health and Sports Wellness Center. A seal on the door says the center is a member of the American Medical Massage Therapy Association. Services listed include massage therapy, neuromuscular therapy, cellulite treatment, naturopathic/homeopathic remedies and reflexology, as well as homeopathic and natural health products and nutritional consultation -- but not outpatient surgery.
Arnett is a licensed massage therapist in West Virginia and Kentucky. He has been licensed as a naturopath in Idaho and Washington, D.C., and as an acupuncturist in West Virginia.
He has also incorporated the Kentucky Association of Surgical Assistant Inc., according to records filed with the Kentucky secretary of state.
A company at the same address is listed in the Secretary of State's records as ISO-Diagnostics Testing of Kentucky, with Steve Arnette -- the last name spelled with an extra e -- as the organizer and director.
In addition to looking into Arnett's credentials, Vest said the Kentucky board is also investigating the activities of the businesses which carry Arnett's name in state records.
The Kentucky Board of Medical Licensure has opened an investigation into whether a Magoffin County man who promoted online and foreign medical schools has broken any state laws, C. Lloyd Vest, an attorney for the board, said yesterday. Stephen J. Arnett, a former tombstone salesman and Free Will Baptist minister, promoted the St. Luke School of Medicine, an online school based in Liberia, from an address in Falcon, a small Magoffin County community, until 2003. He held key titles at the school, including vice president, and helped recruit students and place them in Kentucky hospitals and clinics.
Vest said board officials decided to launch a new investigation following a three-part series in the Herald-Leader and that the board would turn over any evidence to the appropriate authorities. The state attorney general's office also began investigating Arnett's involvement with the foreign school after a reporter called with questions.
The articles outlined how three men who have been convicted of practicing medicine without a license -- two in Kentucky and one in Rhode Island -- used their affiliation with St. Luke to treat patients or to study in clinical settings.
In the 1990s, Arnett owned and ran several Eastern Kentucky clinics.
State authorities investigated complaints against him, but he has never been criminally charged in connection with his medical activities.
Now a licensed massage therapist in both Kentucky and West Virginia, Arnett now maintains an office at 624 James S. Trimble Drive, inside the Paintsville Ramada Inn, called Health and Sports Wellness Center.
A company at the same address is listed in Kentucky Secretary of State records as ISO-Diagnostics Testing of Kentucky with Steve "Arnette" -- the last name spelled with an extra "e" -- as the organizer and director.
But Arnett is rarely seen in the office, hotel employees said.
"He comes in once or twice a month, checks his mail, pays his rent and you'll never see him till next time," Frankie Tackett, a desk clerk at the Ramada, said yesterday.
Filing cabinets and a lighted Tiffany-style lamp on a desk can be seen through the glass door to the office, located just off the hotel lobby. A seal on the door says the center is a member of the American Medical Massage Therapy Association. Services listed include massage therapy, neuromuscular therapy, cellulite treatment, naturopathic/homeopathic remedies and reflexology, as well as homeopathic and natural health products and nutritional consultation.
A Herald-Leader reporter visited the office three times this week and found the door locked.
Arnett could not be reached yesterday and has declined the Herald-Leader's repeated requests for interviews.
Arnett has been licensed as a naturopath in Idaho and Washington, D.C., and as an acupuncturist in West Virginia. Naturopathy involves using only natural elements or the body's own immune system to treat disease.
St. Luke President Jerroll Dolphin said in a recent interview that he stopped working with Arnett in 2003 and took away an honorary medical degree the school had given him because he thought Arnett was giving degrees without requiring proper course work.
Though some states have questioned the school's legitimacy, Dolphin said St. Luke offered an intensive curriculum and was not a diploma mill -- a school without accreditation that awards degrees for money and little work.
Larry Lammers worked in a chain of accident injury centers in Kentucky and served a jail sentence for practicing medicine without a license.
Court documents show that Arnett recruited him to St. Luke. Lammers completed course work, Dolphin said, but did not receive a medical degree because of his Kentucky conviction.
Arnett arranged for Andrew E. Michael to observe a heart specialist in Lexington. While in Kentucky, Michael was convicted in Nevada of practicing medicine without a license. He served a jail sentence and is back in custody on federal credit card charges. He never completed his studies at St. Luke, Dolphin said.
John E. Curran, who was sentenced in August to 12 1/2 years in federal prison in Rhode Island, said Arnett provided him with diplomas in medicine and naturopathy. Dolphin said Curran was never a legitimate St. Luke student.
There is no agency in Kentucky that oversees online degrees, nor does the state have an office that investigates people accused of practicing medicine without a license.
But Vest has said the board investigates any allegation it receives and that the attorney general's office can seek an injunction to stop the activity.
Fake degrees are illegal in Oregon, New Jersey, Indiana, Illinois, North Dakota and Nevada, where they are misdemeanors and punishable by fines. However, violators rarely face prosecution.
State Rep. Susan Westrom, D-Lexington, said that she will, for the fourth time, introduce a bill that would make the use of bogus credentials a Class D felony, punishable by a prison sentence of up to five years.
Since Alabama has cracked down on questionable for-profit schools,
The new rules aimed at cracking down on questionable private, for-profit schools took effect just over a week ago, and already 30 schools have left Alabama, been kicked out or prohibited from setting up shop.
- Five institutions have been denied state licenses to open in Alabama
- Four had licenses revoked
- 21 did not have licenses renewed
- One closed
According to information released Thursday by the Alabama Community College System, applications for five institutions to come to the state were denied, four had their operating licenses revoked and licenses for 21 schools were not renewed. Also, one school closed.
State law gives the college system power to grant licenses to Alabama-based private, for-profit institutions, but no staff or money were dedicated to enforcing regulations. Higher education watchdogs decried that method of approval, which they say allowed diploma mills that offer degrees for little or no academic work to set up shop in the state.
In July, two-year Chancellor Bradley Byrne announced an effort to enforce existing rules, then strengthen oversight with stricter regulations that went into place Oct. 1.
Out of the 30 schools Byrne's staff have either closed or kept out of the state, only three have come after the new rules took effect. Simply enforcing the old regulations produced results, but Byrne said the new rules will make it easier to find questionable schools.
"I don't think we're done yet," he said.
It will probably take at least a year to review the more than 200 private, for-profit schools licensed by the college system, he said.
Many of the schools left the state before college system staff could revoke their licenses or not renew them.
"In some cases there are people who saw the handwriting on the wall, but in many cases there was some failure on the part of the institution," Byrne said.
Gregory Fitch, executive director of the Alabama Commission on Higher Education, praised Byrne's efforts. Fitch began the drumbeat against the state's lax educational licensing process about two years ago.
A bill was introduced into the Legislature to transfer the power to review in-state schools from the college system to ACHE, which reviews out-of-state private, non-profit schools. The bill failed to get a vote in the past two sessions, a failure Byrne and Fitch said prompted the college system to take action.
"He's doing exactly what the state needs him to do," Fitch said of Byrne. "As long as it's being done in the best interest of the state, we're fine with it.
"It's working, and I think there are going to be some real challenges to these schools to slip through, as least legitimately, into our state."
It's difficult to say whether all the schools were diploma mills, since some of the stricter code deals with financial viability, such as requiring institutions to provide audited financial statements. Still, Alabama has been marked by many nationwide as a haven for diploma mills and several unaccredited schools on the list that were kicked out of the state such as Chadwick University, Breyer State University, Carter University and Omni University.
Besides negative actions, Byrne's staff also renewed licenses for 23 schools and approved six more.
- Rejection of New Applications
- The Queen's University of Brighton, Hamilton, OH (4-23-08)
- Faith in Action Business Access Online, Hayneville, AL (5-7-08) Withdrawal
- Southern State University, Birmingham, AL (8-25-08)
- Madison University of Business & Technology, Gulfport, MS (8-26-08) Rejection/Withdrawal
- Paramount University of Technology, Birmingham, AL (9-3-08) Revocations
- Columbus University, Daphne, AL (5-19-08)
- *Real Estate Institute, Birmingham, AL (5-29-08)
- Southern Community College, Tuskegee, AL (5-23-08)
- Chadwick University, Birmingham, AL (8-28-08) Non-Renewals
- Breyer State University-Alabama, Birmingham, AL (6-23-08)
- *Central Alabama OIC, Montgomery, AL (4-10-08)
- Carter University, Inc., Dothan, AL (4-11-08)
- *Gold Coast Professional Schools, Tamarac, FL (4-16-08)
- *Anvil Property Brokers School of Real Estate, Birmingham, AL (6-5-08)
- North Alabama Driving Academy, Ft. Payne, AL (6-5-08)
- Jomil Driving Academy, Huntsville, AL (6-5-08)
- *Avery Yarbrough & Associates, Eufaula, AL (6-9-08)
- *JME Real Estate School, Mobile, AL (6-9-08)
- *ERA Jefferson School of Real Estate, Phenix City, AL (6-9-08)
- *Alliance Group Real Estate School, Birmingham, AL (6-23-08)
- *Abana School of Real Estate, Vestavia, AL (6-23-08)
- *RESCO School of Real Estate, Tuscaloosa, AL (6-23-08)
- *High-Tech Institute, Nashville, TN (7-3-08)
- *High-Tech Institute, Orlando, FL (7-3-08)
- *Holland Jewelry School, Selma, AL (8-6-08)
- Omniversity, Inc., Mobile, AL (9-10-08)
- *Tuscaloosa School of Real Estate, Tuscaloosa, AL (9-22-08)
- *Alabama Real Estate Academy, Inc, Foley, AL (10-7-08)
- *Realty Now School of Real Estate, Birmingham, AL (10-7-08)
- *Real Estate Career Institute, Ft. Payne, AL (10-7-08) Closed
- All American Driving Academy, Decatur, AL (9-01-08)
It was the largest case of degree fraud in America, perhaps the world. The investigation into St Regis University, a huge degree mill, ended in jail sentences for its "founders" and some employees in July, and has cast light on the lengths to which sellers of dodgy degrees will go to ensnare people in their web of deceit. St Regis' tentacles spread around the globe, with clients across Europe, Russia, the Middle East and Asia, including Hong Kong.
"This was an eight-agency federal criminal prosecution, involving more than 100 countries, 66 real universities known to have had their degrees counterfeited and 150 separate bogus institutions set up by the perpetrators," said George Gollin, professor of physics at the University of Illinois. He had been monitoring the degree mill since 2002 and passed on a great deal of information to investigators that led to the convictions.
"It is the first case of its kind where we have so much information, so we have an extensive profile of how they operated internationally," he said.
A statement from the US Department of Justice said St Regis' customers included teachers, psychologists, engineers and at least one college president. "Many were shipped abroad. The annual degree output from St Regis was about the same as a medium-sized American university," it said.
Investigators calculated that the organisers netted at least US$7.3 million from the sales.
"It was the most sophisticated degree mill because they had 125 different websites of high [secondary] schools, colleges, accredited entities, degree transcript storage and credential evaluation companies," said Allen Ezell, a former FBI agent who has investigated degree mills.
"We now have a better insight into how big this was and how many sales were in the various countries and the type of degrees in demand."
According to documents unearthed by federal investigators, some 30 Hong Kong people wittingly or unwittingly acquired fake degrees, although several Hong Kong individuals bought more than one degree in the space of a very short period, suggesting they knew very well what they were doing...
The annual degree output from St. Regis was about the same as a medium-sized American university...
The man who was "dean of studies" at fraudulent St Regis University is still selling distance learning qualifications in Hong Kong. The US operation was closed following an investigation and its founders were jailed. But Steve Ho Kwok-cheong - one-time Asia representative of its business school and St Regis School of Martial Arts - continues to provide online courses up to PhD level from "universities" you have probably never heard of and others which have never heard of him.
Until this week, Mr Ho's company - ICL Distance Learning Centre - offered online courses from 11 universities in the US, Central America and the Philippines that it claimed to be authorised to recruit or offer distance programmes for, either through affiliation or collaboration. The courses ranged from sub-degree, undergraduate to postgraduate qualifications.
By yesterday, five of these universities had been removed from ICL website - www.icledu.org - following the South China Morning Post (SEHK: 0583, announcements, news) 's investigation into Mr Ho's activities.
The investigation discovered that at least two were either unlicensed or did not exist, and four genuine universities denied having connections with Mr Ho, ICL or Ho's other company, In-Com Link Management Associates.
The search for Mr Ho led to Post reporters trawling through virtual miles of cyberspace, making calls across four continents at all hours this week before arriving at two apparently unconnected addresses in Central - an office services centre in World-Wide House and a tiny public accountant's office in Tsim Sha Tsui.
When a reporter finally made contact with Mr Ho by phone yesterday morning, he said he had done nothing wrong.
"We just provide the course materials," he said. "As this is pure online learning, with no face-to-face classes, we do not need to register with the Education Bureau."
He said the majority of his students were not based in Hong Kong.
However, earlier this week he had been keen to help a Post reporter posing as a customer looking for a fast track to a degree.
ICL's website describes Mr Ho as an "educational professional" who has "been a full/part-time lecturer for different famous worldwide universities/post-secondary institutes, such as University of Sydney, OUHK, City University (UK), University of Heriot-Watt and University of Wollongong, since 1991."
Checks at SydneyU, Wollongong, Heriot-Watt and London's CityU revealed none had a record of employing him. Open University was unable to confirm or deny the connection by the time of going to print.
Mr Ho said the positions had been in Hong Kong - "lecturing" at evening courses run by local companies on the universities' behalf. "I was a lecturer teaching in Hong Kong."
The website also states Mr Ho has a PhD, although it does not specify where he obtained it.
The Post investigation discovered it was from York University, Mobile, Alabama - not to be confused with its namesakes in Canada or Britain - which lists Mr Ho as a member of its academic board.
Inquiries with Alabama authorities confirmed YorkU had no official accreditation and was illegal.
An application for a licence is pending, but Annette McGrady, the private school licence specialist handling the case, said it was "highly unlikely" to succeed due to concerns about the capacity of their faculty.
"They have never been licensed in Alabama," she said. The school had also been given a written warning about selling "honorary degrees" to Hong Kong, she said.
No calls to YorkU - which operates from a lawyer's office - were returned. However, the Post received an e-mail from a "Professor Akiva Fradkin" containing a digital image of a purported official licence. It expired on November 1, 2006.
Mr Ho confirmed his PhD had been from YorkU but insisted it was a genuine qualification.
"I had to submit coursework online and it was assessed," he said.
Mr Ho said being on the academic board meant he could design courses, which could be accredited by YorkU and offered through ICL under the Alabama centre's name.
"I just care about developing a high-quality, pure online learning course," he said.
He said the lack of officially recognised accreditation - YorkU is accredited by an unofficial organisation which only accredits similar small private outfits - did not concern him as accreditation was "very personal."
Mr Ho declined to explain his relationship with the St Regis University scandal, but did not deny involvement.
He said he did not like St Regis' approach of "just selling" degrees without requiring coursework.
"At least [my students] have to complete coursework. They can fail and some of them do," he said.
The Education Bureau has launched an investigation into an online learning portal run from Hong Kong after an investigation by the South China Morning Post linked it to an international web of so-called degree mills and bogus universities. ICL Distance Learning Centre, whose enrolment address is in Central, also seems to have been offering online courses from prestigious US universities without their consent.
The centre's director is Steve Ho Kwok-cheong, of Lai Chi Kok. The ICL's website claimed he had lectured at four overseas universities, but they had no record of having employed him.
Mr Ho's name has also been connected to the scandal in the US over bogus institution St Regis University. He is listed in court documents related to the prosecution in that case as a "dean of studies" for the St Regis School of Business and the St Regis School of Martial Arts.
This week, ICL's website - www.icledu.org - listed courses from 11 universities in the US, Central America and the Philippines that the centre claimed to be linked to either through affiliation or collaboration. The names of several have since been removed.
The partner institutions included prestigious names such as Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Mercy College in New York and the University of Washington in Seattle.
Contacted by a Post reporter, Mr Ho said his business was legitimate.
However, Post reporters have discovered that one of the universities, York University in Mobile, Alabama, is unlicensed, and another, West Coast University in Panama City, Panama, does not exist. The former's website lists Mr Ho as a member of its academic board.
Spokesmen for Carnegie Mellon and Mercy College said they were not aware of any connection. A spokeswoman for the University of Washington said: "A unit of University of Washington Education Outreach entered into an agreement with [the centre's parent company] In-Com Link [Management Associates] in April 2003, but their last agreement expired April 6, 2006."
She said the university had sent a letter demanding ICL "remove all links or references to the University of Washington from its website."
Mr Ho said he was only acting as a recruiting agent for the universities.
"I did not say these degrees were accepted in Hong Kong," he said.
He said the University of Washington's name was left on the site as a result of an oversight. All references to the institution and to York and West Coast universities disappeared from the site yesterday. References to Nueva Ecija University of Science and Technology in the Philippines were removed earlier within hours of a Post reporter confirming the university had no connection to ICL.
A spokeswoman for the Education Bureau said there was no need for schools providing "purely online" courses to register, but the bureau would look into the website. "If there is any evidence that the course information therein is misleading, we shall take action as appropriate."
Listen to the Podcast Hear Steve Ho Kwok-cheong defend his learning centre and academic qualifications at http://www.scmp.com/files/SCMP/Blogs/Static_Files/Q42008/081004_Education_October_4.mp3.
A day after the governor's veto torpedoed three years of discussions about policing the state's 1,600 for-profit and vocational colleges, lawmakers and others were wondering how to protect hundreds of thousands of students at those schools. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger on Tuesday announced he would not sign SB 823, saying the bill failed to "strike a balance between protecting students, while being firm, yet fair to schools." The legislation was confusing and not easily enforceable, he wrote in his veto message.
The veto disappointed consumer advocates, who had argued the continued lack of oversight could lead fly-by-night diploma mills to relocate to California. The state has been without a watchdog since July 1, 2007, when the Bureau of Private Postsecondary and Vocational Education expired.
"This is almost like after a natural disaster, when you get all kinds of predatory operators," said Betsy Imholz, an attorney with the Consumers Union and a strident supporter of a new bureau. "We need an alert system before people enter a school."
The now-defunct bureau was created to gather complaints by students who believed vocational schools had cheated them. A minority of the schools gave the industry a bad reputation by closing unexpectedly without returning tuition money.
Some schools have been criticized for giving useless degrees and few job prospects to students who paid tens of thousands of dollars.
Critics said the bill was too tightly controlled by its sponsor, Sen. Don Perata, D-Oakland. With his term expiring this winter, new legislative leaders should focus on creating a bill that is concise and not as intent on teaching for-profit operators a lesson, said Robert Johnson, executive director of the California Association of Private Postsecondary Schools.
"I think the governor and his administration have been pretty clear about what they want in a bill," Johnson said. Democrats "are demanding a bill that goes way beyond regulatory measures and punishes the sector.
"We have to have bipartisan leadership."
Neither Perata nor his replacement as Senate president pro tem, Sen. Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, responded to interview requests Wednesday.
In his veto message, Schwarzenegger asked the Department of Consumer Affairs to educate students about their rights and to investigate complaints. A department leader said Wednesday her agency has been doing both since the bureau closed.
"Basically, there haven't been any major issues," said Patty Harris, a deputy director with the Department of Consumer Affairs. "If one arises, we're committed" to dealing with it.
When Vice Adm. Donald Arthur retired as Navy surgeon general, Adm. Mike Mullen—now chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff—paid tribute to a "Renaissance man." "His résumé says a lot," Mullen said. "BA, MA, JD, PhD and of course MD. He's got more degrees than a thermometer."
It was a stirring testimonial, but not entirely accurate. While Arthur's bachelor's and MD were legitimate, he has no master's. The PhD came from a university whose accreditation the federal government doesn't recognize. And the JD, or law degree, was granted by a diploma mill that collapsed after its president was imprisoned for fraud.
Nearly two years before Mullen's rousing send-off, an author specializing in military research told his office that Arthur had claimed questionable academic credentials.
Yet Mullen still made those degrees a centerpiece of his retirement ode to Arthur last year. And those degrees were either entered into Arthur's record or listed in résumés submitted to the U.S. Senate for his promotion up the ranks of admiral and ultimately to surgeon general of the Navy, records show.
Arthur says he was guilty only of being ill-informed about unaccredited institutions—and that a Navy investigation cleared him of any wrongdoing.
But his history raises questions about how well Pentagon brass and the Senate vet applicants to top military positions as the federal government investigates cases of academic fraud.
Arthur, who left the Navy and became a hospital executive in Pennsylvania, defended his qualifications to be the service's top doctor. "The only thing I was hired to be surgeon general for was my MD," he said.
His PhD and JD have since been removed from his official biography but remain in his service record.
An unaccredited JD and PhD would not be as central to a doctor's promotion as an MD, said retired Rear Adm. John Hutson, the Navy's top uniformed lawyer from 1997 to 2000. But Hutson said the law degree and doctorate would have been factors in Arthur's advancement—particularly in an area like health-care management, the focus of his PhD.
"He may or may not be promoted without it," Hutson said. "But one, he had it in his record, and two, there's a pretty good argument that he knew or should have known that people would rely on it, not knowing that they were unaccredited degrees."
Unaccredited institutions range from those whose officials have been prosecuted, like LaSalle University in Mandeville, La., to those like American Century University (formerly Century University) that operate legally but claim accreditation from organizations the U.S. government doesn't recognize.
Within a 14-month period in 1992-93, Arthur obtained a PhD in health-care management from what is now American Century University in New Mexico and a JD from LaSalle University, according to his Navy record.
American Century's dean of instruction, Antonin Smrcka, said students work hard for degrees, adding that the institution had Arthur's doctoral thesis on file before it was destroyed as part of a regular records purge.
But he added: "The U.S. Army or U.S. Navy or U.S. Air Force does not recognize the degree from Century University. ... As a rule, we inform the potential student to speak to his employer [to find out] if his employer would accept the degree."
LaSalle University is not to be confused with venerable La Salle University in Philadelphia. The LaSalle in Louisiana collapsed after its founder pleaded guilty in 1996 to conspiracy to commit tax evasion and other offenses in a scheme that included the selling of degrees.
In interviews, Arthur acknowledged that in the early 1990s he took "some courses from two places that are unaccredited." He said LaSalle had given him papers indicating the school had been accredited. "I could say I was naive, but I was 40 years old. And I didn't understand completely what was going on."
As for the master's, which first appeared in his bio for his 1978 medical school yearbook, Arthur said, "I was in a master's program, but I did not graduate. I do not have a master's degree."
Arthur has come under criticism from a number of retired Navy officers, including Dr. Benjamin Newman, a veteran of the Navy medical corps who retired this year.
Newman noted that the Navy's Bureau of Medicine and Surgery, which Arthur oversaw as surgeon general, scrutinizes a doctor's record every time he is assigned to practice medicine at a new duty station.
Arthur's "credentials should have been picked up by someone to show that they're not legitimate," said Newman, who has viewed Arthur's records.
In November 2005, B.G. Burkett, an Army Vietnam veteran who has made a career of exposing military fraud, urged Mullen to investigate Arthur, according to letters provided by Burkett.
Arthur said he was stunned by Burkett's allegations at the time and welcomed an investigation by the Navy inspector general. Arthur said the investigation cleared him of any wrongdoing, but he declined to give the Tribune a copy of the report.
The inspector general's office declined to confirm that any investigation occurred, citing confidentiality.
Asked how unaccredited degrees ended up in Arthur's record, Navy spokesman Cmdr. Jeff Davis said, "I have not seen the record. ... Navy policy and the Navy practice is that we don't introduce degrees that are not from accredited institutions."
Operators of a Spokane-based diploma mill, now in federal prison for wire and mail fraud, were attempting to accredit their bogus online universities by bribing officials in Russia, India and Italy, according to court documents. The documents were filed for today's back-to-back sentencings of Amy Hensley, Blake Alan Carlson and Richard J. "Rick" Novak, who were indicted in October 2005 along with Dixie and Steven Randock, the masterminds of the mill.
Immediately after search warrants were carried out in three states in August 2005, Hensley, Carlson and Novak independently began cooperating with state and federal investigators involved in "Operation Gold Seal" in the hopes of getting lighter sentences, Assistant U.S. Attorney George Jacobs said at the sentencing hearings.
With cooperation from a fourth defendant, the U.S. Attorney's Office had lined up half of the eight defendants indicted in the case as prosecution witnesses. Ultimately, the four remaining defendants, including the Randocks, also pleaded guilty earlier this year, and there was no trial.
Some of the evidence in the case, however, has been attached to sentencing memorandums filed by the U.S. Attorney's Office.
Those documents reveal the Randocks paid $100,000 to an unidentified official in India, hoping to get that country to provide "accreditation" for their online schools – an apparent attempt to help legitimize the operation as similar accreditation in Liberia began to fall apart.
Novak went to India at Steve Randock's direction at some point after the Indian official took the money but then failed to provide any accreditation, the documents say.
Dixie Randock, meanwhile, was developing an affiliation with the Russian Education Ministry in the weeks before her arrest, the documents say, and had established an "Italian connection" in Sebora, Italy.
In exchange for their "substantial assistance" to the government, Hensley, Carlson and Novak were placed on three years probation today by U.S. District Court Judge Lonny Suko for conspiracy to commit wire and mail fraud. The judge also ordered Hensley and Carlson to perform 240 hours of community service and Novak to perform 300 hours of service. While noting their cooperation, the federal prosecutor urged the court to send Hensley, Carlson and Novak to prison for up to a year.
The judge told the defendants the assistance they provided to prosecutors saved them from prison terms. The three detailed the inner workings of the diploma mill, which hauled in almost $8 million, and a series of bank accounts set up by the Randocks, including some offshore.
Suko said the probationary sentences he gave the three were appropriate to avoid "unwarranted disparity" with three-year terms given the Randocks, the one-year term given Heidi Kay Lohran and the four-month sentence handed to Roberta Markishtum.
Novak, 58, of Phoenix, took thousands of dollars from the Randocks and used it to pay cash bribes to senior Liberian officials who used their country's board of education to provide accreditation to more than 100 online high schools and universities set up by the Spokane diploma mill.
Novak traveled to Maryland and Washington, D.C., with the Randocks, who instructed him to deliver the bribes to Liberian officials. Novak also went to Liberia and Ghana to make other payments. He was paid $60,000 for being the Randocks' "emissary" with foreign government officials, Jacobs told the court.
Carlson pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit wire and mail fraud and violating the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act by bribing foreign officials. Hensley and Carlson pleaded guilty to conspiracy counts.
Carlson, 61, who owns a Hillyard printing shop, sold bogus degree stamps and diploma seals to the Randocks before working as an online adviser, using the alias "C.B. Blackwell." Hensley, 41, worked as an adviser, shipper and bookkeeper for the Randocks' diploma mill and made $90,000 after initially working for Dixie Randock's real estate school, A+ Institute.
Carlson also accompanied the Randocks to Detroit, where the trio sold "several degrees" to members of the United Auto Workers.
"I believe in integrity and honesty," Carlson said, also telling the court he's a deeply committed Christian who has attended the same church for 25 years.
"I was stupid," he told the judge. "Once I realized Dixie's business was a fraud, I was well over my head at that point." Carlson made $41,000 for his role in the scheme.
The documents also disclose that one of the 10,000 people around the world who bought degrees from the Spokane diploma mill was an ambassador in Asia, whose identity isn't provided in the documents.
Asked about that outside court today, Carlson said he couldn't remember any of those details.
Vervalste accreditatie voor CMUHere is a translation sent to me by a Netherlands higher education official:
25 Sep, 2008, 17:20 (GMT -04:00) WILLEMSTAD - Onderwijs-minister Omayra Leeflang (PAR) zal naar het Openbaar Ministerie stappen naar aanleiding van een vervalste brief waarin staat dat de Caribbean Medical University (CMU) door de Antilliaanse regering wordt erkend. Volgens Leeflang kunnen medische scholen niet door de Antilliaanse regering worden erkend.
De bewuste brief is op de 15e van deze maand verstuurd aan Carol Bode, senior research analyst van de International Medical Education Directory. De brief bevat tal van onjuistheden. Hij zou verstuurd zijn door de Antilliaanse regering, maar het wapen van de Antillen telt zes in plaats van de gebruikelijke vijf sterretjes. Aan de andere kant stelt de briefopsteller dat de brief namens de 'government of Curaçao' zou zijn verstuurd. De handtekening onder aan de brief is onleesbaar, maar onder deze handtekening staat niet zoals gebruikelijk de naam van de ondertekenaar, maar louter 'the departement of education of the Netherlands Antilles'.
Leeflang kon er gisteren tijdens de wekelijkse persconferentie van de Raad van Ministers niet over uit hoe brutaal degenen zijn die de brief hebben vervalst. "Medische scholen kunnen niet door de Antilliaanse regering worden erkend. Ze zijn vrij om zich hier te vestigen. Wij hebben hier vrijheid van onderwijs. Het enige wat ze nodig hebben is een vestigingsvergunning. Ze vallen niet onder de onderwijswetgeving en worden niet erkend. Zij dienen zelf te zorgen voor hun erkenning. Dit kan via een universiteit in de Verenigde Staten, Europa of een andere instelling."
De minister benadrukt dat sinds haar aantreden in 2006 medische scholen geen erkenning meer krijgen. Sindsdien staat zij en haar ambtenaren onder continue druk van lobbyisten en vertegenwoordigers van medische scholen die toch een erkenning van de Antilliaanse regering willen. "Maar dit kan gewoonweg niet. Ze vallen niet onder ons onderwijssysteem. Conform onze wetten kunnen wij ze niet erkennen. Blijkbaar kunnen mensen niet hiermee leven en is er besloten tot het vervalsen van officiële documenten over te gaan."
Leeflang kondigde aan deze zaak grondig te gaan onderzoeken en dat zij hiermee ook naar het OM zal stappen.
Forged accreditation for CMU
September 25, 2008, 17:20 (GMT -04:00) WILLEMSTAD - Minister of Education Omayra Leeflang (PAR) will contact the Attorney General because of a forged letter that states that the Caribbean Medical University (CMU) would be recoignized by the Antillean government. Minister Leeflang holds that medical schools can not be recognized by the Antillean government.
The letter was sent on September 15 to Carol Bode, senior research analyst at IMED. The letter contains numerous mistakes. Apparently, it would have been sent by the Antillean government, but the Antillean coat of arms [in the letter] contains six instead of five starlets. At the same time, the author of the letter states that it would have been sent by "the government of Curacao." The signature at the bottom of the letter is illegible, moreover, contrary to custom, the name of the signatory is not mentioned underneath the signature. Instead, the letter is signed by "The Department of Education of the Netherlands Antilles."
During the weekly government press conference, minister Leeflang went ballistic about the brutality of the forgers. "The Antillean government can not recognize medical schools. They are free to set up shop here, since we have freedom of education. The only thing that is required is a business licence. They are outside Antillean educational legislature and are not recognized. It is their own responsibility to secure recognition, be it through an US based or European based university or through other organisations."
The minister emphasizes that medical schools no longer get recognition since 2006, when she took office. From that time on, she and her staff are continuously pressurized by lobbyists and representatives of the medical schools to grant recognition. "But that is simply impossible. They are not part of our system of education. Based on our legislation, there's no way that we can recognize them. Apparently, this is not to the liking of some people, and the decision was taken to forge official documents."
Leeflang announces a thorough review of the case and also announces that she will contact the Attorney General.
THE Straits Times on Friday made it clear that it was not about to apologise to Preston University for telling its readers the truth about its credentials - or rather, its lack of. Said Editor Han Fook Kwang: 'We stand by our story and am satisfied that our journalist was accurate in her reporting of Preston University'.
In newspaper advertisements it took out on Friday, Preston University Chancellor Dr Jerry Haenisch confirmed that the university had no accreditation from any US Department of Education body - 'but, a degree mill, absolutely not'.
It did not apply for accreditation, he said, as 'the restrictive nature of the US accreditation system precludes widespread international operations'.
The term - degree or diploma mill - has been used by United States government bodies and newspapers round the world to refer to 'substandard or fraudulent colleges' that offer potential students degrees with little or no serious work.
They range from those which are simple frauds: a mailbox to which people send money in exchange for paper that purports to be a college degree to those that require some nominal work from the student but do not require college-level course work that is normally required for a degree.
Preston was taking issue with an ST article by journalist Sandra Davie, headlined 'At least 218 here have off-the-shelf degrees' on Aug 29. She reported that Preston University was an unaccredited institution and dubbed a degree mill in the US.
Two Singaporeans who graduated from the university were also named, including an options trading expert who said he submitted a thesis and was granted a doctorate within 16 months. He paid $18,000 in fees.
Ms Davie said on Friday her report was backed up by checks with accreditation boards, the highly-regarded US-based Chronicle of Education as well as American newspaper reports.
Oregon State's office of degree authorisation has Preston described as a 'degree supplier' in its database.
The Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board also lists Preston as one of the institutions that offer 'fraudulent or substandard degrees'.
In 2001, the Chronicle reported that Preston University, then based in Wyoming, had invented more than half of its faculty list. The university later admitted that only 15 of the 49 faculty member's listed on the institution's website actively teach its students or serve as mentors.
Last year, US media reports said Preston University was forced to move its operations to Alabama because of the crackdown of diploma mills in Wyoming state.
Further checks by ST turned up a commentary in May this year that appeared in the Chronicle.
Mr Alan Contreras, director of Oregon state's office of degree authorisation had this to say about Preston setting up a campus in Finland: 'Who would bother to establish a substandard-degree provider in the depths of Finland?'
'The Americans who own Preston University would. That unaccredited supplier was flushed out of Wyoming and has gone to ground in Alabama, from where it has established what I will generously call a relationship with a Finnish degree supplier called Firelake University, which doesn't appear on lists of genuine Finnish colleges.'
'Preston operates all over the world from its base in Alabama, which has the worst degree-programme oversight in the United States.'
ST's checks found more details about its 'base' in Alabama.
In July, Dr Haenisch reportedly admitted to a newspaper that Preston is a distance-learning operation in the US, without a physical campus.
Ms Davie also noted that Ms Karen Kaylor, director of the United States Education Information Center in Singapore, had written to ST's Forum Page, urging parents and students to apply only to accredited institutions in the US to ensure that the degree earned is deemed valid and legitimate worldwide.
In her letter published on Thursday, Ms Kaylor noted that 'nearly all colleges and universities' would apply voluntarily for accreditation to establish their status.
'Accreditation, a process of peer review, is usually seen as the key to determining whether a degree program meets generally recognised academic, fiscal and structural standards,' she added.
Contacted on Friday, Mr Richard O'Rourke regional coordinator of Education USA disputed Preston's claim that being an accredited university would limit its expansion abroad.
He noted that more accredited US institutions were setting up campuses or offering their programmes overseas. In Singapore alone, there are at least six such universities here, including Cornell University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology and New York University.
The Straits Times contacted the Centre for Professional Studies which placed the newspaper ads.
One of its directors, Dr Juergen Rudolph, said the centre, which is registered as a private school with the Education Ministry, used to offer Preston University courses.
The ad was placed as a 'gesture of goodwill' to Preston University graduates here, some of whom contributed to the costs of the ad.
Three Freehold Regional school administrators who gained advanced degrees from a suspected "diploma mill" were ordered by the state yesterday to remove the degrees from their titles, while the state also alerted all districts to the laws against using such institutions. The state Commission on Higher Education sent the "cease-and-desist" letters to Freehold Superintendent James Wasser and two of his assistants who had gained doctorates from Breyer State University, an online program that had at least twice lost its certification.
The degrees had allowed the three administrators to gain raises under their contracts, as well as tuition reimbursements. Whether they would have to return the money was unclear, but they were ordered to remove any credit of the doctorates from their official titles, such as the appendices of "Dr." or "EdD."
In addition, state Education Commissioner Lucille Davy sent letters to every district reminding educators of the state's existing laws barring the use of unaccredited schools to gain certification or other advancement.
...here is a rundown of some of the major legislation that passed yesterday and will be landing on the Governor's desk later this month: ...SB 823 (Perata): To prevent "diploma mill" abuses by private post secondary education and vocational education for which state oversight and regulation has lapsed.The California Assembly passed the bill in late August.
Alabama education officials are cracking down on the exploding market for Internet courses and degrees and have taken action against four unaccredited Birmingham-based online colleges. "These are not real schools and are operating in ways that are not in the best interest of their students," said Lynn Thrower, the associate general counsel assigned by Bradley Byrne, chancellor of the state Department of Postsecondary Education, to ramp up enforcement.
Last week, Chadwick University, which operates out of an office building on Magnolia Avenue near Five Points South, was notified its license to offer degrees had been revoked. The department also denied applications to operate online schools from Southern State University and Paramount University of Technology, which listed their headquarters in Birmingham but were found to have nothing but mailboxes in the city.
Madison University of Business and Technology withdrew its application after failing to meet requirements, department officials said.
Alabama had become a haven for questionable online operations, which have exploded in recent years thanks to the ease of creating virtual schools on the Web, department officials said. The online for-profit businesses offer a vast array of degrees, from hypnotherapy to doctorates in economics.
Several schools set up shop in Alabama to market degrees to consumers nationally and internationally. Until Byrne assigned full-time staff to aggressively enforce regulations, the department simply was processing applications from the schools.
"It obviously did not get much priority from the previous chancellor," Byrne said, referring to Roy Johnson. "We had not done the job we should have. Now, we are exercising much more proactive oversight."
Byrne said legitimate providers of online education fill an important role in society, but he said the so-called diploma mills can victimize consumers, businesses and legitimate schools.
People often are induced to sign up for large student loans, Byrne said, but once the money is paid to the school, the students don't receive the degree or certification promised.
Some operators offer degrees in exchange for cash, requiring little or no course work. The degrees are marketed in the United States but are also heavily marketed abroad, in Southeast Asia, China and the Middle East, where there is a premium on an American degree.
In some cases, customers sign up with the online companies, pay thousands of dollars in tuition, buy books and complete assignments, only to find out later that their degrees are worthless. In general, degrees for the unaccredited schools aren't recognized by other schools or by employers.
But governments and businesses are sometimes duped into reimbursing students for their tuition, and sometimes the phony degrees are used to get raises and promotions.
In 10 states, it is illegal to use an unaccredited degree as a credential when seeking a job or promoting yourself professionally. Alabama is not among those states.
"I think it is important to protect the consumers in Alabama," Byrne said.
A first round of enforcement actions, announced in July, closed the books on 18 private institutions, including Birmingham-based Breyer State University.
Breyer State degrees have been at the center of several controversies across the country. In August, three New Jersey educators were found to have received $10,750 in reimbursement from their employers for unaccredited degrees from Breyer, which allowed them to get $2,500-a-year raises.
Thrower, who has headed the Postsecondary Department's crackdown, said more action is on the way. New rules, effective Oct. 1, will require that schools seeking a license to issue degrees in Alabama have, or be actively pursuing, accreditation from an agency recognized by the U.S. Department of Education.
Chadwick started 18 years ago with educational programs by mail. It has never sought accreditation.
It was founded by Lloyd Clayton, who also founded Clayton College of Natural Health, another long-running unaccredited college that is on watch lists of unaccredited schools maintained by several states. Clayton College remains in business.
Chadwick University, until recently, had a virtual campus pictured on its Web site, through which students could navigate to campus buildings housing different departments. The school offered degrees in business, criminal justice and social and behavioral sciences. Now the Web site simply lists contact information.
Thrower said that among many violations the department found, Chadwick did not have the required $20,000 bond that would pay refunds to students if the school failed, and it did not provide the department with educational credentials of its faculty.
'Not a diploma mill':
In response to questions from The Birmingham News, Chadwick officials said the school is not a diploma mill. Chadwick chose not to seek accreditation and was not required to, they said.
"It is absolutely clear that Chadwick is not a diploma mill as Chadwick does not offer degrees for a fee and has always required very substantial work from its students," school officials said in an e-mailed statement.
But a 2004 investigation by the General Accounting Office, now the Government Accountability Office, raised questions about Chadwick. The GAO report found that a manager at the National Nuclear Security Administration received a bachelor's degree in 1992 from Chadwick but never attended classes and obtained his degree based on 30 credits for life experience, plus several college-level examination program tests and nine correspondence courses. The employee reported to GAO investigators that he read a book, wrote a paper and took a final exam for each of the nine courses.
In its statement, the school said that it has not accepted new students since 2002 and has 48 students who are finishing their course work. The school said it planned to end its operation by March 2009. With its license revoked, Chadwick cannot offer degrees, Thrower said, and any student promised one should be due a refund.
Can't give credentials:
On Aug. 14, a postsecondary investigator went to two listed addresses in Birmingham for Southern State University, one at Chase Corporate Center and the other a "virtual office space" - 4000 Eagle Point Corporate Drive - but neither office was staffed or had any equipment. The president's address is in West Covina, Calif.
"You get there, and it is nothing," Thrower said. "No sign of anything. It's just a maildrop."
In correspondence with the department, the school was unable to provide proper financial statements, a description of the educational backgrounds of its instructors or a curriculum that was consistent with accepted standards for universities.
Madison University of Business and Technology withdrew its application after the Alabama Commission on Higher Education declined to approve its education program plan. Though the school lists a Birmingham address, its correspondence is directed to the school president's address in Gulfport, Miss. "We have asked them to cease soliciting students," Thrower said.
An application by Paramount University, which also has no physical office, was rejected after the school failed to offer evidence it was seeking accreditation.
"They were not able to meet the most rudimentary requirements," Thrower said. "Clearly, they were just not knowledgeable about how to operate a school."
Report cards start Jan. 1:
Alan Contreras, administrator of Oregon's Office of Degree Authorization, has been a vocal critic of the practices of unaccredited colleges and degree mills. Alabama, he said, had earned a reputation as one of the "seven sorry sisters," states that had lax oversight of the industry. He is pleased with Alabama's new attitude.
"It is really good to see," Contreras said. "A lot of people around the country and around the world are watching what they do."
Tougher enforcement in several states has online operations scrambling to find a place to operate, with many fleeing to California, which let its law on licensing for-profit universities lapse, Contreras said. That's where Breyer State now claims to be based.
Thrower said the Department of Postsecondary Education has developed an annual report card system for both public two-year colleges and private colleges licensed by the department.
Beginning Jan. 1, consumers will be able to go to the department's Web site and check into a school's accreditation, costs, graduation rates and courses offered. "They will have this information that they will be able to use to make an informed decision," Thrower said.
"This is not a witch hunt," she said. "We are trying to move private, for-profit education in a positive direction and close down the diploma mills that give other schools a bad name."
The American Association for Higher Education and Accreditation began in 1870. Or so says its Web site. But that claim, along with a number of others, falls apart on close inspection. For example, though it lists a Washington, D.C., location, that address turns out to be a UPS mailbox. Its actual headquarters are in Central Florida.
Most significantly, AAHEA has assumed the identity of a now-defunct organization with a similar name—the American Association for Higher Education. It has even acquired AAHE's old phone number. That comes as an unpleasant surprise to AAHE's former leadership, including Michael B. Goldstein, a higher-education lawyer with the Washington law firm Dow Lohnes, and a former member of AAHE's board. "Some of their activities appear, on their face, to be clearly unacceptable," he said.
What are those activities? AAHEA's Web site says the group is "dedicated to the advancement of higher education." However, its only stated goal for 2008 is dealing with "the problem of bullying in school." Under the heading "Sponsored Programs," a collage of photographs features the twin towers of the World Trade Center in flames, and what appear to be bloody footprints. Beneath it are the words "To be announced."
A Chronicle investigation has raised questions about AAHEA, which advertises itself as both a scholarly research organization and a college accreditor. It has also led to the resignation of Charles Grant, the group's chief executive, after just a week in office.
The apparent operator of AAHEA is D.A. (Doc) Brady. While his name is nowhere to be found on AAHEA's Web site, he is listed in the corporate records for AAHEA, filed with the State of Florida in 2007.
In several interviews and e-mail exchanges, Mr. Brady defended his organization against critics he contends are biased against him. He said he and his colleagues were motivated solely by the personal satisfaction of running AAHEA, not by any monetary considerations. "Not a single person has benefited a nickel out of this thing," said Mr. Brady.
It's not for lack of trying. The association offers annual memberships for $99, and its Web site includes a page for visitors to make donations, ranging from $10 to $1-million (those who give the top amount become honorary presidents of AAHEA). Among the programs in the works, which the money will support, according to the Web site, are safari trips to Africa, online art shows, and a "Learning Course of the month contest."
When asked about his background, Mr. Brady said it's "none of your business." An online biography describes him as self-taught, but also says he holds doctorates in clinical hypnotherapy and business administration, though it does not mention the institutions from which he graduated. According to the bio, he has worked as a consultant for television programs, including Dr. Phil, and is a "nationally certified motivational instructor."
Mr. Brady is the chief executive of the National Board of Professional and Ethical Standards, which offers doctorates in clinical hypnotherapy, among other degrees. The doctoral program costs $4,998 and uses the Ericksonian method of hypnosis. According to its frequently-asked-questions page, the organization is under review for accreditation from Mr. Brady's other organization, AAHEA, which it notes is "very old."
Charles Grant said he responded to an advertisement for the position of chief executive of the group. Mr. Grant had just retired from San Jacinto College North, a community college in Houston, after 25 years. He started there as an instructor and ended as its president. The idea of helping a higher-education organization like the association, he said, appealed to him. "I'm a sympathetic person," said Mr. Grant.
When pressed, Mr. Grant said he had no idea how many members the group had, or what exactly it did. Nor had he ever met Doc Brady in person, or anyone else from the organization. He didn't know its financial state or where it was located. He was also not aware of Mr. Brady's other organizations.
Mr. Grant said that he had not received any money from AAHEA, but that he had been told he would receive a salary. A few days after his interview with The Chronicle, Mr. Grant sent an e-mail message to AAHEA with the subject line "Not Working," resigning from the position, and forwarded a copy to The Chronicle.
All along, AAHEA has claimed that it is the same entity as the American Association for Higher Education. In fact, AAHE, which promoted the scholarship of teaching and learning for nearly four decades, closed its doors in 2005 after a sharp decline in membership.
Its president at the time was Clara M. Lovett. Ms. Lovett, who is president emerita of Northern Arizona University, said she had never heard of AAHEA. Neither had Mr. Goldstein, the AAHE board member. Both disputed the notion that AAHEA is in any way the continuation of AAHE.
Other assertions by Mr. Brady have also been contradicted. For example, he said that the archives of AAHE, housed at the Hoover Institution Archives at Stanford University, are scheduled to be transferred to AAHEA's headquarters once there is sufficient space.
Not so, according to Brad Bauer, associate archivist for collection development and curator of the Western European collections at Hoover. Mr. Bauer, who is in charge of the AAHE archives, said he had heard "nothing of the sort" and that any such transfer would be extremely unusual. "I've had no discussions of any sort with any organization claiming to be the successor to AAHE," he said.
Mr. Brady has also said that his organization is going through the review process to become an approved college accreditor. Jane Glickman, an Education Department spokeswoman, said that a check revealed that the department had had no contact with AAHEA. Jan Riggs, director of membership services and special projects for the Council for Higher Education Accreditation, said she had been contacted by Mr. Brady but that she "had no idea what he was talking about."
In response, Mr. Brady criticized the approval process for accreditors, saying it was too cumbersome. "I think it's retarded," he said. In an e-mail message, he indicated that his association may be reconsidering becoming an approved accreditor because it's "not worth all of this aggravation."
It is unclear how many members AAHEA has signed up, or whether the group has received donations. Michael F. Healy, who works in the marketing and communications department at the University of Georgia's Center for Continuing Education, said he contacted AAHEA recently because he was interested in purchasing its mailing list. He was told that he must become a member first. A colleague at another university, Mr. Healy said, paid the association $1,000 for its mailing list. He declined to name the colleague.
Along with its other problems, AAHEA appears to have borrowed material on its Web site without attribution. In June a law firm working for the Accrediting Council for Continuing Education & Training—an accreditor recognized by the Education Department—sent the association a letter demanding that it remove documents it had copied directly from ACCET's Web site. In some cases, the documents still had the continuing education and training group's name in the text.
AAHEA did not respond, according to Roger J. Williams, executive director of ACCET, until this week, when the documents were taken down. In an e-mail message, Mr. Brady wrote that the documents had not been copyrighted and that the material was not taken verbatim.
When informed that Mr. Brady had accused him of unfairly attacking AAHEA, Mr. Williams was unable to suppress his laughter. "I find their indignation surprising, to say the least," he said.
Jean-Noel Prade has stood out as the outspoken reformer candidate for the Sarasota Memorial Hospital board, calling on the hospital's president to defer her raise and opposing the hospital's Manatee County expansion. But he has received attention far longer, and from far beyond Sarasota, for running a company that admitted in federal court to violating federal copyright law, and for links to universities that some experts have labeled as diploma mills.
Prade, 61, is chairman of American Universities Admission Program, a company that since 1995 has primarily assisted foreign students hoping to attend graduate school in the United States.
He agrees that his firm violated trademark law, but vehemently disputes any association with diploma mills, so named for how they churn out academic credentials.
Firms like AUAP, generally known as credentials evaluators, review foreign academic transcripts and tell American colleges how that work compares to their course work. Prade said he created the company when his French-born son was planning to apply to American colleges. AUAP employs about a dozen evaluators around the country, Prade said.
AUAP and Prade were sued in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia in January 2006 by the American Association of College Registrars and Admissions Officers for infringing on its trademark. The association claimed that AUAP used the registrars' logo on its Web site without authorization.
"We were concerned that our logo was being used to mislead institutions, that AUAP's evaluations were being confused as ours," said Barmak Nassirian, associate executive director of AACRAO, the registrars' group.
In April 2006, the two sides reached a settlement through a consent judgement and injunction. In it, Prade agreed that he and AUAP had illegally used the AACRAO logo to deceive consumers and falsely claim affiliation with the registrar's group.
"I don't consider it, myself, that I violated trademark law," Prade said. "I violated it without knowing it."
The lawsuit was a civil case, not a criminal case, so he does not consider it violating a law, he said.
But the case dragged on for another 15 months. The parties returned to court when the registrars said AUAP had not complied with the agreement and sought a fine and other penalties.
In October, U.S. Magistrate Judge Alan Kay agreed that Prade and AUAP had violated the agreement, but gave them another month to comply.
In subsequent hearings, Kay found that AUAP and Prade complied with the agreement, and the judge denied the registrars' request for penalties and an ongoing inspection program. By legal precedent, fines are appropriate only in the most egregious cases, he wrote.
Both sides claimed victory.
"The result is, the claim was denied," Prade said. The judge's rejection of any monetary penalties vindicates AUAP, he said.
Nassirian said the court forced AUAP and Prade to stop using AACRAO trademarks, so his group got almost everything it wanted. "I am not satisfied with the magistrate's decision, because I think organizations like this do a lot of damage," Nassirian said.
After the ruling, the registrars' group issued a statement titled "AACRAO wins lawsuit against diploma mill." Nassirian said the title stemmed from his group's research into AUAP's business relationships.
Alan Contreras, who heads Oregon's Office of Degree Authorization, said Prade and AUAP are tied to a French business that has operated under variations of the name "Robert de Sorbon," not to be confused with the prestigious French university known as The Sorbonne. George D. Gollin, a professor at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and member of the [board of directors of the] Council for Higher Education Accreditation, researched the ownership of various Robert de Sorbon Web sites and linked them to Prade and AUAP.
On its current Web site, Ecole Superieure Robert de Sorbon describes itself as a class of accredited institution that under French law can award degrees based on life experience. It says applicants pay a fee of about $75 and, if accepted, pay a tuition of about $750. A panel of scholars evaluates the applicant's work history and grants a degree 60 days later.
Old versions of the Web site, from 2004, are for a Universite Robert de Sorbon and list AUAP's mailing address as the "US representative" for admissions. An Internet registry search shows a Dr. Jean Noel Prade, at the candidate's Sarasota home address, as the official contact for the Web site in April 2004.
Prade said Universite Robert de Sorbon no longer exists and that he and AUAP are not affiliated with it. Of Ecole Superieure Robert de Sorbon, he said, "It is an institution of higher learning."
The new Ecole Superieure Web site was registered via a third-party company, which masks the Web site's owners.
Nancy Katz, a board member for the National Association of Credential Evaluation Services, said members of her group would not treat the Robert de Sorbon entities as a regionally accredited university.
Prade also is listed as the registrant for the Saint Augustin University Web site. Older versions of the site describe the entity as a degree-granting institution, but the current version says it is only a credential evaluation service. Property records show Prade as the owner of its Englewood street address. Prade said he set it up for a friend.
No explanation, no excuse, no logical reason can be found to even attempt to justify what has happened in the Freehold Regional School District where top school officials got degrees from a university that has been described as a "diploma mill." Adding insult to injury, the officials were reimbursed with taxpayer money for the tuition and then given higher salaries because they obtained ad vanced degrees.
What superintendent H. James Wasser, assistant superintendent Donna Evangelista and retired assistant superintendent Frank Tanzini did was an absolute ripoff of the district. At least one member of the school board is asking them to return the money.
We're not sure that's enough of a mea culpa. If their students pulled this sort stunt, they would likely be punished harshly.
According to a story first reported by the Asbury Park Press, Wasser, Evangelista and Tanzini received degrees from Breyer State University -- a school that offers courses on line and has been described by officials in more than one state as "an apparent diploma mill." The website of the so-called distance university notes that is not accredited by an agency approved by the federal Education Department.
The Freehold district paid $8,700 in tuition for the educators and gave each of them $2,500 annual raises based on their having obtained doctoral degrees.
Since the charade was uncovered, there has been a lot of fingerpointing. The state Education Department has contended that it is up to local officials to make sure staff members have the appropriate credentials from a school accredited by the federal government. Others have said the state Education Department needs to do a better job of regulating these employees.
All those things are true, but the bigger scandal is that educators, who know better, engaged in this kind of decep tion. These are the people who are supposed to set the educational gold standard for the community. They are sup posed to be role models for children.
State Senate President Richard Codey said he'll introduce legislation to stop this insanity. Education Commissioner Lucille Davy is also planning regulations to guard against a recurrence. Both are appropriate responses.
Still, one has to ask about the integrity of the school officials who did this. Why would it be necessary for a district to tell a top educator that a degree from a diploma mill simply won't cut it? It's akin to writing in the parents' handbook, "Don't lock your child in a dark basement." Shouldn't some things be obvious?
Psst . . . Wanna buy a degree from a diploma mill and stick taxpayers with the bill? If you're a public school educator, New Jersey won't stop you.
State Education Commissioner Lucille Davy said she is powerless to prevent local school boards from handing out tax money to administrators who boost their pay by obtaining degrees with little or no academic value.
When it issued a nine-page report last week, the department entered a growing national controversy about the value of online degrees. But instead of announcing tough new standards, the department made only a few suggestions.
"I feel sorry for New Jersey. Here they had an opportunity to step up to the plate, and they opted not to," said former FBI agent Allen Ezell, who investigated diploma mill fraud for 11 years, then wrote three books on the subject. "I would have thought New Jersey would have had a little more brass than that."
Freehold Regional High School District became the epicenter of the diploma mill controversy in New Jersey when the superintendent and two top administrators obtained degrees from an online school that has been deemed an "apparent diploma mill" by Alabama officials.
After completing an investigation into the administrators' degrees, the education department's report stated there was "no sustainable evidence" that the administrators "possessed the prerequisite intent to deceive when they obtained the degrees" from Breyer State University, which has been chased out of two states and an African country.
The education department report suggested — but did not require — that high school administrators, in the future, earn college degrees from reputable, accredited schools.
None of the three administrators investigated — Superintendent H. James Wasser, Assistant Superintendent Donna Evangelista and recently retired Assistant Superintendent Frank Tanzini — was required to pay back the $10,750 they received in taxpayer money to obtain degrees from Breyer State.
The board gave raises — $2,500 each per year — for their advanced degrees.
Breyer has been booted out of Idaho, Alabama and the African nation of Liberia.
"Breyer State is a diploma mill. There's no question about it," said Alan Contreras of Oregon's Office of Degree Authorization. "It's obviously a waste of taxpayers' money."
But Education Commissioner Davy said local school boards must write contracts and pay benefits that make sense for taxpayers.
"It is wrong for people to use those diploma mill degrees to increase their salaries," she said. "But I don't have the authority to stop them."
More of the same
On the same day New Jersey issued its report, the Asbury Park Press discovered three more educators who earned what experts say are bogus degrees.
Freehold Regional employees Cheryl Lanza, an English teacher, and Lorraine Taddei-Graef, a learning disabilities teacher consultant, both obtained degrees from Breyer State. Neither could be reached for comment.
Freehold taxpayers reimbursed Lanza $2,050 for her "doctorate of philosophy in education." Taddei-Graef was not reimbursed, according to school district records.
Meanwhile, in the Asbury Park school district, Acting School Superintendent James T. Parham said he paid about $3,000 to receive a "Master of Arts" with a major in special education from Almeda University in Idaho.
Parham said his degree was based on his life experience, and that it took him about a month to put his resume together to get the diploma.
Asked if he received his Almeda degree in return for merely submitting his resume, Parham said, "I also had to do a paper."
How long was the paper?
"The paper must have been about two, maybe three pages," he said.
Parham said the Asbury Park school district did not reimburse him for the master's degree, which he received on Aug. 6, 2006.
Asked why he would pay for the degree, Parham said he thought it "might look good" on his resume, and that "it might add something."
Seven months after receiving the degree, Parham was appointed by the school board at a salary of $110,620 to take the job held by suspended Superintendent Antonio Lewis, who is under criminal investigation by the state Attorney General's Office.
Parham, who was a vice principal in the district, said his Almeda degree did not help him become acting superintendent.
A degree in surgery
Ezell, the former FBI agent, said Almeda's degrees are "a blatant fraud."
With an estimated 4 million students expected to take at least one online college course this fall, national experts like Ezell, University of Illinois professor George Gollin and Contreras say that taxpayers — and students — need to be vigilant against schools offering big credentials for only a little work.
Gollin, a national expert on bogus online degrees, once submitted his resume to a diploma mill and received a master's degree in public administration. Later, he told the school he changed his mind and said he wanted a doctorate degree in thoracic surgery. Once he sent in the money, the school agreed.
Gollin, a physics professor, has never operated on anyone.
He found it surprising that a school superintendent, who is supposed to set the highest academic standards, would purchase a questionable degree, Gollin said.
"We're trying to deal with truth in analysis when we provide education," he said. "To have a superintendent of schools going around, buying false credentials in order to fool people into thinking he has expertise . . . that's just a sign of poor integrity that is astonishing to me."
In his doctoral dissertation, Wasser stated he was mentored by Dominick L. Flarey, the former president of Breyer State.
After investigating the school, Alabama canceled its license and forced the school to leave the state.
So did Idaho. The school currently operates out of a post office box in Los Angeles.
'That's their opinion'
In an e-mail, Flarey said he was no longer president and would not discuss the institution or the degrees awarded to Freehold administrators.
"I have nothing at all to do with the administration of the school. I only teach some courses," he said. Breyer State last week did not list a president on its Web site.
Responding to criticism of Breyer by Ezell, Gollin and Contreras, Wasser said: "That's their opinion."
Wasser staunchly defended the work he did for his degree.
"I did it. I would do it again," said Wasser. "The only thing I would probably do differently, is now that I am aware of this word "accreditation,' I would probably thoroughly research that."
Wasser said he worked for more than a year on his doctoral dissertation and is proud of the final product.
"I am not here to defend Breyer State. If you want to do that, that's your business, or the business of the FBI, the CIA, whoever wants to do it. . . . I can only defend my education and my dissertation."
He said he could have charged taxpayers more.
"In the future, in a few years, what are people going to say about the degrees people earn online? Because online education is the wave of the future now. It's not attending class and sitting in a classroom, which I could have done.
"I could have left my job at 2 o'clock in the afternoon. . . . I could have done that. I chose not to. I could have cost the taxpayers a tremendous amount of money," Wasser said.
In Asbury Park, Parham accessed Almeda University's Web site while he was being interviewed in his office and pointed to an accrediting agency Almeda says has sanctioned its online education program.
But Gollin, who has been calling attention to diploma mills for years, said the bogus schools also often create phony accreditation agencies that try to give a veneer of acceptability to the academically indefensible.
Ezell said only degrees accredited by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation have value and are officially recognized by the federal government. The list of accreditation agencies is available at www.CHEA.org.
"A 10-year-old knows how to use Google," Ezell said. "It's nothing complex. It's all right there."
Jim Harlan is a Harvard-educated venture capitalist with a keen interest in energy policy and a half-million dollars to spend on his campaign. He decided three months ago to make his first run for public office. Vinny Mendoza, an organic farmer and real estate investor with graduate degrees from a now-defunct diploma mill [LaSalle University], wants quickly to end the war in Iraq and has spent hardly a dime on his campaign. He's run for office four times in the past four years.
What unites them is a commitment to returning Louisiana's 1st Congressional District to Democratic hands for the first time since 1977. Both will compete in their party's primary, the winner to take on U.S. Rep. Steve Scalise, R-Jefferson...
OCALA -- Bernard LeCorn, who says he is qualified to run for School Board because he has a doctorate degree... from a diploma mill... Meanwhile, LeCorn's doctorate comes from the American College of Metaphysical Theology, an unaccredited diploma mill that sells doctorate degrees for $249.
The school Web site, which lists a Golden Valley, Minn. address, says you can also get a master's degree for $209 and a bachelor's for $149, all without taking one class. Degrees are mailed within a month of payment in many cases.
LeCorn insists his doctorate in pastoral administration is legitimate because the degree recognizes his life's work as an educator and a pastor for First Missionary Full Baptist Church of Ocala on Southeast 35th Court, just north of Belleview.
"I still feel that my qualifications are better than my opponents," said LeCorn, referring to the colleges that he claimed had awarded him degrees.
The metaphysical college's Web site — www.americancollege.com — acknowledges that it is not accredited. It states that accreditation is not important in theology and metaphysics colleges.
When the Star-Banner called the number listed on the Web site, the phone number was disconnected.
The school site states that paying for a degree can boost any applicants quest for a better job: ''On the day that you enroll in a degree program, you may legitimately add an important line to your resume..."
To get a doctorate, the school site states that after paying $249, a student gets full credit for life experiences through living life in your own community without going to classes. The doctorate also includes "ministerial credentials at no extra charge."
The site defines metaphysics as "the science which investigates first causes of existence and knowledge. It seeks to explain the nature of being and the origin and structure of the world, uniting man's physical, mental, and spiritual character into its true nature of holism."
During a check of LeCorn's background, it was also discovered that the 54-year-old has had his driver's license suspended twice in the last year for not paying his car insurance premium.
He said he quickly paid the fee moments after his license was revoked on June 9. It was reinstated on June 25.
LeCorn was also cited in February 2005 for speeding through the Ward Highlands Elementary School zone. A Marion County deputy pulled LeCorn over for doing 50 mph in a 20-mph zone at 8 a.m.
"I just didn't see the flashing lights," he said.
LeCorn has had financial trouble as well, according to a foreclosure case filed at the Marion County Courthouse. LeCorn purchased the First Missionary Full Gospel Baptist Church near Belleview and the mortgage was held by Robert Hobbs.
Hobbs filed for foreclosure in 2006 after LeCorn fell far behind on his payments, which were more than $1,400 per month. A Marion County judge ordered the church to be sold in August 2006.
Just before it was to go to auction, friends — investors — of LeCorn paid off the mortgage and the foreclosure case was closed, according to court files.
LeCorn said his church congregation started dropping and so did donations and he fell behind on the payments. "It's only as good as the money stream," he said.
When asked if he felt the near foreclosure had any bearing on how he would handle the School District's $628 million budget, he said: "I think that means I know how to get things done when money is tight," he said, referring to the School District's funding shortage. "I know to get things done on a shoestring budget."
Iran's new interior minister has raised an uproar among lawmakers and Iranian media over an apparently fake claim that he holds an honorary doctorate from Britain's Oxford University. To back his case, he's shown off a degree certificate riddled with spelling and grammar mistakes. Oxford issued a statement Wednesday denying it ever awarded Ali Kordan an honorary doctorate of law, as he claimed to parliament before it approved his appointment to the post earlier this month.
The Interior Ministry put out a copy of the degree, with an Oxford seal and dated June 2000, aiming to prove its authenticity.
But in the certificate, "entitled" is misspelled "intitled," and it says Kordan was granted the degree "to be benefitted from its scientific privileges."
The clumsily worded document says Kordan "has shown a great effort in preparing educational materials and his research in the domain of comparative law,that has opened a new chapter,not only in our university,but, to our knowledge,in this country" — leaving out spaces after all but one of the commas. It was published in several Iranian papers this week.
Oxford said in its statement that it "has no record of Mr. Ali Kordan receiving an honorary doctorate or any other degree from the university." It added that the three professors whose alleged signatures are on the certificate have all held posts at the university at some stage but none of them work in the field of law and none would sign degree certificates.
The alleged fake has been heavily covered in several Iranian newspapers and Web sites, and parliament speaker Ali Larijani on Monday ordered the body's education committee to look into the degree's authenticity.
The Tehran prosecutors office announced Wednesday that the Alef news Web site, which has carried several reports questioning the degree, has been "banned based on complaints by legal entities," the state news agency IRNA reported. [See http://www.alef1.com/content/view/30890/.] The office said the site had no work license and did not link the ban to the interior minister issue. The site could not be accessed in Iran on Wednesday.
"The Interior Ministry does not have the right to threaten the media for questioning the authenticity of the claim," parliament member Ahmed Tavakoli was quoted as saying on Alef. He said the "truth of such an important issue must be made clear." Interior Ministry officials could not be reached Wednesday for comment on the Oxford statement.
During his confirmation debate, numerous lawmakers argued Kordan was unqualified for the ministry post, some claiming that his Oxford degree was a fake. Kordan was approved Aug. 5 by a relatively slim margin of around 160 of the 269 lawmakers present, a reflection of the concerns. The Interior Ministry runs the country's police and oversees elections.
Kordan was considered a compromise candidate between hardline President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Larijani, who is a conservative but seen as a rival to the president. Kordan was Larijani's deputy when Larijani held a previous post as head of the state broadcasting service, and Kordan later went on to serve as deputy oil minister.
Ahmadinejad defended Kordan amid the debates, dismissing degrees in general as "torn paper" not necessary for serving the people.
An Interior Ministry statement this week insisted the degree was authentic, calling claims otherwise "destructive" and "insulting" and urging media to refrain from "lying and suspicious reports."
Tavakoli and other parliament opponents of Kordan have not called for his resignation. Hamid Rasai, a lawmaker who backs Kordan, was quoted in several Iranian papers this week saying parliament approved Kordan despite the degree dispute, but added that the minister should "remove the ambiguities" over the issue.
Janet Killen invested $5,500 and four years of her life getting what she thought was a master's degree in nursing education from a Caldwell online college. When she presented her degree in 2007 to Lane Community College in Eugene, Ore., where she teaches nursing, she was dumbfounded when administrators told her it was worthless in her state. Moreover, Oregon state officials told her she must stop touting the diploma she received from Canyon College or she could face civil and criminal penalties for using an invalid degree. She has to notify a hospital where she works that her degree is not recognized in Oregon.
"I felt really violated," Killen said. "I have two associate degrees, a bachelor's degree and an illegal master's degree. Do you love it?"
How can something like this happen?
The Idaho State Board of Education, which oversees for-profit colleges like Canyon, hasn't had the staff to enforce state rules that require schools like Canyon to be registered with the state before handing out diplomas.
But Mike Rush, Ed Board executive director, says he will seek an injunction against Canyon College if it doesn't comply with Idaho law.
Oregon won't accept degrees from Canyon College because the school is not registered in Idaho and is not accredited by federally recognized agencies, said Alan Contreras, administrator of the Oregon Office of Degree Authorization.
Registration helps the state be aware of what programs are available in Idaho. Accreditation gives an assurance that the program meets some minimal standards for quality, state officials say.
"Degrees issued by Canyon College have the same validity as degrees issued by Les Schwab Tires or a neighborhood grocery: zero," Contreras wrote to Canyon College's legal counsel.
Idaho state officials also put distance between themselves and Canyon College.
"Their credits will not transfer into any state-supported college inside Idaho," Harv Lyter, Idaho proprietary schools coordinator, wrote to Contreras in an e-mail recently. "Idaho does not consider Canyon College credits or diplomas valid."
Michael F. Storrs, who was listed as Canyon College president when the school filed business papers with the Idaho Secretary of State's office in 1998, could not be reached for comment. John Denmark, also an owner of the school, declined to speak with the Statesman.
In a letter to Contreras, Canyon College's attorney, Brad Miller, defended the school.
Canyon "takes great pride in offering educational opportunities that would not otherwise be available to a number of individuals at an affordable price," he wrote.
A computer search found no lawsuits against Canyon College in Idaho's 4th Judicial District or any complaints filed with the Better Business Bureau.
But Idaho and the school disagree on how much oversight the state should have.
On July 2, Lyter wrote Denmark, saying the school must register with the state by July 31, according to letters the Statesman obtained in a public records request from the State Board of Education.
Miller responded by saying the school offers no degrees from locations in Idaho so it is not subject to registration.
But a law revised in Idaho in 2006 says "if you operated from or purported to operate from a location in Idaho, you are an Idaho school," Lyter said.
In recent days, on some pages of its Web site but not all of them, Canyon College changed its mailing address to a suburb outside of Sacramento, Calif. The phone and fax numbers still have Idaho area codes.
IDAHO A 'SORRY SISTER' ON COLLEGE OVERSIGHT
Canyon College, which is 10 years old, has an enrollment of about 4,000 students, college officials say. Online courses are offered in a variety of fields including theology, Chicano and Middle Eastern studies, criminology and nursing, according to the school's Web site. The school has had an office at 111 Poplar St. in Caldwell.
But despite the official concerns with the school, Idaho has done little to compel the college to meet state requirements followed by other private schools such as George Fox University, Stevens Henager College and Apollo College.
Idaho hasn't had anyone to focus on for-profit school oversight until Lyter, a former inspector general at Mountain Home Air Force base, was hired a month ago.
"We've had nobody minding the store," Rush said.
Until Idaho beefs up its regulation of proprietary schools, Contreras will classify the state as one of the "Seven Sorry Sisters, the states with the worst regulation of private colleges." The others are: Hawaii, California, Mississippi, Alabama, Florida and Colorado, although Alabama has recently toughened its enforcement against such schools.
CANYON IS ON A LOT OF STATES' WATCH LISTS
Oregon isn't the only state with concerns about Canyon College. Washington's office of degree authorization wrote Canyon College officials in July, reminding them that academic credentials from the school are valueless in the state and can't be used to help get employment or a license to practice a trade.
Michael Ball, Washington's degree authorization associate director, said the letter was a "shot across the bow" to Canyon College. Don't "think of coming to Washington," he said.
And the Pennsylvania Department of Education notified its school district officials that Canyon College is "not authorized to operate in Pennsylvania" after a group of teachers in a district 60 miles north of Pittsburgh sought reimbursement for attending classes through Canyon College. The classes could cost taxpayers in the West Middlesex School District between $20,000 and $40,000.
"Taxpayers are putting out taxpayer money and not getting the quality of education expected of an accredited agency," said Tom Hubert, school board president. "Idaho needs to step up to the plate. They are ... allowing them to do this. I would hope officials in Idaho could see that and help us out."
CANYON COLLEGE IS NOT UNIQUE, THOUGH
While Canyon has attracted some of the focus of Lyter's office, Lyter also had to pay attention briefly to Breyer State University, a school that made a short stop in Idaho this summer.
Breyer State University, which was in Idaho during the early part of the decade, returned here in late June, according to Idaho Secretary of State business records. The online school moved operations back after it lost its license to operate in Alabama amid a crackdown on what education officials called "diploma mills."
"One of the ... institution's many violations included conferring honorary doctorates on individuals based on life and work experience, a one-time application fee and a monetary contribution to the institution," said a press release issued by Alabama's Department of Post Secondary Education.
On July 2, Lyter told Breyer officials they must register with the State Board under Idaho law.
Late last month, Breyer State changed its address and phone number on its Web site from Boise to Los Angeles.
John Moran, Breyer State's marketing director and dean of students, declined to comment.
The school is appealing the loss of its license in Alabama.
STILL LOOKING FOR A DEGREE
Back in Oregon, Killen, the nursing instructor whose degree was rejected, maintains she got a good education at Canyon College. Killen took about a dozen classes, and she said many seemed in line with those she would have gotten elsewhere but would have cost as much as $600 per credit hour.
Canyon charges $500 per master's course and $435 per bachelor's course, according to the school's Web site.
But Killen is also upset that Canyon College administrators never explained that her degree would not be recognized in Oregon when she started taking classes, she said.
"They should have informed me," Killen said. "I knew nothing."
Contreras, the Oregon degree authorization administrator, wrote Canyon College officials demanding a refund for Killen and reminding school officials that they had agreed in 2000 to notify any Oregon resident that Canyon degrees are not valid in that state.
"We are disappointed that Canyon College continues to take money from Oregon residents," Contreras wrote on July 3. "(T)his kind of crude plunder really needs to stop."
On Friday, Canyon College officials agreed to a refund, but did not mention Killen by name in the letter or the amount it would give back.
Miller wrote that the school agreed to the refund in part because Killen was threatened "with criminal prosecution if she listed having a degree from Canyon College on her resume." Canyon officials also offered to quit accepting Oregon residents if the state would drop whatever issues it has with the college.
"The laws of Washington, Nevada, North Dakota, South Dakota, Illinois, Texas, Maine, New Jersey and Virginia disallow the use of degrees from Canyon College," Contreras wrote. "For Canyon simply to cease offering its products to Oregon residents would serve little purpose unless it also agreed to cease offering them to residents of the other states."
As for Killen, she's back on the Internet, looking for another place to get a master's.
"I want a degree," she said.
Brain surgery, anyone? Just slip on a hospital gown and step into my operating cubicle here at the Tribune.
Let me clear my desk of printouts, unwashed coffee cups and old newspapers so you can stretch out. Comfy? Now, I'll need a tool sharp enough to crack open your skull. Scissors might work, if I hammer on them with my shoe.
There, there. Trust me. I'm a doctor—or I will be as soon as I fork over my medical school tuition.
Recently, I received approval for a series of bogus academic credentials, including a "Doctorate Degree in Medicine & Surgery" from a diploma mill called Ashwood University. All I have to do is persuade my editors to pay $699 "tuition," including a $75 surcharge guaranteeing me a 4.0 grade-point average.
Suddenly, degree mills are a hot topic. Some 9,600 people nationwide—among them Berwyn police officers and a Chicago Public Schools instructor—are suspected of buying junk degrees from St. Regis University, a criminal enterprise in Washington state in which eight employees have pleaded guilty to fraud.
So I decided to test how difficult it was to accumulate credentials based on what the diploma mills call "life experience." Turns out just about any life experience beyond taking aspirin regularly can qualify you for an advanced degree in medicine.
I applied by typing in the names of a number of hospitals I had visited over the years, whether it was to have tonsils removed, visit a sick friend or interview someone. I didn't claim employment at any of them. I didn't even note the dates. The list looked like this:
* Long Beach Memorial Medical Center, Long Beach, Calif.
* St. John Medical Center, Longview, Wash.
* Hôpital Albert Schweitzer, Deschapelles, Haiti.
* Thousand Bed Hospital, Vladivostok, Russia.
Fifteen hours later, Ashwood University e-mailed the good news that I could lay the foundation for a new career if I'm ever laid off. The note read:
"Congratulations, Russell Working!
"We are pleased to announce that on the basis of your resume submitted by the Assistant Registrar, the 10-member evaluation committee at Ashwood University has finally approved you for Doctorate Degree."
The bogus degrees in medicine aren't funny, though. Consider the case of John Curran, a phony medical doctor in Rhode Island who charged most patients a standard fee of $10,000, according to a newspaper in Kentucky, where the diploma mill was located.
Among Curran's patients was Taylor Alves, an 18-year-old photographer and model who was dying of ovarian cancer. Curran said he could heal her with a concoction of powdered vegetables in water. So she spent her final weeks refusing other food and died in great anguish, her mother told the Lexington Herald-Leader.
In 2006, Curran was sentenced to 12 1/2 years in prison for wire fraud and money laundering.
Diploma mill operators—and buyers—can run afoul of the law in several ways. The federal government has nailed people on charges that include mail and wire fraud. In Illinois it is illegal to produce a false academic degree for profit unless it is marked "for novelty purposes only," said Natalie Bauer, spokeswoman for the state attorney general's office. Both the state and federal governments forbid using bogus degrees to gain employment or advance on the job.
George Gollin, a professor and diploma-mill fraud-buster from University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, has been leading the way in exposing how easy it is to get a fake degree.
Several years ago, he discovered that St. Regis University, based near Spokane, Wash., was offering high school degrees for those who filled out an online form with 100 questions, starting out with, "Where does the president of the United States live?" On a form with four possible answers to each question, Gollin intentionally clicked most of them wrong.
St. Regis was so impressed with his answers, it said he was eligible for both high school and associate's degrees.
"If I were to give the test form to a bunch of pigeons and let them pick answers by randomly pecking," Gollin said, "I would have been outscored by slightly more than 75 percent of the pigeons who took the test."
In my case, I decided to expand my employment options by applying for a PhD in child and family studies from Rochville University. As a doctoral thesis, I submitted the Unabomber manifesto, written by domestic terrorist Ted Kaczynski.
Under the title "Consequences of the Industrial Revolution: A Jungian Approach," I submitted a 34,000-word rant by a madman imprisoned for mailing bombs that killed three people and wounded 22. Not to worry. A few hours later, Kaczynski's wisdom had qualified me to hang out in playgrounds and scribble notes on the behavior of other people's children.
For my doctorate in theology and Biblical counseling from the bogus Belford University, I submitted the Hamas charter as my thesis. The work blames "Zionists" for corrupting education and culture worldwide though secret guises as "Freemasons, Rotary Clubs, gangs of spies and the like."
The universities replied positively in remarkably similar e-mails, which made me think they might be different faces of the same diploma scheme.
Then I began getting calls on my cell phone from diploma mill representatives demanding the money. The "universities" kept e-mailing to say I had only seven days to pay. When the deadline passed, they all granted me another seven. I never paid anything to any of them.
Recently, I asked Rochville to change my PhD to architecture and urban planning, and it agreed without asking for additional life experience or documentation. So I sent another e-mail asking to change it to a PhD in theater arts.
"I started thinking I'd like to direct musicals, such as 'Mame,' 'The Fields of Ambrosia,' 'Criminally Insane Puppets' (better than it sounds!), etc.," I wrote, adding, "P.S. It's very important that you spell it this way: Theatre. I'm thinking of moving to London."
They agreed once again.
So I called up Rochville and spoke to a "student counselor" who spoke with a foreign accent, identifying himself as Jason Anderson. When I asked, he said he was in Maryland.
I told him I had used the Unabomber manifesto. Why would the 10-member faculty committee accredit that Kaczynski diatribe?
Not so fast, Anderson said.
"After that e-mail is sent to you, there's a whole process that goes after that," he said. "You get yourself registered, and then actually we go deeper into what you've done, and find out what major you qualify for."
Whew! Glad we cleared that up. I'm sure they all operate that way.
So let's see how confident they are in their own degrees. Would the members of Ashwood University's evaluation committee please line up at my cubicle for their prostate exams?
One of the new principals in the North Hills School District boasts a doctorate from the University of Pittsburgh -- no small accomplishment for a 27-year-old with several years of full-time teaching experience. But after recent events, Dr. Joseph W. Pasquerilla might be reluctant to tout his status as a faculty member with another institution: Canyon College, an online entity that is widely viewed as disreputable.
Courses taught by Dr. Pasquerilla to fellow teachers at his old workplace, the West Middlesex Area School District in Mercer County, have led to problems there and prompted a meeting with his new boss to discuss the Canyon College situation.
The Idaho-based institution is not recognized by Idaho, Pennsylvania, the U.S. Department of Education or any respected accreditation agency.
"They are quite a well-known diploma mill," said Alan Contreras, an expert on the subject and director of Oregon's Office of Degree Authorization.
Degrees from Canyon College are essentially worthless in Pennsylvania. A state Department of Education official said the institution is not authorized to operate in Pennsylvania, and its programs and courses are not approved.
"We discussed with him very clearly that at North Hills, if one of our staff members were to partake in any of the offerings at Canyon, it would not be recognized at North Hills," said district spokeswoman Tina Vojtko. "We don't see the affiliation being necessarily relevant here at North Hills."
Officials at Canyon College could not be reached for comment.
Dr. Pasquerilla, who earned his master's degree at Youngstown State University, said he joined Canyon College with noble intentions -- to help teachers at his old district obtain master's degrees at an affordable price and with a curriculum he could assemble.
Under the West Middlesex contract, teachers with master's degrees can earn an extra $2,400 per year.
Dr. Pasquerilla acknowledged he should have sought more information before accepting a contract to teach courses for a fee of $250 per student. He said he did not know a master's degree from the school would not be valid in the state, he did not realize Canyon was not authorized to operate in its home state, and he did not realize the entity was not properly accredited.
"I guess I should have asked more questions," Dr. Pasquerilla, principal of Northway Elementary School, said recently. "Maybe there was some misinformation brought to us by them."
Dr. Pasquerilla's situation is a cautionary tale illustrating the difficulty -- even for people with a doctorate -- in sorting out reputable schools from diploma mills, accredited institutions from those that offer bogus degrees.
"If someone is taking course work to get a degree, they need to do their homework to ensure it is an accredited, legitimate degree-granting institution. Otherwise, they may end up spending money and doing work for what ultimately could be a meaningless degree," Pennsylvania education department spokesman Michael Race said.
Despite the drama in West Middlesex, Dr. Pasquerilla enjoys the support of the North Hills board president.
"I don't know anything about Canyon College and quite honestly I don't really care. What I'm looking for is somebody who can shoot the lights out for the North Hills School District," Jeffrey A. Meyer said.
"We hired a guy to do a job as an administrator. Based on the feedback that we've received from the people who know him best in his previous district, we've received rave reviews."
But Dr. Pasquerilla still needs to sort out for himself whether he will continue to teach for Canyon, something he is not ready to abandon, despite the questions that have arisen.
"Based upon what I know now, I would need to reconnect and re-evaluate the situation with Canyon College," Dr. Pasquerilla said. "I have a commitment to the staff at West Middlesex.''
As for that district, where Dr. Pasquerilla passed out fliers advertising his courses, it has its own problems.
At least 11 teachers studied under Dr. Pasquerilla and his former colleague, math teacher Mark Hogue.
Five of them have successfully sought tuition reimbursement as provided under their contract. The district has paid them $12,000 in taxpayer money, covering the bulk of what they paid Canyon College.
But since concerns have cropped up, the district has put a stop on payments to six other teachers until its solicitor can study the matter.
Dr. Pasquerilla said he found Canyon College on the Internet and was attracted to its promise of allowing him to craft his own curriculum and offer it to peers at a reasonable price.
"We just were trying to do something that was good for the district," Dr. Pasquerilla said. "I had all the right intentions in mind, and that is to help educators become better educators"
His plan blew up when school board members began questioning the reimbursements and asking pointed questions about Canyon College.
"It just didn't seem right," West Middlesex board President Thomas J. Hubert said.
Mr. Hubert's hunch was borne out, and not only in Pennsylvania.
"There's no legal basis for the claim this is a legitimate degree," Oregon's Mr. Contreras said of Canyon College. "The entity itself has no legal authority to issue degrees. It would be like saying I did a bunch of course work for Wal-Mart and they gave me a degree."
Mr. Contreras claims that Canyon has twice violated an agreement to warn Oregon residents interested in its programs that they cannot legally use a Canyon degree in the state.
Idaho is trying to get Canyon to register with the state, but those efforts have so far failed.
"We do not recognize them. We do not recognize the degrees or certificates they may grant, and essentially it's 'buyer beware,' " said Mark Browning, spokesman for the Idaho State Board of Education.
Idaho law states a school must be accredited by an agency recognized by the state or federal government.
Canyon College states on its Web site that it is accredited by The American Naturopathic Medical Accreditation Board and The Association for Innovation in Distance Education.
The naturopathic group's credentials are questioned by Karen Howard, executive director of the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians.
"There's no indication this is a legitimate accrediting organization," Ms. Howard said.
As for the other agency, Jan Riggs, a spokeswoman for the Council for Higher Education Accreditation, said neither her group nor the U.S. Department of Education recognizes it.
At West Middlesex, Superintendent Alan J. Baldarelli said he does not plan to approve future requests for tuition reimbursement at Canyon College, something that seems to be in sync with the wishes of his board president, Mr. Hubert.
"The taxpayers deserve a little bit more for their money," Mr. Hubert said.
Steven Karl Randock Sr., described by a prosecutor as the chief financial operator of a Spokane-based diploma mill, was sentenced Tuesday to three years in prison after his defense attorney made an impassioned plea for home detention. Randock got the same sentence given to his wife, Dixie Ellen Randock, on July 2 after they both pleaded guilty earlier this year to conspiracy to commit wire and mail fraud.
For six years, the Randocks and a team of associates sold high school and college degrees from 121 fictitious online schools they created and counterfeit diplomas and transcripts from 66 legitimate universities.
From nondescript offices in Mead and later in Post Falls, they sold more than 10,000 of the degrees and related academic products to 9,612 buyers in 131 countries ¡V pulling in $7,369,907.
If they hadn't struck plea bargains and been convicted by a jury, they each faced 87 to 105 months in federal prison on the conspiracy charge alone. Companion money laundering charges were dismissed when the Randocks made their plea bargains.
Dixie Randock is appealing her three-year sentence.
Her husband's attorney, Peter Schweda, said Steven Randock has suffered heart attacks, strokes and most recently "cluster headaches" and should be allowed to serve his sentence by being restricted to the couple's home in Colbert.
Assistant U.S. Attorney George J.C. Jacobs argued that Randock, 69, will get adequate medical care in a federal prison. He was allowed to remain free and ordered to self-report to a prison once the facility is identified by the U.S. Bureau of Prisons.
"It is clear to me that his culpability is certainly in the same category" of his wife, U.S. District Court Judge Lonnie Suko said in sentencing Randock.
The judge said that under court rulings and federal sentencing guidelines, a defendant's age and medical issues are not relevant in determining where a sentence is served unless the defense establishes that an "extraordinary physical condition" exists. Randock and his at torney failed to prove that, said the judge, who was limited to the 36-month term unless he rejected the written plea agreements that called for that sentence.
"There's no constitutional right ¡K to a particular kind of medical care" for federal felons, the judge said.
Schweda said his client had open-heart surgery in April after earlier heart attacks and strokes, and takes 11 prescription medications.
If sent to prison, Schweda said, Randock is "afraid he will end up dead or paralyzed. He's afraid he will die in prison."
In federal prison Randock may not be allowed to take the types of medicines prescribed by his doctors, Schweda said.
He also would be subjected to a "rigid routine, won't have the right pillow, won't be able to eat when he wants and will be in an environment where he could be victimized by younger inmates," Schweda said.
But the prosecutor said it was the seriousness of the crime, not Randock's health, that should dictate where he serves his prison term.
The Randocks were not only selling bogus and counterfeit degrees, the prosecutor told the court, they also were operating fraudulent accreditation and evaluations companies that Steven Randock helped set up.
"This was a very, very serious crime," Jacobs told the court. "It presented a significant risk of danger to the public."
If the U.S. Secret Service and other law enforcement agencies hadn't begun Operation Gold Seal in early 2005 and obtained grand jury indictments against the Randocks and six others, the number of fraudulent degrees sold by the operation would now be double or triple the 10,000, Jacobs said.
The prosecutor said the federal prison system will do a thorough examination of Randock, as it does with the 180,000 other federal prisoners, and provide the appropriate level of medical care.
His attorney told the court that Randock wasn't a leader or organizer and was only doing what his wife told him to do as part of the conspiracy.
Randock didn't stand to address the court, as is routine, but read a prepared statement, telling the court he wanted to apologize to "my family and friends." He didn't mention the public or customers who bought degrees from the diploma mill.
Randock said he wanted to serve his prison term in home confinement, living with his mother-in-law if his wife eventually goes to prison.
"I don't think I could take the rigorous routines of prison," Randock told the judge. "I'm sorry this has ever happened, and I'll never be in trouble again."
If a bill's impact or importance were measured by its length or the amount of time Congress spent working on it, the Higher Education Opportunity Act of 2008 (HR 4137) would be one for the ages. At more than 1,150 pages, the bill is about 20 times longer than the Higher Education Act of 1965 that it modifies, creating 64 new programs and touching on issues as diverse as the availability of Pell Grants and illegal downloading of digital music and video. And the legislation, which finally passed both the House and the Senate by overwhelmingly margins on Thursday, has been in discussion on Capitol Hill, in one form or another, for most of this decade. It is five years overdue...Information about the bill, including its text, is available here. The July 31, 2008 votes were 380 to 49 in the House and 83 to 8 in the Senate. The legislation is still referred to as H.R. 4137. The bill became law when it was signed by President Bush on August 14, 2008.
Material related to diploma mills can be found on pages 10 and 17 and is quoted here:
Title I--General Provisions; Sec. 103. Additional Definitions; (a) Additional Definitions:
."..(20) DIPLOMA MILL.—The term 'diploma mill' means an
"(A)(i) offers, for a fee, degrees, diplomas, or certificates,
that may be used to represent to the general public
that the individual possessing such a degree, diploma, or
certificate has completed a program of postsecondary education
or training; and
"(ii) requires such individual to complete little or no
education or coursework to obtain such degree, diploma,
or certificate; and
"(B) lacks accreditation by an accrediting agency or
association that is recognized as an accrediting agency
or association of institutions of higher education (as such
term is defined in section 102) by—
"(i) the Secretary pursuant to subpart 2 of part
H of title IV; or
"(ii) a Federal agency, State government, or other
organization or association that recognizes accrediting
agencies or associations.
Title I--General Provisions; Sec. 109. Diploma Mills:
Part B of title I (20 U.S.C. 1011 et seq.) is further amended
by adding at the end the following:
"SEC. 123. DIPLOMA MILLS.
"(a) INFORMATION TO THE PUBLIC.—The Secretary shall maintain
information and resources on the Department's website to
assist students, families, and employers in understanding what
a diploma mill is and how to identify and avoid diploma mills.
"(b) COLLABORATION.—The Secretary shall continue to collaborate
with the United States Postal Service, the Federal Trade
Commission, the Department of Justice (including the Federal
Bureau of Investigation), the Internal Revenue Service, and the
Office of Personnel Management to maximize Federal efforts to—
"(1) prevent, identify, and prosecute diploma mills; and
"(2) broadly disseminate to the public information about
diploma mills, and resources to identify diploma mills.."
St. Regis buyers list is published by Spokane Spokesman-Review
The quality of an online outlet West Middlesex teachers are using to work toward master's degrees is being called into question, board President Thomas Hubert said. At least ten teachers used allowances provided through the district's tuition reimbursement plan to take online courses from Idaho-based Canyon College, Hubert said.
The institution is a Web-based operation that top officials in education around the country have dubbed a "diploma mill," news reports say.
A teacher with a master's degree in West Middlesex makes about $2,400 more a year than those without, an outline of their contract says.
Six teachers — Brenda Brooks, Brad Mild, Chad Mild, Nicole Nych, Edward Pikna and Mike Williams — were each reimbursed $2,400 in June for courses completed through Canyon, a record of board expenses shows.
The online college isn't listed among over 250 outlets legally authorized to grant degrees in Pennsylvania, according to a roster compiled by the state Department of Education.
Hubert said another four teachers in the past few months were also reimbursed the same amount for classes through Canyon and all teachers had been approved prior to starting the courses by Superintendent Alan Baldarelli.
Hubert said he wasn't aware that any teachers had completed master's degrees through Canyon or been awarded pay increases.
The board didn't question its Canyon because they believed Baldarelli, who was unavailable for comment Thursday, already had checked out Canyon, Hubert said.
The state Department of Education regulates teacher certification but allows individual school districts to distinguish the legitimacy of a master's degree, said Michael Race, the agency's deputy press secretary.
Teachers in Pennsylvania are required to complete 180 hours of professional development every five years related to their specialty to stay certified, Race said.
"There are various ways to meet it," he said, noting teachers have other options than taking classes toward a master's degree.
A teacher who pursued a master's degree at a local college alerted school directors earlier this month her colleagues were taking online courses toward the same degree in a program that was much shorter, Hubert said.
Race said he's unaware of any problems created by Canyon College in the state or of teachers in other districts using the Web site to get degrees.
The state "wouldn't have any role in accrediting Canyon College," Race said. The institution is headquartered in Caldwell, Idaho, its Web site says.
The institution is independent and provides students distant opportunities to acquire a degree from 80 programs, said Phil, a director of administrator services at the college who declined to give his last name.
"We have good master's programs and you can put us up across the board as far as course content," he said.
The institution has created more than one headache for many west coast departments of education, said Alan L. Contreres, an administrator with the Oregon state Office of Degree Authorization in Eugene.
Contreres said he's found himself at odds with the college several times.
"They've been rattling around there for ten years," he said. "The state of Idaho doesn't list it as an approved school."
Ten states consider a degree obtained from the college to be fraudulent, Contreres said.
Williams said he's certain Canyon College is accredited and is coming under fire because of an unfamiliarity with both the institution and online classes.
"It's not 1950 anymore when you have to have a teacher or a professor," Williams said. "I stand behind what we're doing."
West Middlesex teachers are eligible to be reimbursed for up to $2,400 in continuing education costs each year and are given the money within 30 days of showing proof of satisfactory course completion, their contract says.
Teachers were encouraged to use the Canyon College program by two colleagues, math teacher Mark D. Hogue and former social studies teacher Joseph W. Pasquerilla, Hubert said.
Hogue and Pasquerilla distributed fliers to teachers advertising Canyon College, Hubert said. The fliers list Hogue as the institution's curriculum coordinator. They identify Pasquerilla, as "Dr. Pasquerilla," program director, and show e-mail addresses for both men with the college. Hubert said he didn't know if Pasquerilla's graduate degree came from Canyon.
The fliers say teachers can form "cohorts" of four to 12 teachers who can work together on degrees and submit assignments as a unit.
Pasquerilla referred comment to Canyon College's hierarchy and a message left for Hogue wasn't immediately returned.
Pasquerilla, whose father is Brookfield school board President Joseph Pasquerilla, left the district earlier this summer to take a principal's position with North Hills School District in Ross Township, a Pittsburgh suburb, Hubert said.
Williams said he completed five classes through the Web site this spring and is hoping to finish a master's degree in special education.
Williams said the program's been a plus and inspired him to be a better teacher.
The classes are "really no different" than those administered at Midwestern Intermediate Unit IV in Grove City. The course work isn't as easy as people think and is helping him and others better serve the students, he said.
Hubert said he disagrees with the validity of any accreditation the institution may have and questions the taxpayers' funding of it.
School directors also alerted Southwest Mercer County Regional police and District Attorney Robert Kochems of the situation, Hubert said.
The board meets next at 7 p.m. Monday in the band room at Oakview Elementary School.
A woman on trial for stabbing her estranged husband in the back was found unconscious in her apartment this morning... Nancy Bautista had attempted suicide in May, and had been suicidal in the months before the trial, her attorney said.More information: I was offered a doctoral degree in Thoracic Surgery by Belford in recognition of my life experiences reading the newspaper and watching the evening news on television.
Defense attorney Michael Ferber said her doctor spoke with her Thursday evening at 7 p.m. and she was "in great spirits."
But the defense case took a bad turn Thursday afternoon when a key expert, Roger Carlson, took the stand and admitted that his doctorate in psychology came from a diploma mill in Texas. Carlson was to testify that Nancy Bautista was under the influence of drugs and alcohol during the attack on her husband and that her troubles could be traced to an abusive childhood.
Jefferson County investigator Russ Boatright said he was able to obtain his own Ph.D. in psychology in less than 24 hours from Carlson's alma mater, Belford University, which he said also offers applicants a near-perfect grade-point average for an additional $75 fee.
Ferber said he just found out about the background of his expert Thursday. "It was a total shock," said Ferber. He said Carlson has several clinics in metro area and he has sent clients there in the past...
The state Department of Education is reviewing the validity of doctoral degrees obtained by the Freehold Regional High School superintendent and another administrator. The degrees were issued by an online school that Alabama officials this week chastened as an "apparent diploma mill." Superintendent H. James Wasser, 58, and assistant superintendent Donna Evangelista, 50, both received degrees in the past two years from Breyer State University, which was based in Alabama at the time.
Former assistant superintendent Frank J. Tanzini, 58, also received a degree from Breyer before his recent retirement — after receiving a raise for being awarded a doctorate degree.
Alabama did not renew Breyer State's operating license last month as part of a crackdown on diploma mills, according to the Alabama Department of Postsecondary Education.
"One of (Breyer State's) many violations included conferring honorary doctorates on individuals based on life and work experience, a one-time application fee and a monetary contribution to the institution," the postsecondary education department said in a statement this week. "The institution offers an unheard of self-design degree program that allows the creation of a curriculum based on mentoring."
Breyer State and another cited institution were "apparent diploma mills . . . taking shameful advantage of hundreds of unsuspecting students,"
Alabama officials said in the statement.
Freehold Regional paid $8,700 total in tuition so all three administrators could do course work with Breyer State. The school has moved to an office suite in Boise, Idaho. Calls to the school, picked up by an answering service, were not returned.
The tuition reimbursements for the three administrators were paid after Breyer State submitted invoices with the misspelling "Reciept" in bold letters at the top of the page.
The New Jersey Department of Education is "aware of the situation, and it is under review" to see if the current and former Freehold Regional administrators misused academic titles, said Rich Vespucci, spokesman for the department.
State law provides for a civil penalty of $1,000 for using academic credentials bearing one's name if the credentials were not granted by an authorized institution. Breyer State states on its Web site that it is not accredited by any agency authorized by the U.S. Department of Education.
Carol Fox, president of the Marlboro Parent Teacher Student Organization, said Wasser should pay back the district for the tuition.
"I want schools and teachers and administrations to be above-board," she said. "This is what we have to teach our children. We're supposed to be role models. Getting a degree from that organization is not being a role model, it's teaching how to cheat."
According to Board of Education meeting minutes, Tanzini received a $2,500-a-year raise in November shortly before his December retirement for completing a doctoral degree, based on his contract.
Evangelista was promoted from administrative supervisor for human resources to interim assistant superintendent in December, and from interim to permanent assistant superintendent in April. Wasser received a $2,500-a-year raise for the doctorate degree, based on the terms of his contract.
Wasser received his doctorate in June 2006, Evangelista in June 2007.
Wasser released a written statement in response to questions by the Asbury Park Press that said:
"Engaging in a traditional program or completing research on-line is a personal preference. I chose to take a practical approach to my advanced degree because it afforded me the opportunity for meaningful study without taking valuable time away from what is most important to me: the daily responsibilities of this district and students."
He added, "My two years of study provided me with valuable insights in dealing with at-risk students."
Wasser wrote a 105-page dissertation entitled "The Impact of the Superintendent's Disciplinary Hearings on Identified At-Risk Students' Behaviors." The paper included 74 pages of content, five pages of bibliography citing 90 sources, and 23 pages of appendices.
The dissertation studies 25 Freehold Regional High School district "at-risk" students, identified only with initials. Their problems included poor grades, bad attendance and misbehavior. Wasser's one-on-one method for dealing with these students was researched in his work.
Wasser teaches a class on adolescent counseling at Rutgers University, New Brunswick, where he has taught for 25 years. A Rutgers spokesman said a doctorate is not required to teach the course.
Tanzini said he had not known Breyer State lacked accreditation, but said he had checked out the school before he enrolled.
"I had seen some of the information on their Web site and read some of the dissertations from their students," Tanzini said. "It seemed reputable. . . . I thought it was a good opportunity. The cost was reasonable."
Tanzini said he wants to become an educational consultant now that he's retired...
A diploma ought to mean something, ought to represent some measure of academic attainment that a prospective employer or another educational institution can consider valid. Too often in Alabama, long a haven for "diploma mills," that isn't the case. That will be changing under the increased scrutiny planned by the state Department of Postsecondary Education and announced -- pointedly -- by Chancellor Bradley Byrne this week. The need for it is beyond question.
Alabama's public institutions face regular accrediting examinations, but the state also has more than 250 private, for-profit institutions that offer degrees. Some of them are legitimate schools, accredited institutions that present legitimate higher education alternatives.
Others, however, are nothing but diploma mills that provide meaningless degrees that employers and other educational institutions do not recognize -- and certainly should not recognize. They are colossal rip-offs for the students who given them money for tuition and fees, often going into debt to do so. They are an affront not only to the very concept of genuine education, but also to the society they brazenly expect to accept their shoddy offerings.
Horror stories are all too common. Last month, the department declined to renew the license of Breyer State University in Birmingham. It's not a university at all, but a textbook example of a diploma mill. It awarded doctorates -- doctorates -- to people on the basis of life and work experiences, along with a financial contribution to the school. Not exactly a model of academic rigor.
In May, the department revoked the license of Columbus College in Mobile. Its "operations" operated out of a post office box.
As the Advertiser's Markeshia Ricks reported, licensing fees for private, for-profit colleges will be increased to an annual minimum of $2,500, with the funds used to beef up department staff for enforcement.
Stricter reporting requirements will be instituted. The schools will have to provide audited financial statements and copies of tax returns. Operators must have clean records, with no convictions involving crimes of moral turpitude and no successful lawsuits against them for fraud or deceptive trade practices in the past 10 years.
The department will take steps to close schools that offer poor-quality coursework. (In some cases, the coursework isn't even that good. It's non-existent, with actual academic work eliminated in favor of dubious "life experience" credits.)
"We are going to adhere to state Board of Education policy, increase our manpower and strengthen our guidelines," Byrne said. "We are not going to allow any college to commit academic or economic fraud on our citizens."
No such fraud should ever be countenanced. It should be noted that there is nothing inherently wrong with for-profit colleges. Some of them provide solid educational opportunities and willingly subject themselves to the same accrediting standards as public institutions. They're supportive of the department's crackdown on diploma mills. It's the bogus schools that have cause to worry now.
This added scrutiny is many years overdue. A good case can be made that the licensing of for-profit colleges should be the responsibility of the Alabama Commission on Higher Education, and legislation to that effect has been introduced in the last two regular sessions of the Legislature.
It hasn't passed, however, so the responsibility continues to rest with the Department of Postsecondary Education. Given that reality, Byrne is right to pursue this course and to do so vigorously.
An exclusive NewsChannel 5 investigation first exposed some state employees and their questionable degrees, and tax payers paid for some of those degrees? Get this - tax payers have continued paying. NewsChannel 5's Chief Investigative Reporter Phil Williams noted a real education at a real school can cost a lot of money. It turns out a not-so-real education can cost just as much money - just ask the spokesperson for Nashville Electric Service.See also State Employees List Suspect Degrees, NewsChannel 5, Nashville, Tennessee, July 14, 2008.
"He didn't realize it wasn't a legitimate institution," Teresa Corlew said about NES Vice President Eddie Andrews, whose resume boasts an impressive-sounding Masters of Business Administration.
Andrews has an official-looking diploma from Kennedy-Western University.
"He said the course work seemed difficult," Corlew told Williams. "He also said he wrote a 160-page thesis, so he assumed it was a legitimate institution."
Four years ago, a congressional investigation showed how the unaccredited Kennedy-Western University was a highlighted example of what was dubbed a diploma mill.
"The test was open-book, multiple-choice, a hundred questions," an investigator told the Senate committee.
Committee members heard that students were expected to buy a few textbooks, but the tests could usually be aced by just flipping through the index. If students flunked they could retake the same tests until they passed.
"Based on my observations during the time I worked at Kennedy-Western, I can tell you that there is no value to a Kennedy-Western education," a former employee testified.
In Andrews' case, NES records show he delivered straight A's, and the power company paid the bills: about $15,000 in all for Andrews and two other NES employees...
When you hire someone for a job, you want someone who's got all the right credentials, but an exclusive NewsChannel 5 investigation discovered that you've got people working for you whose degrees may not be all that they seem. NewsChannel 5's chief investigative reporter Phil Williams found people with questionable creddentials on the government's payroll.
"She was a victim, perhaps, of the come-on from this particular company," State Commerce Commissioner Leslie Newman said about Linda Lichtenberger.
Last month, Newman hired Lichtenberger to head the state's codes enforcement training program.
The job description called for "graduation from an accredited college or university with a bachelor's degree" or an equivalent amount of experience.
"She has almost three times the minimum required equivalent experience," Newman said.
Still, Lichtenberger signed her state application saying she had attended Belford University, receiving a bachelor's in business.
What the commissioner didn't know at the time was this: "It is a sham institution," Newman told Williams.
Belford's slick web site offers affordable bachelor's, master's and doctorate degrees in just seven days. Get credit for what you've learned in life for only $449.
The commissioner defended Lichtenberger. "I think again it was an innocent attempt on her part to roll up all of the hours of course work that she had taken."
Innocent or not, when Lichtenberger (like all Belford graduated) ordered her degree she could also request transcripts, make up your own graduation date and even pick her grade point average. A perfect 4.0 costs an extra $75.
Williams also went online and applied for the degree "vegetable psychology." When asked for his experience, Williams typed that he had "helped a lot of tomatoes grow." Within seconds he was approved for a bachelor's degree!
"How could she not know this was a sham?" Williams asked Newman.
"I can't answer that," Newman admitted.
Rich Rhoda heads the Tennessee Higher Education Commission and he too looked into Belford and constructed his own opinion.
"Do they think this is how it works? There may be one such person out there," Rhoda said. "It is something for nothing. It's fraud."
Then, there's Frank Reed, the head softball coach for University of Tennessee-Chattanooga. Williams confronted the coach in his office.
"You just come in unannounced. I'm sitting here working," Reed said to Williams.
"I've tried to reach you over and over, coach - you know that," Williams responded.
"That doesn't really matter," Reed said.
When Reed was hired seven years ago, the job called for at least a bachelor's - "master's preferred," and his application had both degrees from Western States University.
"Are your degrees fake?" Williams asked.
"No," the coach responded.
In fact, Western States is a now-defunct company, offering "life experience" degrees for things like writing reports, volunteer work and even being a volunteer fireman.
"It's not a reputable institution of higher education," Rhoda said about Western States.
"Do you think parents have a right to know how you got your degrees?" Williams asked Reed.
"They know, and the school knows," Reed insisted.
In fact, a UTC spokesman said Reed "presented the credentials that we requested." Despite the coach's work with students, Chuck Cantrell said his suspect degrees really aren't a problem.
"In terms of that position, he met the minimum requirements," Cantrell said.
"And the minimum requirements were for a legitimate bachelor's or master's degree," Williams notes.
"Well, it said, bachelor's degree," Cantrell answered. "There's no adjective there."
Still, UTC isn't alone. NewsChannel 5's investigation discovered professors at several Board of Regents colleges who call themselves doctors have Ph.D. degrees from unknown universities.
"Dr." William Kitchen, an assistant professor at Nashville State, claims a Ph.D. from Cambridge State University. That's an unaccredited operation that was forced out of several states.
"Dr." Clark McKinney, an assistant professor of psychology from Southwest Tennessee Community College, lists a Ph.D. from Brighton University. That's another operation closed by court order.
"Dr." Michael Wright, also from Southwest, lists not one, but two Ph.D. degrees from the Greenwich University. It also was forced to close.
Still, the Tennessee Board of Regents said all three have legitimate masters' - the minimum requirements - so the board doesn't have a problem with their doctorate degrees.
It's a stance that Rhoda has questioned.
"One thing about academic institutions is that academic integrity is at the very core that's the coin of the realm. I mean you have to be who you say you are," Rhoda said.
As to those trying to get ahead, consumer advocates said degrees from places like Belford usually don't open any doors.
As for those NewsChannel 5 discovered, we can't tell say if any of those people intended to deceive anyone or if they really thought they were getting legitimate degrees. Right now, in every case, their bosses said their jobs were safe.
MONTGOMERY – Alabama has a reputation as a good place to do business, but there's one industry that is no longer welcome: diploma mills. In a news conference Monday, Alabama Community College System Chancellor Bradley Byrne announced an aggressive new initiative to shut down fraudulent for-profit colleges and better regulate the legitimate ones.
"Fraudulent institutions do not belong in this state – period," Byrne stated. "We are going to adhere to State Board of Education policy, increase our manpower, and strengthen our guidelines. We are not going to allow any college to commit academic or economic fraud on our citizens."
Byrne emphasized that the new regulations, which will become effective October 1, are not meant to hinder legitimate operations. "For-profit institutions are an important part of the educational landscape throughout the United States," he said. "In shutting down the diploma mills, we help protect the reputations of the legitimate proprietary institutions."
In addition to much more stringent guidelines (see attached bullet list), fees will be increased to help the department pay for additional staff to adequately provide oversight to for-profit institutions, Byrne said. The private colleges also will be required to ante up a significantly higher bond to ensure that students' investment in tuition is even better protected. The Alabama Department of Postsecondary Education (DPE) oversees the state's 27 public community and technical colleges and, since legislation enacted in 2004, also licenses for-profit colleges. Previously, the Department of Education handled that duty. During the past legislative session, Postsecondary sought to turn over private school licensure to the Alabama Commission on Higher Education, which DPE officials contend is better equipped for the task, but the measure was defeated.
"If Postsecondary is going to be responsible for private school licensure, then we're going to do it right," Byrne said. "Legitimate private school operators have told me they support our new initiatives. I'm putting the illegitimate ones on notice: We're going to run you out of our state."
Currently there are 258 licensed private institutions operating in Alabama, and only three full-time staff members in DPE's Private School Licensure (PSL) Division. Despite being woefully understaffed, PSL has recently investigated and closed the books on 18 private institutions, through either rejection of applications or license revocation or non-renewal.
"For many years, Alabama has been considered one of the Seven Sorry Sisters: states that had bad laws or ineffective enforcement. These states became havens for diploma mills and substandard degree providers," said Alan Contreras, administrator for the Oregon Office of Degree Authorization and outspoken critic of diploma mills. The other states, Contreras said, are Hawaii, Idaho, Mississippi, Missouri, New Mexico, and Wyoming.
"Those of us who work in education quality control are very pleased to see the excellent recent enforcement efforts by the state of Alabama," Contreras said. "This kind of consumer protection effort is crucial for not only your state's reputation, but for protecting the public against people with substandard credentials."
While many of the institutions closed for legitimate reasons, some – notably Columbus University and Breyer State University – were operating apparent diploma mills and taking shameful advantage of hundreds of unsuspecting students.
Columbus University was issued a license to operate in Alabama in November 2007. PSL staff investigating the institution found that it was first operating out of a condo in Daphne, and later moved its address to a post office box in Mobile. PSL staff revoked Columbus University's license in May after an intensive review of the institution uncovered a number of violations ranging from not requiring general education courses to producing degrees that are not valid or are not recognized by employers or accrediting agencies across the country.
According to the Columbus University website, the school claims to offer 128 associate's, bachelor's, master's and doctoral degree programs. This was to be accomplished, PSL investigators learned, with only three faculty members – none of whom were qualified to teach the majority of the courses offered. In fact, some of the faculty claimed degrees awarded to them by Columbus University.
Breyer State University was issued a license to operate in the state in October 2004, and was non-renewed this June. One of the Jefferson County institution's many violations included conferring honorary doctorates on individuals based on life and work experience, a one-time application fee and a monetary contribution to the institution. In addition, the institution offers an unheard of self-design degree program which allows the creation of a curriculum based on mentoring.
Breyer State, according to its website, offers 74 associate's, bachelor's, master's, and doctoral degree programs. Breyer State claimed to have 120 faculty members holding bachelor's, graduate and post-graduate degrees, however, it was discovered that many of the faculty's degrees did not come from accredited institutions.
Since losing its license to operate in Alabama, Breyer State moved to Idaho.
"Next January and every January thereafter," Byrne said, "we are going to publish an annual report card that will allow the public to see at a glance not only how our public colleges are doing, but also know exactly what they're getting from a for-profit institution." K-12 schools in Alabama already provide this kind of information to the public. Byrne said the annual report card will be easily accessible to the public on the Alabama Community College System's website.
"We want to make our educational institutions completely transparent and consumer-friendly," Byrne said. Among the details on the report card will be precise descriptions of course offerings, whether the institution is accredited by any recognized board or agency, and tuition and fees.
Byrne noted that many for-profit institutions offer the same courses available at public community or technical colleges, but at greatly increased tuition rates. "All prospective students should be able to make clear choices and be fully apprised of the cost as they are planning for their future. Unfortunately, some unscrupulous for-profits withhold cost information until the student comes in and gets pressured into signing a contract for exorbitant tuition and fees."
The Private School Licensure Division of the department also expects to implement an online application form and other technology solutions to facilitate transparency, consistency, better monitoring and to make the process more user-friendly.
Public community colleges are committed to affordability and access, Byrne said, especially when state four-year institutions continue to increase tuition.
"It's only fair that for-profit colleges are as transparent as public ones," Byrne said. "If a student compares costs and program quality and still opts for the for-profits, so be it. But we think this report card will open citizens' eyes to the quality education and comparatively modest cost of the quality education available through the Alabama Community College System."
Victor K. Biebighauser, president of South University, Montgomery, supported the department's initiative, saying: "There is no constituency in the state more supportive of appropriate oversight and regulation to protect citizens from illegitimate diploma mills than the accredited school community." Biebighauser, also president of the Alabama Association of Private Colleges & Schools, an association of accredited licensed private postsecondary institutions in the state, added "The Alabama Private School License Law is a good statute, and we applaud the efforts by Chancellor Byrne to apply the provisions of the law in an appropriate and rigorous manner for the benefit of students, taxpayers, and institutions."
Does it really matter whether doctors, nurses and engineers have legitimate degrees? Of course it does. And it's in the public's best interest to know when people holding responsible jobs bought their "degrees" from an online diploma mill instead of attending college, taking classes and passing exams.
But even though the U.S. Department of Justice knows the identities of more than 10,000 people who bought fake degrees from a single Spokane-based diploma mill, it won't give out that information. The U.S. attorney for Eastern Washington, James A. McDevitt, says releasing the names of the people who bought phony degrees is contrary to Department of Justice policy.
Then the policy is wrong and needs to be changed. The only party that benefits from the policy is the customer with a fake degree. The public and employers are losers.
The owner of the mill – which made millions as part of an Internet scheme – was sentenced last week to three years in federal prison for conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud. Several employees received lesser sentences.
The mill sold fake degrees in nursing, medicine engineering, counseling and other fields from phony institutions such as St. Regis University and James Monroe University. It also sold counterfeit diplomas from legitimate universities, including Texas A&M, the University of Tennessee and George Washington University. It didn't matter if employers tried to check out the diplomas; the mill's owner had a separate operation to handle verification calls.
It's easy to see how the public's safety is put at risk by allowing people with fake degrees to continue in such jobs as nurses, doctors and engineers. But there are also financial considerations. Employers often pay higher salaries, give promotions and provide more lucrative retirement benefits based on workers' educational levels. And many of the phony degrees went to people in public sector jobs, such as schoolteachers and firefighters – so taxpayers foot the bill for the fraud.
At least one of the diploma mill's customers worked in the White House, and dozens of others worked for the Department of Defense. A fake degree even allowed an Army enlisted man to become an officer.
Disclosing the names of those who bought fake degrees – and the resulting publicity – could serve an important deterrent effect. But failure to disclose the names allows the customers to continue defrauding their employers and makes the government an accessory to that fraud.
Most seriously, it puts the public's health and safety at risk.
Operators of a Spokane diploma mill are heading to federal prison, while senior Justice Department officials say they are going to keep secret the names of the [9,612] buyers who used the bogus and counterfeit degrees to get jobs, promotions and enhanced retirements. James A. McDevitt, the U.S. attorney for Eastern Washington, reversed his earlier public promise to release the names, saying last week that a Justice Department policy prevents him from releasing them.
The region's senior federal law enforcement official took that stand Wednesday after one of his staff prosecutors, Assistant U.S. Attorney George J.C. Jacobs, said in court that the buyers' use of such bogus degrees in the health care, engineering and other professions "puts the public at risk."
"I was hoping at some time we could release the list of names of these buyers," McDevitt said in an interview.
"I'd love to release the list, but I've been convinced it would be contrary to (Department of Justice) policy," he said.
That decision is expected to draw criticism from higher education and academic accreditation agencies, as well as open-government groups...
Criticism also came from former FBI agent Allen Ezell, who spent most of his career investigating the sale of counterfeit and bogus college credentials. He is now a vice president in charge of corporate fraud for Wachovia Corp.
By not releasing the names, the federal government is providing no deterrent to future purchasers and is aiding the perpetuation of fraud by the buyers, including those who bought counterfeit diplomas from real universities, the former FBI agent said.
"I think it's totally wrong to not make these public," Ezell said when reached on vacation in South Carolina. "The whole purpose of a diploma mill is to sell false academic credentials to people who, we jolly-well know, are going to use them."
By concealing their identities, he said the federal government "is becoming an accessory to fraud and is allowing these people to continue perpetrating a crime.."..
Dixie Randock, the mastermind of a Spokane based phony diploma racket, has been sentenced to three years in prison. Three years was the maximum sentence that could have been imposed on Randock. She, along with her husband Steve and their daughter Heidi Lorhan pled guilty to to conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud charges in March of this year
All three were being sentenced in a Spokane court Wednesday. Lorhan received a one-year prison term while Steve's fate was being decided later Wednesday afternoon.
Another employee, Roberta Markishtum, was also sentenced during the proceedings. She was the last member of the racket to plead guilty, admitting fault to a lesser charge late in March. She was sentenced to four months in jail.
Prosecutors say the Randock family, along with associates, raked in more than $6 million while hawking phony diplomas for universities that don't exist. Operating out of their home in Mead and various businesses throughout the area, some 8200 bogus degrees were mailed from Spokane to customers around the world.
The diploma mill operators most notably invented St. Regis University, showing pictures of Winston Churchill's childhood home as the alleged campus and bribing Liberian officials for accreditation.
Numerous others have been found guilty for their involvement in the ring. Wednesday marks the end of the road for the racket's major players, however a few court proceedings will still be required to bring the matter to a close for some lesser involved people.
The man said he was a retired military officer from Syria, which the American government deems a sponsor of terrorists. He wanted credentials as a chemical engineer, useful for getting a visa to work in the United States. Could James Monroe University help? For $1,277, it did. Within days, he received three undergraduate and advanced degrees in chemistry and environmental engineering, based on his "life experience," according to documents in federal court. Although the degrees looked authentic, Monroe had no faculty or courses; the "adviser" evaluating "life experience" was a high school dropout.
Monroe was one of more than 120 fictitious universities operated by Dixie and Steven K. Randock Sr., a couple from Colbert, Wash., who sold diplomas for a price, according to a three-year federal investigation that ended in guilty pleas from the Randocks to mail and wire fraud. The inquiry into their diploma mill, which operated most often as St. Regis University, provides the most up-to-date portrait of how diploma factories can harness the rapidly evolving power of the Internet to expand their reach.
The Randocks will be sentenced on Wednesday. Six former employees have also pleaded guilty to federal charges and await sentencing.
Through their lawyers, the Randocks declined to comment; the court documents describe an operation that grew from a trickle to a flood from 1999 to 2005, when the authorities shut it down after its transaction with the Syrian officer, who was actually a Secret Service agent. The company became more inventive and bold, with revenues growing from $5,000 in 1999 to $1.65 million in 2005, and churning out more than 10,000 diplomas for customers in 131 countries.
The Randocks took in more than $7 million, said Thomas Rice, a spokesman for the chief federal prosecutor in Spokane. They created 121 fictitious universities, and produced counterfeit degrees claiming to be from scores of real universities, the court papers say.
"If they got their money, you got your diploma," Mr. Rice said...
CHEYENNE -- A law passed by the Legislature in 2006 to stiffen the requirements for private post-secondary educational institutions is constitutional, the Wyoming Supreme Court ruled today. The uninamous opinion also upheld rules adopted by the Wyoming Department of Education to enforce the law.Also: Academic reputation is restored, Star-Tribune Editorial Board, Casper, Wyoming Star-Tribune, July 4, 2008.
The ruling came in a lawsuit filed by Newport International University against the Wyoming Department of Education and state Superintendent of Public Instruction Jim McBride.
The 2006 law, designed to discourage so-called "diploma mills," requires private, post-secondary, degree-granting institutions to become accredited within five years, to be licensed by the department and meet the department's minimum standards.
Newport International filed suit when the department rejected its renewal application.
In the not-too-distant past, a degree from a private school in Wyoming was greeted with deserved skepticism. The state was the diploma mill capital of the West. But a new state law passed in 2006, coupled with the Wyoming Supreme Court's recent ruling upholding its constitutionality, has rid the state of 20 post-secondary, degree-granting "institutions" operating in Wyoming.
Before the new law went into effect, these unaccredited schools could operate if they obtained licenses from the Wyoming Department of Education, posted bonds and paid an annual fee.
Now, they are required to become accredited within five years, licensed by the department, and meet the department's minimum standards.
The superintendent of public instruction, Jim McBride, worked with the Legislature to carefully craft the new law so there were no loopholes. The result, McBride said, has increased Wyoming's academic reputation nationwide.
You bet it has. No longer can anyone rent a post office box or a storefront, meet the state's minimal requirements and start selling dubious degrees. The private schools operating in Wyoming have all met the new requirements and are recognized as legitimate operations.
It made no sense for Wyoming to invest so much money in K-12 and post-secondary education, only to serve as a haven for diploma mills. Fortunately, our officials recognized the problem and took action to solve it. Good job.
- Vancouver University Worldwide
On May 1, 2007 the Supreme Court of British Columbia granted a permanent injunction to the Minister of Advanced Education preventing Vancouver University Worldwide (Raymond Rodgers, Vancouver University Colleges Society, Geo Vancouver University Colleges Corporation), from contravening the Degree Authorization Act of British Columbia. Under the terms of this injunction, Vancouver University Worldwide is restrained from granting or conferring a degree or from selling or offering for sale or advertising for sale, a diploma, certificate, document or other material that implies the granting or conferring of a degree in British Columbia.
- Rutherford University ...seems to have evaporated.
- Lansbridge University
...On May 1, 2007, the term of consent ended and Lansbridge University no longer has authority to operate in British Columbia.
- Upper Iowa University
...The board found that Upper Iowa University did not meet the criteria established and published by the minister and recommended to the minister that consent not be granted. The minister reviewed the board's recommendation and determined that consent under the Degree Authorization Act could not be granted to Upper Iowa University.
On April 11, 2007, the temporary exemption under the Degree Authorization Act ended, and Upper Iowa University has closed its Vancouver operations.
A founder of American World University says she pulled her controversial college out of Mississippi because of a new law aimed at unaccredited institutions like hers. "The regulations became too laborious and too much," said Maxine Asher, who started American World University two decades ago. "We decided it wasn't the place for us."
In 2006, Mississippi lawmakers empowered the state Commission on College Accreditation to shut down unapproved colleges and reputed diploma mills. Menia Dykes, executive secretary for the commission, said the law may need to be tweaked to "make it tighter."
A historical lack of oversight has made Mississippi a haven for such businesses.
"We have had some of the most lax higher education regulations in the country," said Tom Head of Jackson, who is co-author of Best Education Degrees and other books on distance learning.
For years, virtually anyone who wanted to start a college could, often setting up shop in Mississippi by way of office space or post office boxes. "Louisiana and surrounding states were tightening their regulations so they would just move across the line," Dykes said.
In 2005, university presidents expressed alarm at this influx of unlicensed schools, saying they perpetuated negative perceptions about Mississippi.
In response, lawmakers passed a law to crack down on these schools, giving the commission the power to ask courts to order these institutions to stop offering unapproved post-secondary academic degrees.
Although tough talk has not translated into any litigation, the 2006 law is having some effect.
After being shown the door in three other states, American World University operated out of Pascagoula before leaving.
In 2005, American World University offered prospective students a special on "all degrees" for $1,000, including a "free graduation gown."
But Asher denied accusations her institution is a diploma mill, saying students seeking a bachelor's degree must complete 130 hours of work.
She said she has plenty of enemies "who would love to get rid of me. They would love to get rid of me because look at the schools that are charging $20,000."
These days, a degree at American World University costs $1,200. "I wish some day I could go on national television and tell it like it is," Asher said. "I have four doctorates, and they still make mincemeat out of me."
Author John Bear, a nationally known expert on diploma mills, said the kind of institution American World University is can be illustrated by the fact Asher lost a $125,000 judgment in Hawaii for failing to state her university wasn't properly accredited.
When Asher was unable to get American World University accredited years ago, she started her own accrediting service, the World Association of Universities and Colleges, which the U.S. Department of Education has never recognized.
Accreditation is overrated in the United States, she said. "The University of Oxford isn't accredited. It's ridiculous."
She said everybody "wants to start a school, and it's not that easy. We do it right, but we're still maligned."
Her association has accredited four of the 11 unapproved institutions listed as operating in Mississippi in 2007.
One of them, Cambridge State University, was closed down in Louisiana in 1998. A year later, Hawaii ordered Cambridge to cease claiming it was accredited. Cambridge then moved to Mississippi.
After being declared a diploma mill by Oregon officials, Madison University set up shop in Mississippi. So did Columbus University.
Dykes pointed out just because an institution is unapproved by the state doesn't mean it's illegitimate. For instance, The University of Phoenix, a well-known online college, is now seeking approval from state officials to operate.
A diploma mill no longer operating in Mississippi is the American University of Hawaii.
In Hawaii in 2005, a judge ordered the closing of the university in that state after officials there complained the institution was illegally offering degrees in law and medicine.
The judge found the university's founder, Hassan Safavi, in contempt for failing to pay $500,000 in civil penalties and for failing to notify students and graduates that he would fully reimburse their tuition.
Rather than shutting down the university, Safavi simply moved the university to Mississippi, where it operated again before he shut it down, this time on his own.
Head suggested Mississippi follow the lead of Hawaii.
"They were the diploma mill capital 20 or 30 years ago," he said. "They changed their laws and cracked down hard. Now there are no degree mills in Hawaii."
National Universities Commission (NUC) has alerted the public on the operations of 15 illegal universities located in different states of the federation. The commission, in a statement contained in its Monday bulletin, dissociated itself from the aforementioned institutions, warning that their activities have been reported to the police for further action.
It also warned Nigerians against patronising these illegal universities, saying certificates obtained from them would not be recognized for employment purposes.
Meanwhile, the African Development Bank (ADB) has come up with a new strategy aimed at reforming and transforming higher education systems in the African sub-region in readiness for global challenges.
At the 746th regular session of the board of directors of the bank, the members approved the initiative, which would also help in refining and providing greater focus in the implementation of the bank's policy on education sector.
According to the bulletin, board had decided that if Africa must be repositioned to increase its competitiveness, especially in the field of science and technology in education, all efforts must be geared towards "energizing and unlocking the minds for brighter economic prospects."
It said, "This is a landmark decision of the bank to focus on skills in science and technology to sustain economic growth and increase the competitiveness of African economies. As well, the state of deterioration of the infrastructure demands a vigorous and concerted effort to rehabilitate the institutions.
"Similarly, there is need to revisit the concept of centres of excellence and link the entire tertiary education with the productive sectors of the economies.
"The bank will pay particular attention to increasing access of women in science, technology and innovation."
The Illegal Universities
- National University of Nigeria, Keffi, (Nassarawa)
- Houdegbe North American University, Mushin (Lagos)
- North Central University, Oturpko (Benue)
- Christians of Charity American University of Science and Technology, Onitsha (Anambra)
- Leadway University, Ugheli (Delta)
- Saint Clements University, Ado Ekiti (Ekiti)
- Christ Alive Christian Seminary and University, Enugu (Enugu).
- Atlantic Intercontinental University, Okija, (Anambra)
- Metro University, Dutse (Abuja)
- Southend University, Ngwuro Egeru (Rivers) University of Industry, Yaba (Lagos)
- University of Applied Science and Management Port Novo, Republic of Benin
- Reverend D.O. Ockiya College of Technology and Management Sciences, Emeyal, (Bayelsa)
- St. Paul University College, Awka (Anambra)
- Blacksmith University, Awka, (Anambra).
Jackson Academy's headmaster, known to some as "Dr. Pat," earned his doctoral degree from a fraudulent university. Pat Taylor acknowledges it - and so does his boss.
Taylor received a doctorate in secondary education from LaSalle University in Mandeville, La., in 1996 - the same year FBI agents raided the institution.
Its founder, James Kirk, pleaded guilty to fraud and tax evasion, admitting he used LaSalle and his church to swindle LaSalle students out of $36.5 million, taking $1.5 million of that cash to buy himself a white-columned mansion. He also admitted setting up his World Christian Church as a bogus front to avoid paying income taxes.
Author John Bear, a nationally renowned expert on diploma mills, said about a dozen states have passed laws that make it a crime to claim a degree from LaSalle or similar bogus institutions in resumes. "It's nothing you would want to use in any public way," he said.
Mississippi, however, has no such law, Bear said...
Peter Jernberg, president and CEO of Jackson Academy, defended the educator, saying he was well aware throughout the search process that Taylor had earned his doctoral degree from a diploma mill. "That wasn't even an issue," he said.
A doctoral degree was not required for the position, but a master's in education and significant administrative experience were, he said. "The committee spent the majority of its time exploring the impeccable record of service and accomplishments Pat Taylor had at St. Paul's Episcopal School (in Mobile), where he served for 34 years. Every reference the committee checked gave their highest recommendation of Pat Taylor."
Taylor has never misrepresented anything about his background, Jernberg said. "The headmaster, board and parents of St. Paul's Episcopal School were more aware than us of the circumstances of Pat's doctorate, and they had no issues with it for the 11 years he continued to serve there after earning it," Jernberg said.
JA parents reached Tuesday weren't bothered by the revelation or wouldn't comment. Byron Edgecombe, vice president of the JA Association, said the fact that Taylor earned his degree from a diploma mill "doesn't concern me at all. He's done a very good job when he's been here."
Each year, JA parents pay up to $9,900 a year in tuition.
Taylor said he didn't realize LaSalle was a diploma mill until after he graduated.
Since his release from prison, Kirk has started several other academic institutions, some of them in Mississippi, Bear said.
Taylor said he did, however, know LaSalle wasn't accredited.
Asked why he would get a degree from an institution that wasn't accredited, he replied he was more interested in the help the institution offered...
He said he chose LaSalle because someone on the staff at the University of Alabama at Birmingham Hospital had recommended the institution. (There is a legitimate LaSalle University in Philadelphia, Pa.)
Taylor said he could not recall the name of the professor under whom he did his doctoral dissertation, which included research on the best college options for students with learning disabilities.
He said he spent two to three years working on his research, which included a survey of college admission offices. "It was significant survey work," he said...
Rutledge said St. Paul's paid for Taylor's expenses at LaSalle, including paying a typist to type his dissertation...
As for Taylor continuing to list his doctoral degree on his resume, "I feel he earned it. I would not question that."
"Virginia's system of higher education is one of the most highly regarded in the country, and this bill is an important part of maintaining that integrity." That was Governor Tim Kaine's response to the passage of House Bill 766 during the reconvene session yesterday at the General Assembly. As of July 1 when the law takes effect, anyone who issues, manufactures, or knowingly uses fraudulent academic credentials can be found guilty of a Class 1 misdemeanor, which is punishable by a sentence of up to 12 months in jail and fines of up to $2,500. Violations of the law should be reported to the Commonwealth's Attorney offices in the location where they occur.
The legislation was drafted after months of hard work by a consortium of stakeholders, including The State Council of Higher Education for Virginia (SCHEV), the Virginia Career College Association (VCCA), Longwood University, the Virginia Community College System, and Virginia Commonwealth University.
The bill was sponsored by Delegate Robert Tata, chairman of the House Education Committee and long-time advocate for higher education in Virginia. "When fraudulent credentials go unchecked, it diminishes the credentials offered by legitimate institutions," said Delegate Tata.
The State Council reports that diploma mills have not yet become a problem in Virginia. However, the potential for serious harm should diploma mills begin to operate in the Commonwealth prompted this proactive legislation.
"As more states pass legislation prohibiting diploma mills, Virginia becomes more vulnerable," said Daniel J. LaVista, SCHEV's Executive Director. "That is why it was important to act quickly. I applaud Delegate Tata and the General Assembly for taking this important step to protect higher education in Virginia."
The manufacture and use of fraudulent credentials are cause for concern in a number of areas. First, there are the individuals who knowingly use fraudulent credentials to get jobs. In the case of health professions this practice can be dangerous, even life-threatening. Secondly, there are those who spend hard-earned money in good faith for credentials that turn out to be worthless. Third, employers are victimized when they spend money for what they think is legitimate training and get no value added to their workplace.
Virginia joins the following states in passing legislation against diploma mills: Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Maine, Michigan, Mississippi, Nevada, New Jersey, North Dakota, Oregon, South Dakota, Texas, Washington, and Wyoming.
SCHEV is the Commonwealth's coordinating body for Virginia's system of higher education. The agency provides policy guidance and budget recommendations to the Governor and General Assembly, and is a resource for information on Virginia colleges and universities on higher education issues. For more information about the agency or higher education issues in Virginia, visit www.schev.edu.
For more information, contact Kirsten Nelson, Director of Government Relations and Communications, at KirstenNelson@schev.edu or (804)225-2627.
A bill making its way through the House this month may put in place more oversight of private, for-profit higher education institutions in Colorado. But it will not give the Colorado Commission on Higher Education (CCHE) oversight of an institution whose predecessor was closed down in Hawaii and was referred to as a "degree mill." Last week, the CCHE authorized the American University for Humanities (AUfH) to offer degrees in Colorado. AUfH plans to begin enrolling students this fall and will offer undergraduate degrees in liberal arts, business administration, information technology, political science, psychology, "forensic psychology and criminal justice" and "psychology in business," according to AUfH documents.
The approval came after a tense hearing during a CCHE meeting last Friday in which AUfH's public relations director, Matt Wartell, accused the CCHE of blindsiding him with information he didn't have about AUfH's past.
AUfH was formerly known as the American University of Hawaii (AUHawaii), according to court documents and news reports. According to documents obtained through an open records request to the CCHE, the history of AUHawaii includes a still-unpaid half-million-dollar fine in Hawaii, which was assessed to the man who is listed as AUfH Colorado Project Coordinator and as the institution's registered agent with the Colorado Secretary of State's Office. Concerns have been raised about the institution's accrediting body, the American Academy of Liberal Education (AALE), which only recently came off suspension from the U.S. Department of Education for failing to comply with DOE standards, according to the documents.
AUHawaii was started in 1999, offering law and medical degrees for sale, according to a lawsuit filed against the corporation by the Hawaii Office of Consumer Protection. Jeffrey Brunton, attorney for the Hawaii Office of Consumer Protection, told S&GR this week that AUHawaii operated out of a one-room office in Wailuku and that the "Hawaii campus" simply did not exist. AUHawaii was never accredited by any nationally authorized accrediting agency, but a 2003 version of its Web site stated that as a global institution, it only needs authority from the state in which it is located, and does not need to be accredited by a federal agency such as the U.S. Department of Education. AUHawaii had other campuses in the Republic of Georgia, Lebanon and Singapore. All of those campuses have been accredited by AALE, but that accreditation does not transfer or apply to an American-based university, according to CCHE staff and AALE. In those locations the institution is now known as the American University for Humanities.
AUHawaii was sued by the state's Office of Consumer Protection in 2004. Among the claims made in the suit was that AUHawaii offered to sell and sold postsecondary degrees, including medical and law degrees, despite not being accredited by the agencies responsible for those areas. Its failure to be accredited by any agency was a violation of Hawaii state law, according to the lawsuit. The suit named AUHawaii as a defendant as well as its founder, Hassan H. Safavi, also known as Henry Safavi, who was included because, according to the lawsuit, he "willfully participated in and benefited from" the illegal activities of AUHawaii.
After months of delay and a trial, in 2006, a judge for the Second Judicial Circuit of Hawaii found in favor of the state, ordering the defendants to pay a $500,000 fine and to make restitution to every student who had paid for a degree from AUHawaii. Safavi has not paid a single dime of that judgment, Brunton said this week. The judgment is in effect for 10 years, Brunton said, and the state of Hawaii can get a 10-year extension once the first 10-year period expires. In addition, the judge ordered the defendants to remove the AUHawaii name on Web sites that had been set up for AUHawaii campuses in Delaware and Mississippi. Failure to do so would have resulted in Safavi being incarcerated, Brunton said.
Safavi told S&GR that AUHawaii was never a campus. "Our headquarters were in Hawaii; we never offered degrees in Hawaii -- we did not have a campus, students or faculty," he said. AUHawaii was just the headquarters of a global university, he said, adding that AUHawaii was invited to come to Hawaii by the state and was recognized by the Hawaii House and Senate as "the most innovative institution of higher education in the world." Safavi also said the president of the Hawaii Senate was a member of AUHawaii's board of directors.
Safavi said the lawsuit arose when AUHawaii was on the verge of being accredited by AALE. Safavi said he himself had promoted legislation to shut down Hawaii diploma mills and that Hawaii is the only state in the country that has "institutionalized diploma mills." He said it was strange that the state came after his institution when he was actively trying to shut down diploma mills. "I don't know what went wrong or who was the interested party [attempting] to get rid of us in Hawaii," he said.
Safavi acknowledged that there is still a $500,000 fine pending against him in Hawaii, but he also pointed out that during the course of the lawsuit, two judges suggested mediation, which he said was refused by Brunton. Safavi said one judge ruled in favor of AUHawaii. He added that a second judge suggested mediation "because there was no case" but then changed his mind and issued the final ruling against AUHawaii. With regard to the claim that AUHawaii was offering medical and law degrees, Safavi noted that AUHawaii had had an articulation agreement for the medical degrees with the Yerevian State Medical University of Armenia, although he added that the medical program never came to fruition due to regulations about foreign students in Armenia. The 2003 AUHawaii Web site says the institution offered nonaccredited juris doctorates in law and does not note an affiliated institution; Safavi said that was because they never found one to offer that degree program.
Safavi said AUfH institutions operate with more than 3,000 faculty and 6,000 students in 31 countries, and are recognized as world leaders in many academic areas.
In a December 2007 letter to the CCHE, Michael Harari, vice president of AUfH, said AUHawaii never knowingly breached the laws of Hawaii "despite the incessant bad publicity that Hawaii Office of Consumer Affairs has taken upon itself to propagate at the taxpayers' expense." The legal action against AUHawaii, Harari said, "has been recognized by all to be a political act." Harari wrote that the lawsuit was founded on depositions from "bogus witnesses [and] arranged court dates, and [the state] obtained a faulty judgment all in the span of one month. We came to realize that we were no match with those who hold the political and financial clout in Hawaii ... and we decided to abide and leave."
But according to court documents, the judgment included a "cease-and-desist" order and the fines and restitution ordered by the court were the result of AUHawaii failing to obey that order.
As a global institution and for its campuses in the Republic of Georgia, Singapore and Lebanon, AUfH sought and received accreditation from AALE. But AALE has had its own problems. Last December, AALE was granted authority to accept applications for membership and accreditation, after serving a six-month suspension imposed by the U.S. Department of Education. According to DOE documents, the suspension was recommended in December 2006 by the DOE's National Advisory Committee for Institutional Quality and Integrity (NACIQI), based on concerns that AALE had failed to comply with DOE standards. The suspension went into effect in July 2007. In a March 2007 letter to AALE, Spellings noted she was "concerned that since 2001 AALE has been cited consistently for either not having clear expectations or standards with respect to measuring student outcomes, or not collecting and reviewing data on how institutions it accredits measures student outcomes."
AUfH documents say the move to Colorado was suggested by the AALE, "since they feel that [Colorado] is an education-friendly state" and "we have been assured that due permits and licenses will be granted for our operation with least formality."
In Colorado, a private, for-profit entity can open a college or university if it complies with state statutes and CCHE regulations. According to the CCHE, those include documentation that the institution is familiar with accreditation; a mission statement; a listing of the institution's governing board, executive officers and faculty members; degree and academic program information; admissions and academic policies; financial resources; and proof of accreditation status.
During the April 11 meeting, CCHE Chief Academic Officer Julie Carnahan noted that AUfH had completed all CCHE requirements for approval. She noted that in some states, a cease-and-desist order would be sufficient reason to deny approval to an institution attempting to open its doors there, but that is not the case in Colorado. Carnahan said that while the staff was recommending approval for AUfH, CCHE Executive Director David Skaggs had directed them to also inform the commissioners about AUfH's history.
Commissioners initially attempted to delay the vote on approval, seeking more time to find out about AUfH. But Carnahan told them that nothing the staff would find out about AUfH's history would change the staff recommendation, given that AUfH had complied with all CCHE requirements.
Wartell, who said at the meeting that he knew nothing about the history of AUfH, said the problem was probably just a "paperwork issue," and told the commissioners that a delay in the vote might cause AUfH to "give up and move to Los Angeles." And he pointed out that Safavi is no longer president of AUfH.
However, Safavi is listed as "dean of social and behavioral sciences" for AUfH-Colorado, as "Colorado Project Coordinator" in a March 2008 AUfH document, and as the agent for AUfH-Colorado in the articles of incorporation filed with the Secretary of State's Office.
After failing to delay the vote during the meeting, the CCHE voted 5-2 to approve AUfH for operations in Colorado. But Commissioner Larry Beckner echoed the concerns of several commissioners when he said he was uncomfortable with the way the statute reads, because "it does not allow us to do what we need to do."
The situation also alarmed members of the CCHE's advisory board, most notably the legislators, who acted quickly to recommend changes to legislation that would toughen up Colorado's oversight of private, for-profit institutions. But Skaggs told S&GR this week that those changes would not be retroactive and would not deal with the AUfH situation.
On Monday, the House Education Committee amended SB 167, a bill that initially sought modest changes to CCHE oversight of private, for-profit institutions.
Under the original version of SB 167, a private college or university that wants to do business in Colorado would have to be accredited by a regional accreditation association or agency recognized by the U.S. Department of Education. In addition, the CCHE could order the Department of Higher Education to review the institution to determine whether to revoke its authorization or place it on probationary status. However, according to the bill, that revocation could only occur if the institution had lost its accreditation or been placed on probationary status by its accrediting agency.
The bill would also add to state law a section on procedures related to student complaints, stating that the department could investigate claims of deceptive trade practices, but not complaints based on academic or religious freedom or that would question curriculum content.
In response to the AUfH situation, on Monday legislators amended the bill to say CCHE could not approve an application from an institution that had been suspended in the previous two years, prohibited from doing business in another state or had the same ownership or principal officers as an institution that had been prohibited from doing business in another state.
SB 167 now goes to the House Appropriations Committee; its House sponsor, Rep. Tom Massey (R-Poncha Springs) said he expects a hearing to take place next week.
For two years, the locally unaccredited Bircham International University has been illegally operating in Kenya, wooing unsuspecting students to its distance learning classes. Questions are now being raised over degrees courses offered by the Spanish institution, in what appears to be yet another angle to an ensuing education scam.
Investigations by Business Daily show that the university charges between Sh250,000 and Sh400,000 in fees for undergraduate, masters and doctorate courses.
This is marginally below what most local accredited universities charge for the same type of degrees.
Most of the bogus colleges are found in congested precincts, often sandwiched between shops and office blocks. They charge lower fees than most universities and are staffed by teachers who lack credentials.
Locally, some institutions are claiming to offer degrees on behalf of Bircham International university. Among them is Maranatha Professional College of Counselling based in Nairobi.
The secretary for Commission for Higher Education (CHE), Prof Everett Standa, says the institution is operating in the country illegally and degree certificates from BIU will not be recognised by the Commission.
Our request to the Spanish Embassy in Kenya on the registration status of BIU in Spain was unanswered by the time of going to press.
On several occasions, BIU has unsuccessfully sought collaboration with some credible local colleges. One such institution is the Kenya Institute of Professional Counselling which is validated by CHE and is already in collaboration with the Egerton University.
It is understood that most of the initial students of BIU had been recruited from KIPC, but later withdrew from the it after word went around that the institution was not locally recognised.
A former student, who enrolled in 2004 and has graduated, told Business Daily that BIU has hired agents to source local students. The agent gets a commission of $1,000 (Sh62,000) for every student who enrols and pays up the whole fees amount.
According to Prof Standa, BIU is not listed in the Unesco's International Handbook of Universities - a list of all registered universities in the World - which the commission uses to verify information on any foreign university.
BIU, which says it has already enrolled 110 students, operates from the 17th floor of Posta Sacco Plaza along University Way. However, the institution's co-ordinator for the East Africa region, Timothy Kiambi, sees no need in seeking accreditation for BIU to operate in the country.
"Ours is a Distance Learning Programme, which is not even regulated in Kenya," he told Business Daily. "We use the local colleges to support our students especially in research, so it is not really something that requires accreditation"
"You don't go to a foreign land and begin operations there without informing the authorities," said Prof Standa, adding that several bogus universities appear each year and students should be wary.
Locally, BIU offers diploma, degrees, masters and doctorates in Forensic Psychology and Criminology, Security Management, psychology and counselling among others.
"Officially validated degrees are required for certain government posts and professional licenses. BIU distance learning degrees can not be used for these purposes," the institution says in its website. A number of factors are coming together to fuel this trend of phony schools.
For education analysts; the rapid globalisation of education is likely to attract a more diverse range of private providers--both local and foreign -- and there could be a greater risk of confusion.
More foreign universities are set to open overseas campuses - and CHE warns that there will be "more of these shadowy organisations wanting to make quick cash."
Although the awarding of qualifications in Kenyan universities is tightly regulated, the rules do not apply for businesses calling themselves "colleges" or "institutes."
Degrees from such universities are mere pieces of paper with no academic value.
Three Washington state residents have admitted to selling thousands of bogus academic degrees through scores of phony online universities, while raking in millions of dollars from customers. In plea agreements filed late last month in the U.S. District Court in Spokane, Dixie E. Randock, her husband Steven K. Randock Sr., and her daughter Heidi K. Lorhan admitted to having used Web sites and sold degrees in fields that included education, medicine, and nuclear engineering to customers from the United States and other countries from 1999 to 2005. The three pleaded guilty to federal criminal fraud charges.
In 2003, several Georgia teachers and administrators used degrees purchased from one of the bogus online schools, "St. Regis University," to qualify for state pay raises.
State officials accepted the credentials from the phony university, which was purportedly in Liberia, because a Florida-based credential-evaluation firm vouched for their validity. ("Educators' Degrees Earned On Internet Raise Fraud Issues," May 5, 2004.)
Last fall, several other participants in the scheme also pleaded guilty to fraud and other criminal charges. They include charges related to bribery of officials from the government of Liberia, which for a time listed St. Regis University and other entities created by the group as accredited institutions. One other alleged participant reportedly is in plea negotiations with prosecutors.
Risk and Awareness
Alarms about the dangers of global trafficking in bogus academic credentials have been raised by members of the U.S. academic community, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Government Accountability Office, and members of the U.S. Congress.
Only nine states broadly outlaw or restrict the use of unaccredited academic credentials in applying for a raise or a job; an additional two states have more-narrow protections against the use of bogus degrees, according to Alan L. Contreras, the administrator of Oregon's office of degree authorization.
U.S. Senate hearings in 2004 focused on federal employees who bought credentials from "diploma mills"—sometimes with public money—to win raises and promotions in government jobs.
Federal legislation reining in online diploma mills is part of a major higher education reauthorization bill that the House of Representatives passed earlier this year. The bill is currently being considered by a House-Senate conference committee, along with a version passed by the Senate that does not address diploma mills.
The bill, H.R. 4137, for the first time provides a legal definition of a diploma mill, while instructing the U.S. secretary of education to establish lists of legitimate accrediting agencies, colleges and universities, and equivalent overseas institutions. The bill would establish a "diploma mill task force" to develop guidelines to distinguish between legitimate and bogus degree-granting institutions and legislation to address fraudulent degrees. The bill also directs the Federal Trade Commission to designate the offering or issuing of a bogus degree as "an unfair and deceptive act or practice."
Bill a 'Good Start'
George Gollin, a physics professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign who has crusaded against online diploma mills for years, says the House legislation, which was originally developed by U.S. Rep. Betty McCollum, D-Minn., is "a really good start."
He estimates that the Randocks' operation, at its height, sold between 2,000 and 3,000 degrees per year. According to the plea agreement, "the cost of a high school diploma was $350-$400, and an undergraduate or graduate 'degree' was $500-$1,200."
Of the online diploma mills in the early 2000s, Mr. Gollin said, theirs was the most "sophisticated in presentation" on the Web, though "it wasn't the biggest in terms of marketing."
Still, said Mr. Gollin, who currently is a member of the board of directors of the Council for Higher Education Accreditation, based in Washington, "I think very roughly, U.S.-based diploma-mill operators are selling between 100,000 and 200,000 degrees yearly."
In K-12 education, bogus credentials seem to be most prevalent among nonclassroom school employees who are seeking degrees to obtain promotions or higher pay grades, rather than teachers, Mr. Gollin said.
Online diploma mills "are easy to create, easy to move," said Judith S. Eaton, the executive director of the Council of Higher Education Accreditation, which oversees domestic accreditation of colleges and universities. Despite a dearth of reliable data on the extent of the problem, Ms. Eaton called it "a cause for concern worldwide—both in the import and export of degrees."
In fields such as engineering or medicine, she noted, allowing people to gain positions of responsibility with bogus degrees could have life-threatening consequences.
Dixie Ellen Randock, a high-school dropout who masterminded a Spokane-based Internet scheme to sell bogus high school and university degrees around the world, pleaded guilty Wednesday to conspiracy to commit wire and mail fraud. The 58-year-old Colbert woman, who sold real estate before launching her massive diploma mill operation in the late 1990s, faces three years in prison when she is sentenced July 2 in U.S. District Court.
She started her string of online universities "because she saw it as a good way to make money," according to the plea agreement she signed.
Her husband, Steven K. Randock Sr., 67, and daughter, Heidi Kae Lorhan, 39, also pleaded guilty Wednesday to conspiracy to commit wire and mail fraud. Under terms of separate plea agreements, Steven Randock faces three years in prison and Lorhan faces 12 to 18 months.
As part of plea bargains, the U.S. attorney's office agreed to seek dismissal of money-laundering charges against the Randocks, which carried longer potential prison terms. They agreed to forfeit more than $535,000 in cash seized in 2005 by a special task force, as well as their late-model Jaguar.
The fourth remaining defendant, Roberta Lynn Markishtum, was negotiating a similar plea agreement with the U.S. attorney's office and may enter a guilty plea today, Judge Lonny Suko was told at Wednesday's hearing.
The case is believed to be the first successful prosecution by the U.S. Department of Justice of diploma-mill operators, using wire and mail fraud statutes.
"In terms of complexity and numbers of documents, I'd say it ranks up there, if not the biggest, then one of the biggest (cases) that's come across my desk," said Jim McDevitt, who has been the U.S. attorney for Eastern Washington for the past seven years.
New court documents disclose that the conspirators used an airline magazine advertisement to sell at least one "doctor of medicine" degree from their fictional Saint Regis University to a buyer in North Carolina who paid the Randocks $1,531.
A man from Wisconsin bought a nuclear science degree from Robertstown University, another one of the 125 bogus online schools created by the Randocks, the documents say.
There are at least 8,200 purchasers whose names haven't been released by the federal government. McDevitt said Wednesday he's committed to the eventual release of the names of buyers who used their degrees in many instances to get jobs and promotions or, in the case of foreign nationals, to enhance their chances of immigrating to the United States.
At least 300 of the buyers worked for the federal government, including in positions in the Justice Department, the State Department, various military branches and even the White House, it has been disclosed in previous court hearings.
The only publicly announced criminal prosecution of a purchaser involves a former deputy U.S. marshal supervisor who worked in Spokane and bought a degree from Saint Regis. He pleaded guilty to lying on a promotion application and awaits sentencing.
The case was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney George J.C. Jacobs, who headed the multiagency task force dubbed "Operation Gold Seal" that has investigated the diploma mill operation for more than three years. Because of pending court hearings, Jacobs said he couldn't comment.
The federal task force was created in early 2005, following a November 2003 news story in The Spokesman-Review about the diploma-mill operation being run by the Randocks out of an office building in Mead and a house in Hillyard.
After that notoriety, the Randocks moved their operation to a rented basement office in a Post Falls office building, registering their businesses with the state of Idaho as "When Pigs Fly Inc." and "Kaching, Kaching Inc."
Federal interest in the operation ramped up when investigators discovered purchasers included people living in the Middle East they feared could be terrorists who could legally gain entry into the United States with their bogus college degrees.
Four other defendants — Blake Alan Carlson, Richard John Novak, Kenneth Wade Pearson and Amy Leann Hensley — previously pleaded guilty to participating in the conspiracy and agreed to be prosecution witnesses against the Randocks. Pearson, who worked as webmaster for the Randocks, also pleaded guilty to receipt of 10,000 child pornography images. They all await sentencing.
In her plea agreement, Dixie Randock confessed to making up names of prep schools and universities, creating online Web sites for them and selling fraudulent degrees and transcripts.
She also admitted to manufacturing counterfeit degrees, class transcripts and other academic products, using the names of legitimate U.S. universities, including the University of Tennessee, Texas A&M, the University of Maryland and George Washington University.
Defense attorney Phillip "Dutch" Wetzel said he will ask that Dixie Randock be allowed to serve her sentence under "home confinement," but Jacobs, the assistant U.S. attorney, said he will ask for straight prison time, followed by three years of probation.
Steven Randock's attorney, Peter Schweda, said he expects to ask for little or no prison time because the 67-year-old defendant suffers from heart problems.
Attorneys for both Randocks asked the court to waive pre-sentence reports, which provide the court with a detailed background on the defendants. The prosecutor opposed that request. Suko said he would order the background reports to help craft his forthcoming sentencing decisions.
The Spokane-based diploma-mill operation raked in an estimated $6.3 million in six years of operation, using the Internet to sell more than 8,200 phony college degrees and accompanying transcripts around the world, court documents say.
The online schools claimed they were accredited by the National Board of Education in Liberia. As part of the case, the Secret Service learned Abdullah Dunbar, the deputy chief of the Liberian Embassy, was demanding cash bribes from the Randocks.
The Liberian Embassy official, secretly videotaped in the Mayflower Hotel in Washington, D.C., during the investigation, demanded bribes in exchange for lining up "accreditation" for Saint Regis University and other diploma mills and for handing out payments of $50 to $100 a month to Liberian educators posing as "faculty members" for the online universities.
The task force was headed by agents with the Secret Service, with assistance from the Federal Protective Service, the IRS, a Spokane police fraud detective and investigators from the Washington state attorney general's office and the U.S. attorney's office.
Dixie Randock, who used 11 aliases in the scheme, including "Patrick O'Brien, dean of studies at Saint Regis University," declined comment after leaving the courtroom.
She got engraved diploma seals and fraudulent signature stamps for her cast of professors and deans from Carlson, a co-conspirator who operated a stamp shop in Hillyard. He also became "provost and chief academic officer" for Saint Regis University and "dean of studies" for Robertstown University, signing his name as "Professor Blackwell."
Het Amerikaanse controleorgaan van onderwijsinstellingen waarschuwt voor Concordia College and University. Dat is een frauduleuze 'universiteit' die door de Belg Kristiaan D.L. geleid zou worden. Ook de geheime dienst zit op de zaak. ANTWERPEN: Vorig jaar nog werd in de Vernigde Staten een vrouw veroordeeld die een vals diploma psychologie gebruikte. Dat had ze verkregen van Concordia College and University. Die had ook banden met de even valse Saint-Regis University, waarvan de medewerkers momenteel in de VS terechtstaan.Rough translation: Belgian swindler sells in the United States worthless diplomas for coarse money
Vorig jaar werd de Amerikaanse Louise Wightman, beter bekend als Dr. Stripper, in Massachussets veroordeeld voor fraude en het onrechtmatig gebruik van de titel psychologe. Het voormalige Playboymodel en stripster had voor 13.000 dollar een doctoraat in de psychologie gekocht van Concordia College and University, naar eigen zeggen omdat ze vond dat ze "ghet doctoraat verdiend had."
Opmerkelijk is ook dat een radiopresentator uit Fostoria, Ohio, er in 2006 in slaagde via Concordia een bachelordiploma in de wetenschappen te verkrijgen voor een hond.
De Amerikaanse Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA), dat de onderwijsinstellingen controleert, roept op om waakzaam te zijn voor de Concordia College and University, een zogenaamde diploma mill of 'universiteit' die tegen betaling diploma's verkoopt via het internet. De diploma's, van masters tot doctoraten, kunnen worden verkregen op basis van 'eerder verworven kennis'. De instelling beweert geaccrediteerd te zijn door Indonesië en Liberia. Dat laatste land liet echter al weten dat de erkenning niet geldig is. Verder wordt ook een erkenning door de National Academy of Higher Education (NAHE) geclaimd. Die organisatie wordt door het Amerikaanse ministerie van Onderwijs en de CHEA echter ook als frauduleus beschouwd. De man achter NAHE, Richard Hayer, staat bovendien terecht omdat ook hij via het internet ongeldige diploma's verkocht, via de Saint-Regis University. Ook de VN-organisatie UNESCO bestempelde Concordia als dubieus.
Volgens CHEA is het de Antwerpenaar Kristiaan D.L. die achter de Concordia universiteit zit. Op een oude website van de Concordia-universiteit, die niet langer online beschikbaar is, staat D.L. als afgevaardigd bestuurder van Concordia College and University. De man zou ook een doctoraat en een MBA behaald hebben aan de Trinity College and University, een instelling die in de VS eveneens bekendstaat als een diploma mill. De Morgen had inzage in een brief van de Amerikaanse ambassade in Korea, waarin D.L. gelinkt wordt aan Concordia.
Daarbovenop had D.L. banden met de frauduleuze Saint-Regis University. Acht mensen achter die instelling worden momenteel vervolgd, onder andere voor fraude. Saint-Regis heeft zo'n 6.000 valse diploma's verkocht, in totaal voor 4,7 miljoen dollar. Bijna de helft daarvan werd 'uitgereikt' aan mensen uit het Midden-Oosten en Azië, die daardoor een visum voor de VS verkregen.
Er is een website, eveneens niet langer online, waarop een 'authentificatie van een Concordiadiploma' te vinden is. Dat attest is ondertekend door Steven Randock, een beklaagde in de Saint-Regiszaak, en duidt D.L. aan als 'directeur en academicus van Concordia College and University'. De Saint- Regisbeklaagden hebben ook valse erkenningsorganisaties opgericht, waaronder het NAHE, dat de Concordia van D.L. erkende.
Concordia is bovendien niet de enige diplomawinkel waaraan D.L. verbonden wordt: volgens CHEA is hij ook de man achter de Capitol University, die eveneens banden heeft met Saint-Regis.
Het heeft er alle schijn van dat ook de Amerikaanse geheime dienst achter de man aanzit, al kan dat niet formeel bevestigd worden. Wel laat een bron binnen de geheime dienst weten dat "er in het dossier beweging zit." Ook CHEA zegt dat "er naar gekeken wordt." Kristiaan D.L. was niet bereikbaar voor commentaar.
The American supervisory body of educational warns against Concordia College and University. That is a fraudulent 'university' by the Belgian Kristiaan DL would be led. Even the Secret Service is on the case. Last year was still in the Vernigde States condemned a woman who used a fake diploma psychology. That she had obtained from Concordia College and University. They also had links with the equally false Saint Regis University, whose staff currently in the US trial.
Last year was the American Louise Wightman, better known as Dr. Stripper, in Massachussets convicted of fraud and the unauthorized use of the title psychologist. The former Playboy model and stripster had 13,000 dollars for a doctorate in psychology purchased from Concordia College and University, to claim because they thought that they "had earned doctorate.
It is noteworthy that a radiopresentator from Fostoria, Ohio, in 2006 succeeded in Concordia via a Bachelor diploma in sciences to obtain a dog.
The American Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA), which controls the educational, calls for vigilance for the College and Concordia University, a diploma mill 'or' university 'that charge diplomas sells over the Internet. The diplomas to doctorates, masters, may be obtained on the basis of previously acquired knowledge. The institution claims to be accredited by Indonesia and Liberia. The latter country had, however, already know that the recognition is not valid.
Is also a recognition by the National Academy of Higher Education (NAHE) claimed. That organization by the United States Department of Education and CHEA also considered fraudulent. The man behind NAHE, Richard Hayer, also justified because he also via the Internet invalid diplomas sold through the Saint Regis University. The UN agency UNESCO Concordia described as dubious.
According CHEA it is the Antwerp Kristiaan DL who is behind the Concordia University. On a site of the old Concordia University, which is no longer available online, DL as deputy director of College and Concordia University. The man would be a doctorate and an MBA demonstrate to the Trinity College and University, an institution established in the USA also known as a diploma mill. De Morgen had access to a letter from the American embassy in Korea, where DL linked to Concordia.
There had DL ties with the fraudulent Saint Regis University. Eight people behind that institution are currently being prosecuted, including fraud. Saint Regis has about 6,000 fake diplomas sold for a total of 4.7 million dollars. Almost half of that amount was "issued" to people from the Middle East and Asia, which became a visa for the United States.
There is a website, also no longer online, which is a 'authentication of a Concordiadiploma' can be found. That certificate was signed by Steven Randock, a defendant in the Saint-Regiszaak, and indicates DL as' director and university graduate of Concordia College and University. " De Saint-Regisbeklaagden have also forged erkenningsorganisaties, including NAHE that the Concordia DL recognized.
Concordia is bovendien niet de enige diplomawinkel waaraan DL verbonden wordt: volgens CHEA is hij ook de man achter de Capitol University, die eveneens banden heeft met Saint-Regis. Concordia is not the only diplomawinkel which is linked DL: according CHEA he is also the man behind the Capitol University, which also has ties with Saint Regis.
It has seemed as if the American secret service behind the man aanzit, though not formally confirmed. Well let a source within the secret service that "there is movement in the dossier." Also CHEA says that "looked." Kristiaan DL was not reachable for comment.
Vandella Brown, manager of the diversity program at the Illinois State Library, has a doctorate from the University of Berkley. That's B-E-R-K-L-E-Y, Michigan. Not B-E-R-K-E-L-E-Y, California. That's one difference.
Another is that the University of Berkley has been identified by Pennsylvania authorities as a "diploma mill" — a for-profit, usually Internet-based operation, that issues fraudulent degrees.
Brown said she considers her Berkley doctorate merely honorary, given in return for a charitable contribution, and that she has never used it for personal gain.
"There's no other proper way to list it, but if anyone asks, I tell them, and it's on my regular resume (as honorary)," she said. "I wouldn't dare try to make something else out of it."
"I have official degrees of master's and BA (a bachelor's degree)," Brown said in an e-mail Friday.
"I do understand that this degree is a honorary degree in conjunction with a charitable donation given through that university. I have never used it for gain and have sited on my resume as honorary. Never tried to use it as gain in my professional, it has been strictly honorary for me.
"I am worried now where my donation really went to," Brown wrote.
Brown's resume lists the Berkley degree as: "UNIVERSITY OF BERKLEY, Berkley, Michigan, DOCTOR OF PHILOSOPHY DEGREE, Honoris Causa, June 2004."
However, Brown has signed at least one memo as "Vandella Brown, Ph.D," and her biography on the North Suburban Library System doesn't suggest that her doctorate is an honorary one.
Henry Haupt, spokesman for the Illinois secretary of state's office, under which the library is managed, said he was not familiar with Brown's educational background, but soon would be.
"This is something we'll have to look into further. Secretary (of State Jesse) White takes very seriously the credentials of his employees," he said.
If there's a university in Berkley, Mich., it's apparently well hidden.
"We're only 2.2 square miles, and we only have a population of just over 15,000. We could have a small university, but I don't know where we'd put it," said Jane Bais-DiSessa, Berkley's city manager.
The Web site for the university has a couple of disclaimers at the bottom of the home page, including that it was founded in Berkley, Mich., and "has no affiliation or connection whatsoever with the University of California at Berkeley campus!"
The school's telephone number has a Chicago area code.
And the Web site says that the owners and operators of the site may not conduct business with people who live in Pennsylvania. That may be because the Pennsylvania attorney general's office sued the University of Berkley in 2004.
The suit arose after the school, which then was based in Erie, Pa., awarded a master's degree in business administration to a cat named Colby. The cat's application actually was filed by the attorney general's office.
The suit identified Berkley's owner as Dr. Dennis Globosky, a former New Mexico state trooper, and accused him of selling fake degrees since the late 1990s. The Web site now lists Globosky as university president. (Also available on the school's Web site is a downloadable version of a song Globosky wrote and sung back in 1981, honoring the memory of John Lennon.)
A person who answers the phone for the University of Berkley said that to get a degree, an applicant will receive a portfolio in which the applicant can include "all work related to the degree you seek, or even remotely related." A committee "sorts out" that information and assigns the applicant a project, the person said.
The cost scale for a degree also is on the Berkley Web site. Prices range from $2,795 for an associate's degree to $4,995 for a doctorate. Discounts are offered for one-time payments.
The school's slogan is: "True to reality ... not tradition."
Brown said she was approached by Berkley about getting a doctorate degree through a woman's organization she belongs to. She declined to provide the name of the organization.
"It first came to me in the form of a letter, and I don't remember how all it came about," she said.
"I think the donation was $1,000, and it also entailed writing a long statement about yourself. There was no test. It was totally an honorary donation to a group of children they were helping in Zimbabwe."
Brown's resume says she earned the honorary degree in 2004. Her salary history indicates she was hired by the state in September 2000 at a salary of $62,280 annually. She now makes $84,816, though there was no jump that indicates she rose a pay level because earning a degree...
What's in a name? Probably everything in the education sector. Schools and colleges with a history, reputation and a string of well known alumni behind them tend to attract more interest from sponsors, parents and students, giving them a huge potential base from which to earn income in the form of fees, grants and endowments.A related story at the same URL: State to publish list of accredited colleges
It is now emerging that parents, guardians and self-sponsored students in Kenya could be losing millions of shillings in fees and other charges in the belief that they would get certificates from two famous UK universities — Cambridge and Oxford — through a correspondent relationship with the Digital Advisory Learning Centre (DALC).
The centre, which has eight campuses across the country with a high concentration in Nairobi, claims to offer diploma and degree certification from the two universities but the reality is different.
DALC collaborates with two institutions in the UK — Cambridge Association of Managers and Oxford Association of Management — which run two separate colleges offering management courses but which have no working relationship with either Cambridge or Oxford Universities.
The colleges are accredited by Quality Assurance Commission Limited owned by a Malaysian businessman and which is not recognised by UK education authorities."There are two accreditation bodies in the UK and QAC is not one of them," Mr David Higgs, the head of British Council in Kenya told The Business Daily. Accreditation bodies in the UK fall under two categories, public and private.
Private colleges are admitted through the British Accreditation Council and Accreditation Service of Independent Colleges. Mr Hicks said QAC is registered as a limited company.
DALC shares the accreditation body with Irish International University (IIU), which has been locked in a scandal since investigations by the BBC found that it had issued fake degrees and diplomas to more than 5,000 international students in the last seven years.
To pass off as a partner of Oxford and Cambridge Universities, IIU used to rent facilities for graduation at Oxford or Cambridge universities. DALC, on the other hand, insinuates in their marketing that they get certificates from the renown universities.
They market their services on the strength of association with the two which, according to the BBC findings is nonexistent. The report concluded that the accreditation body was fake and had over the years presented bogus certificates to unsuspecting international students.
The BBC findings contrast sharply with claims on DALC's website. "Assessments and issuance of certificates are done by the upgrading university at their discretion. All Cambridge or Oxford courses are assessed by Cambridge or Oxford and certificates are issued from UK."
Then the reputation bit. "The Cambridge and Oxford courses have very good recognition and upgrades to bachelors or masters degrees are guaranteed as long as the student meets the performance criteria alongside other requirements of the accepting university." DALC has recently put up an elaborate television advertisement campaign where it states that it has an approval certificate from the Commission for Higher Education .
A source at the commission, however, said the institution had only recently applied for a collaboration approval and that the commission was looking at the documents. "We have not issued any certificates to DALC. We are verifying the application," the source said on condition of anonymity.
The British Council has also disassociated itself from the institution following complaints related to examinations and failure to confer credits for direct transfers to Oxford and Cambridge.
"Questions arose from the kind of activities that the institution was involved in. We cut our ties with them in public interest," a British Council official said in a telephone interview. He declined to be quoted because he is not authorised to speak to the media.
DALC head of mission Humprey Obura, however, said the institution was looking at developing its own curricula after cutting ties with QAC sometime last year. He said the website would be updated to reflect this.
"We are in the process of initiating a new system where students assessment will be based on our curricula. We have however made it very clear that we are not a university," he said. The institution is in the process of seeking approval to administer its own programmes.
When asked about the relationship with the questionable QAC, Mr Obura said the institution had cut his links with the body and was in the process of sourcing for other colleges in other parts of the world to link with.
A statement from DALC website on the other hand read: 'You will receive a certificate from Quality Assurance Commission, UK (QAC-UK) confirming this accreditation which you can use uniformly in the world for acceptance of the credits hence exemptions from whole level of learning or particular subjects or modules.'
When asked about the relationship between DALC and Oxford or Cambridge universities, the head of the mission said: "We need to meet and talk on issues surrounding accreditation and international university education."
A web search for Royal Rhodes Institute (ostensibly based in Canada) — which he said DALC would collaborate with, however, returned no entries. Bogus institutions targeting international students have been on the spotlight in the UK recently.
"Some of the colleges will say that they have been accredited but when you ask by whom, they name an institution which is in fact owned by them," a leading academic Professor Geoffrey Aldermann recently testified before the Home Affairs Committee.
Accreditation experts in the UK estimate there may be as many as 1,000 private colleges operating across the UK targeting international students, which would fail quality standards.
Many are found in congested precincts, often sandwiched between shops and office blocks.
DALC has been operating in the country for close to four years and flags a validation certificate signed by Prof George Saitoti in fliers. It has listed a number of respected professionals in health, finance and other fields as its alumni. When contacted, a few of them declined to comment on the issue.
A list of all accredited colleges operating in Kenya will be published next month, effectively exposing bogus institutions purporting to be offering degrees on behalf of foreign universities. The Commission for Higher Education (CHE), the body charged with the responsibility of overseeing the establishment and accreditation of private universities has raised a red flag over a deluge of complaints from parents and students who had paid millions of shillings to such colleges.An editorial from Business Daily Africa: Close dubious colleges, Nairobi, Kenya Business Daily Africa, March 6, 2008.
CHE secretary Prof Everett Standa says the Commission has already finalised a national audit on all institutions and a list submitted to the Government Printer for gazettement.
However, he says efforts to identify unregistered institutions have been slowed by capacity constraints.
This has seen the Commission revert to a wait and see attitude, relying mostly on complaints from students, parents and the general public.
"We are working very hard on behalf of students to ensure that all private institutions meet strict quality standards.
"Where we are not satisfied that this is the case with a particular college, we will not hesitate to investigate and if necessary, close it down," said Prof Standa.
Educationists and employers have questioned the degrees and accused the colleges of churning out half-baked graduates, at a time when unemployment is biting in the country.
"There are hundreds of institutions which had been licensed to offer certain programmes, but they had ended up rolling out different ones and we have identified them," Prof Standa told Business Daily.
The end result is expected to be graduates with skills that can help them compete for jobs.
The scenario in the local higher education sector is one where demand for vacancies has outstripped supply as indicated by the high number of student exports to Uganda, the US, Malaysia and the UK.This, Prof Standa said, had opened loopholes for rogue institutions offering degrees and diplomas to thrive, dealing a blow to the commission's reputation.
"I would encourage all new students to carefully check the credentials of the college they wish to enrol at and if they have any concerns, contact their local trading standards team."
Analysts said mushrooming of bogus colleges was brought about by the past inadequacies of CHE — which had the mandate of approving such institutions.
The university education crisis continues to deepen every year, culminating into a large number of qualified high school graduates missing out on admission.
Last year, for example, 63,104 out of 243,453 candidates who sat for KCSE qualified for university admission, but only 10,000 places were available in the six State universities. The remaining 53,000 had to fight for the few places in private universities or pursue their aspirations through parallel degree programmes.
A government-appointed committee to assess the state of higher education recently warned that the number of students qualifying for university education annually will be more than 230,118 in 2015.
According to Prof Standa, CHE has accredited at least 20 foreign institutions to offer degree programmes in collaboration with Kenyan universities and colleges over the last one year.
Currently, CHE is vested with the responsibility of overseeing the establishment and accreditation of private universities. It also acts as the quality assurance authority for curriculum and degree programmes offered by the institutions.
Public universities on the other hand, are established by an Act of Parliament with the supervisory role of programmes offered resting with respective university senates.
In October last year, Education Permanent Secretary Karega Mutahi said out of 544 registered colleges, only 10 offered courses recognized by the Kenya National Examination Council. The rest registered students for courses that were not approved by the council, the only institution with the mandate to vet programmes below university level.
In our editorial yesterday, we tackled the question of phoney schemes. But what is worrying are alarm bells and revelations that thousands of Kenyans could be armed with questionable degree and diploma certificates that have been acquired from bogus colleges still operating in our midst.
The Commission for Higher Education—which has been charged with the duty of validating higher educational programmes — has raised the alarm over dozens of un-accredited institutions which have mushroomed across the country purporting to offer all sorts of courses, mostly from foreign universities. We want to say: shut them down and lock up the proprietors.
Parents, guardian and self-sponsored students have put millions into such institutions, in the belief that they will get certificates from foreign universities. They don't.
With CHE saying it cannot police such institutions to ensure they are registered and their courses validated, policy gaps are apparent. But CHE cannot hide behind such a wall.
Most owners of the institutions do not even bother approaching the Commission for validation of the programmes they are offering.
The statistics were telling — just about 10 colleges have been allowed by CHE to collaborate with foreign universities to offer several programmes.
The rest, believed to be many registered students for courses that were not approved by the Commission, which is the only institution with the mandate to vet programmes at university level.
CHE can do better by educating Kenyans on the registered institutions. However, it must be pointed out that there are some middle-level colleges that offer their own courses and certificates with approval from the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology. Before condemning those un-accredited colleges, we must also acknowledge that some of them may be offering international examinations recognised outside the country.
The danger, however, as CHE boss Everett Standa puts it, is that locally, they are not recognised. Then serious questions arise.
Just how many students have fallen prey to this mess and will employers start investigating the origin of the papers they have. What explanations will be given by the State for the fate of such Kenyans, who could end up jobless.
Raising the alarm is perfect but the Government must crack the whip on the dubious colleges.
Neither parents, guardians nor the students have the capacity to do this. If this is not done the higher education sub-sector is in danger of getting bogged down in a credibility crisis.
A federal task force that's three years into investigating a Spokane-based diploma-mill ring filed new charges this week against a man who is accused of running a "copy-cat" online university after working for Dixie Randock. Richard H. Cleigh is scheduled to appear Thursday before Senior U.S. District Court Judge Frem Nielsen after being charged with one count of wire fraud and a second count of mail fraud.
The 55-year-old Spokane man is tentatively scheduled to enter a guilty plea, the court docket shows, but it doesn't specify whether he will plead to one or both counts.
If he enters a plea, a written plea agreement is expected to detail how he set up his own online university.
Assistant U.S. Attorney George J.C. Jacobs, the lead prosecutor for the "Operation Gold Seal" task force investigation of Spokane-based diploma mills, said today he couldn't comment on the new case but would offer details when Cleigh appears in court.
As part of an expected plea agreement, Cleigh likely will seek "substantial assistance" and the prospects for a lighter sentence by agreeing to testify for the prosecution in the forthcoming criminal trial of Randock and three other remaining defendants. They were indicted in October 2005 and now are scheduled to stand trial in June.
Between Aug. 1, 2003, and Jan. 24, 2004, charging documents say, Cleigh "created and operated an Internet diploma mill under the fictitious name "Saint John University of St. Vincent & The Grenadines."
As part of the alleged scheme, Cleigh communicated with consumers using the name "Brother Andrew, creating the false impression that he was a member of a religious organization," the documents say.
The charges don't disclose how many degrees Cleigh sold or how much money he collected
"Cleigh falsely advertised that St. John University was founded in 1862 and was a private, non-secular university with a long and rich tradition of excellence," the charges say. He also claimed St. John was "the world leader in online degree evaluation" and that its degrees were "fully legal and valid."
In truth, the charges say, Saint John University "was neither an existent or legitimate academic entity."
The mail fraud count charge against Cleigh is linked to a separate, unrelated scheme in which he offered to sell South African Krugerrands.
"He offered to sell non-existent gold coins to unwitting eBay purchasers," the charging document says.
It lists 16 eBay customers who mailed $19,628 to Cleigh "who accepted their money but never sent the gold coins that had been promised."
Unauthorised universities continue to blatantly operate through offices in the Kingdom despite periodic warnings by the Ministry of Higher Education through advertisements in Arabic newspapers, says Saudi Gazette. These suspect foreign universities include American University of London, Al-Shurook University, Belford University, and Al- Ishraq University.
These universities have struck deals with commercial offices, telling them to enroll people wanting Bachelor's or Master's degrees and even PhD's online. "No studies, no admissions and no attendance required. Get a degree for what you already know," says Belford University in its website, making it clear that there's very little study, if at all, involved.
No wonder the Ministry of Higher Education wants them out. "Universities that have not received permission from the Ministry of Higher Education are considered illegal and should be closed," said Mohammed Al- Owhly.
The Ministry of Higher Education's website makes periodical announcements of which universities are allowed to operate in the Kingdom. Al-Owhly said four illegal universities' operation from Dammam was closed last year at the end of their first semester.
Ahmad Al-Jamal, PR manager for the Ministry of Commerce and Industry, said they do not grant a foreign university permission to open an office in the Kingdom without it being accepted by the ministry concerned. He said the Ministry of Higher Education has the responsibility of weeding out illegal universities and institutions.
It is often the case that illegal university operations spawn from projects licensed for other legal work.
"We grant permission to universities that meet all universal requirements, otherwise we never issued any permission," Al-Owhly explained. "The Ministry of Commerce would license a project for a specific field but then the project operators would expand their activities to other unapproved fields." Establishing legal universities in the Kingdom requires several procedures.
"We start by studying the project and sending a letter to the Minister of Higher Education. When he accepts the project, we transfer it to the legal affairs," said Dr. Waleed Al-Daly, Higher Education general manager. The proposed programmes, syllabus and training plans are studied and evaluated, Al-Daly said, involving several ministries and not only the Ministry of Higher Education.
Al-Owhly said newspapers that publish advertisements of unauthorised universities and institutes should be taken to task.
Samir Al-Zini, assistant marketing manager assistant at Al-Usbo'eyah weekly, said. "There is no control on such issues, we can easily publish anything, checking the advertisements' content is not our work."
Al-Zini however said they do double check on advertisements of medical cosmetics, creams and makeup as these products could have dangerous effects. They do not publish such advertisements without the permission of the Ministry of Health.
Zakiyah Al-Bishi of Marketing at Bidoon Waseet weekly newspaper, which publishes many university advertisements, said the legality of the universities was not their business.
According to Al-Owhly, private universities and colleges that are approved for operations in the Kingdom are: Prince Sultan University, Arab Open University and Al-Faisal University in Riyadh, and Dar Al-Hekma, Effat College, Business Administration College, Soliman Fakih College for Science and Nursing, and Prince Sultan College for Tourism in Jeddah.
A senior Federal Government executive has been sacked after being accused of using fake qualifications to get a job with the very department that warns employers to be wary of fraudulent degrees. Bobby Singh had been recruited to a senior position within the former Department of Employment and Workplace Relations before his credentials were scrutinised.
Checks revealed he had included on his curriculum vitae allegedly fake degrees from Harrington University and the Trinity College and University, in the United States. The two universities have been described as "degree mills," which sell degrees over the internet and require no educational assessment.
The Sunday Age has obtained copies of the degrees that state Mr Singh has been awarded a Doctorate of Philosophy and a Masters of Science, both with a major in information systems, from Trinity, and a Masters of Business Administration from Harrington.
A spokesman for the federal Education, Employment and Workplace Relations Department — which carries warnings about fake degrees on its website — said Mr Singh was employed as an executive level 2, with a salary of between $79,691 and $98,900 in 2005 after a merit selection process. He was sacked in December 2006.
His case was due to go before the Federal Magistrates Court, but was settled out of court last year.
Hundreds of thousands of Australians are thought to have overstated their educational achievements on their CVs. A PricewaterhouseCoopers forensic investigation of the CVs of staff at a large financial institution in 2003 found 40% contained "serious mis-statements", including fake qualifications.
New anti-money laundering legislation has forced employers to become more vigilant, but a fake qualifications expert, Dr George Brown, says most employers accept background documentation at face value.
"That's the problem," he told The Sunday Age.
"How many people check? What skills and knowledge do they have to verify the authenticity of an academic qualification?"
Dr Brown said that in today's "credential-conscious" society, "academic qualifications are items of value that are being falsified by people wanting to move ahead in society."
* JANUARY 2008 Former Qantas engineer Timothy McCormack will stand trial in the NSW District Court for forging a maintenance engineer's licence. McCormack had been responsible for safety checks on the airline's fleet of Boeing 747s.
* 2006 Former Federal Court judge Marcus Einfeld was revealed to have a PhD from Pacific Western University, which has been debunked as a diploma mill for handing out doctorates for the flat fee of $US2595 ($A2800).
* 2003 Glen Oakley was sacked from his $1.2 million role as general manager of Sydney's Randwick Council after faking academic qualifications, including an MBA from Harvard University.
An East St. Louis woman has been charged in federal court in Springfield with stealing more than $50,000 from a Montgomery County residential substance abuse treatment facility, a job she obtained with fake college credentials allegedly purchased online. She's also accused by the agency's board of failing to show up for work as required and neglecting to pay the Continuing Recovery Center's bills, leading to the Irving facility's utilities nearly being shut off. Janese E. Jordan, 41, was indicted by a federal grand jury Feb. 6, but the indictment was sealed until she was arrested and appeared in court, which happened Monday.
Federal authorities allege that from December 2004 to December 2005, Jordan used her position as executive director to steal or embezzle more than $50,000, paying for such things as personal cell phones, a big-screen TV, vehicle repairs and a health club membership...
"We fired her and went into her office, and there was at least six inches of bills and correspondence on her desk and another eight inches underneath," he said. "There was a letter from the power company that said they were going to shut off the gas and power the next day."
The indictment alleges that Jordan forged names on checks using names of the center's board of directors, submitted false receipts for reimbursement and directed money to friends or family for her own personal use.
Among the items the money was used for, according to prosecutors: cellular phones for her, her family and friends; the purchase of a big-screen television from Best Buy delivered to her home in July 2005; payment of $950 worth of someone else's dental work; payment of someone else's $543.94 credit card bill; a $950 repair bill for her own vehicle; and a $700 family membership at the Leisure World Health Club.
Jurgena said Jordan had also made unauthorized donations of the center's funds to a rugby club she belonged to. According to a team roster, Jordan plays for The St. Louis Sabres. The club's Web site says the all-women team is St. Louis' oldest women's rugby club and was established in 1975.
The indictment also accuses Jordan of falsely representing in her job application that she had bachelor's and master's degrees using a diploma and transcripts she had purchased for $1,114 from an Internet site. The paperwork was from St. Regis University, but she never took classes there...
The charges are a result of an investigation by the Montgomery County Sheriff's Office and the FBI. Patrick Hansen, assistant U.S. attorney, is prosecuting the case...
The U.S. House of Representatives has passed a major higher education reauthorization bill that includes language to crack down on so-called diploma mills that sell fraudulent degrees and transcripts. The "College Opportunity and Affordability Act" includes portions of another anti-diploma mill bill sponsored by Rep. Betty McCollum, a Minnesota Democrat.
Her legislation was drafted in part in response to a major diploma mill based in Spokane that sold 6,000 university degrees worldwide. Many of those phony degrees were sold to individuals in Saudi Arabia who used them to get enhanced immigration status – becoming an issue of concern for U.S. Homeland Security officials tracking suspected terrorists...
The new legislation, House Resolution 4137, passed Thursday on a vote of 354 to 58.
Although she didn't sign on as one of several co-sponsors of the anti-diploma bill legislation introduced by McCollum, Eastern Washington Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers voted for HR 4137. Her office didn't immediately issue a statement about the new legislation.
Provisions of the legislation will "prevent the sale of fake degrees by creating clear standards of recognizing legitimate academic institutions and giving law enforcement officials the information to identity and prosecute diploma mills," said Bryan Collinsworth, a spokesman for Congresswoman McCollum.
"This legislation is an important first step toward ensuring that every college degree reflects the high quality of our higher education system," McCollum said in a prepared statement.
Fake diplomas, she said, "undermine that quality, and they have been used to carry out deceptions and crimes that are absolutely repugnant."
Provisions of the "College Opportunity and Affordability Act" will instruct the U.S. Department of Education to create a list of accredited institutions and valid accreditation associations for immigration and federal employment and hiring purposes.
The legislation also will establish a task force of higher education and law enforcement experts to develop a "strategic diploma integrity protection plan," and encourage the state to take similar steps.
The legislation also will empower the Federal Trade Commission to crack down on diploma mills.
A Senate companion version to the bill passed last year. Now, the House and Senate versions will go to conference committee to reconcile differences.
"Though the Senate bill did not include the diploma mill provisions, the House language will likely be included in the final bill unless strong objections are raised," Collinsworth said today.
Despite strong criticism from the Bush administration, the House overwhelmingly approved legislation on Thursday that would establish a federal list of the nation's most expensive colleges and crack down on the way student loan companies try to curry favor with college officials and gain access to their students. The bill, approved on a bipartisan vote of 354 to 58, broadly seeks to hold down costs at colleges by dissuading them from raising tuition. It would require the federal Education Department to publish a list of the most expensive colleges, and it would cut down on states' eligibility for new federal grants if the states reduced financing for public colleges.The bill is House Resolution 4137, the "College Opportunity and Affordability Act of 2007." Note that Title VIII, Part H-- Diploma Mill Prevention contains most of the text of Congresswoman Betty McCollum's House Resolution 773, the "Diploma Integrity Protection Act of 2007."
The administration has opposed many provisions in the measure, including one that would limit the Education Department's authority to regulate colleges through accreditation. But the White House has stopped short of a veto threat. Similar legislation has passed the Senate.
Lawmakers from both sides of the aisle spoke strongly in favor of fighting rising college costs.
"The bill will create a higher education system that is more affordable and easier to navigate for consumers," said Representative George Miller, Democrat of California and chairman of the education committee.
Representative Howard P. McKeon of California, the committee's ranking Republican, praised the bill, even as he criticized Democrats for blocking amendments offered by Republicans...
A federal judge in Spokane heard arguments Tuesday over whether to send a team of defense attorneys, prosecutors and investigators to Africa at taxpayers' expense as part of the forthcoming criminal trial of the accused operators of a diploma mill. Defense attorneys for Dixie and Steve Randock want to take sworn statements from top-ranking Liberian officials, including a former ambassador who was videotaped taking cash bribes from a diploma-mill co-conspirator in a Washington, D.C., hotel room.
The defense team argues the Liberia trip is essential for a fair trial – to show that the Randocks believed their various online universities were accredited by the National Board of Education in Liberia.
"We need these (Liberian) witnesses to prove they weren't bribed," defense attorney Phillip "Dutch" Wetzel told the court.
But federal prosecutor George Jacobs said the Liberian "accreditation" was nothing more than a lie on top of other lies perpetrated by the defendants, who routinely manufactured degrees and transcripts bearing signatures of fictitious university officials, along with counterfeit diplomas from legitimate U.S. universities.
The testimony from the Liberian officials would be "irrelevant, speculative and inadmissible," Jacobs said.
Arguments on the defense request to travel to the African country came after Judge Lonny Suko issued a 27-page ruling, denying an earlier defense motion to toss out evidence seized in March 2005 by a federal task force in the basement of a Post Falls office building.
That evidence included billing records and names of individuals who purchased college degrees and accompanying transcripts from 125 universities operated by the defendants.
The evidence, contained in cardboard boxes, was in an unsecured basement hallway, accessible to other building tenants and adjoining an office rented by the Randocks.
Investigators got a search warrant to seize the evidence but left those documents with the building owner, not the Randocks.
Using a ruse to keep their investigation secret, agents left a scribbled note on the hallway wall, saying the boxes of documents had been taken to a landfill by an "angry tenant."
Suko ruled that the government had a "legitimate justification for its deception" to keep an ongoing investigation secret.
"This is not a case where the government engineered and directed the criminal enterprise from start to finish or where the police employed physical or psychological coercion against the defendants," the judge said.
His ruling was a setback for defense attorneys, who argued the evidence seizure involved "police misconduct" and shouldn't be used at trial. Suko didn't immediately rule on the Liberian trip.
The judge scheduled another hearing for Friday and is expected to rule then or within days.
Wetzel attempted to bolster his argument for the trip with testimony from defense investigator Brian R. Breen, a retired Spokane police detective.
He spent 16 days in Liberia late last year, tracking down and interviewing some of the witnesses.
Breen hired a driver and a bodyguard during his trip to the war-torn African nation, but he testified that he's been to other places "where I was more concerned about my safety."
He said he saw U.N. peace-keeping troops and bomb-scarred roads. Breen also said that he didn't see much evidence of Western influence and was frequently approached by beggars, "but my impression was they really liked Americans."
Wetzel also used a telephone conference to elicit testimony from Miguel Caridad, an assistant federal defender in Miami, who has made three trips to Liberia in preparing a defense for Charles Emmanuel, who is accused in the United States of torturing people in Liberia between 1999 and 2003.
"I thought it was very safe," Caridad said of his trips to Liberia.
Caridad was interviewing victim-witnesses, not Liberian officials who may have broken U.S. laws by accepting bribes, Jacobs countered, calling U.S. Secret Service Agent John Neirinckx to testify.
Neirinckx, the lead investigator in the diploma mill case, testified that his consultation with other U.S. officials has led him to conclude there would be "safety concerns" for U.S. Justice Department personnel if they went to Liberia...
A Rixensart, un vieux scientifique russe distribue des diplômes et titres. Un vrai moulin à diplômes. Même l'ex-dictateur du Turkménistan en a reçu un. Avenue des Azalées à Rixensart. Un beau quartier près des grands magasins et du cinéma. Une villa anodine et défraîchie.
Nous voici pourtant au quartier général de l'Académie européenne d'Informatisation (AEI). Son président, Eduard Evreinov, 80 ans, de nationalité russe, nous reçoit sans sourciller. Il emmène le visiteur directement dans une pièce en contrebas. Son modeste bureau et son ordinateur représentent le campus de cette université virtuelle qui distribue des diplômes à tire-larigot et donne des migraines aux responsables de la Direction générale de l'Enseignement en Communauté française.
M.Evreinov a obtenu en 1999, grâce à un avocat anversois, la personnalité civile pour son Académie. Un an plus tard, il débarquait en Belgique avec un statut de résident étranger. Sa notoriété de scientifique est grande et prestigieuse. Il a obtenu le prix Lénine en 1957. Mais ce qu'il va entreprendre en Belgique, dans un pays où la protection des titres universitaires est couverte encore par une loi de 1933 et où règne une très grande liberté d'enseignement, relève de la plus grande plaisanterie.
Selon ses statuts, l'Académie est "une association internationale à but philanthropique, scientifique et pédagogique" qui n'a pas de but lucratif. Elle se propose, comme objectif suprême, "la formation d'un espace d'information mondial uni" et de dispenser des cours dans à peu près toutes les disciplines possibles, du cinéma jusqu'à la communication sous-marine.
Un moulin à diplômes
Mais surtout, l'Académie est ce que les Américains appellent un " moulin à diplômes ." En quelques années, l'Académie a distribué des centaines de diplômes à des gens qui, pour certains, n'avaient aucune qualification scientifique. Evreinov assure, sur ses multiples sites Internet, que pour recevoir un " Grand Doctorat " de l'Académie - appellation qui n'existe pas dans le monde universitaire belge -, il faut notamment avoir publié de 15 à 20 articles scientifiques et " trouvé une solution originale à un quelconque problème" . Il insiste sur le fait que les diplômes sont délivrés par des recteurs d'université.
A lire la liste des récipendiaires cependant, le bien-fondé de cette démarche paraît complètement fantaisiste et semble servir l'ego des heureux élus, généralement des personnalités importantes en Russie. Ainsi l'ancien dictateur du Turkménistan, Saparmourad Niazov, a reçu le grade d'académicien pour "son apport éclairé à la démocratie en Turkménistan.".. On retrouve aussi les noms de l'ex-ministre russe Vladimir Boulgak et du maire de Moscou Youri Loujkov.
L'Académie - qui opère aussi sous le nom de World Information Distributed University (WIDU) - a également accordé en 2001 un certificat et une médaille à l'ancien secrétaire général de l'Onu, Kofi Annan qui a promis, dans une lettre de remerciement, de continuer à "aider à résoudre les problèmes globaux." Deux Belges - Pierre-Henry Wigny, aujourd'hui décédé, et Guy Massange de Collombs, pendant trois à quatre mois en 2000 - ont figuré parmi les membres fondateurs de l'Académie.
"La Belgique est un pays très libre pour moi", dit Eduard Evreinov. "J'essaie d'introduire un nouveau système en Belgique. Mais c'est très difficile. Le gouvernement belge ne le veut pas. Nous n'avons pas de diplômés en Belgique", assure-t-il.
Malgré de nombreuses lettres de requête, Evreinov n'a jamais reçu la moindre agréation de la Communauté française. Il n'a pas plus obtenu la naturalisation belge, étant, dit-il, "trop vieux et un peu sourd."
In Rixensart, an old Russian scientist distributes diplomas and degrees. A real diploma mill. Even the former dictator of Turkmenistan has received one of them.
Avenue of azaleas in Rixensart. A nice neighborhood close to the department stores and cinema. A faded house.
Here we are at the headquarters of the European Academy of Informatisation (AEI). Its president, Eduard Evreinov, 80 years of Russian nationality, greets us without winking. He brings the visitor to a room directly below. His modest office and computer are the campus of the virtual university that distributes diplomas to his heart's content and gives migraines to officials of the General Directorate of Education in the French Community.
Mr. Evreinov won in 1999, thanks to a lawyer in Antwerp, civil status for his Academy. A year later, he landed in Belgium with a foreign resident's status. His reputation as a scientist is significant. He won the Lenin prize in 1957. But what he will undertake in Belgium, in a country where the protection of academic titles is still covered by a law passed in 1933, where there is a great tradition of academic freedom, is a big joke.
According to its statutes, the Academy is "an international association with philanthropic, scientific and educational goals", which is not-for-profit. It describes its primary objectives as "the creation of a global unified information space" and the offering of courses in almost every discipline possible, ranging from film to submarine communication.
A diploma mill
But above all, the Academy is what Americans call a "diploma mill." Within a few years, the Academy has distributed hundreds of diplomas to people who, for some, had no scientific qualifications. Evreinov assures, on his various Internet sites, that to receive the "Grand Doctorate" of the Academy - a title that does not exist in the Belgian academic - you must have published 15 to 20 scientific papers and found an original solution to some problem. " He maintains that diplomas are issued by the administration of a university.
To read the list of rcipients however, the merits of this approach seems completely fanciful and seems to serve the ego of the chosen, usually important people in Russia. As the former dictator of Turkmenistan, Saparmurad Niyazov, has been given the rank of Academician for "his enlightened contributions to democracy in Turkmenistan" ... There are also the names of the former Russian Minister Vladimir Boulgak and the Mayor of Moscow Yuri Luzhkov.
The Academy - which also operates under the name World Information Distributed University (WIDU) - also granted in 2001 a certificate and a medal to the former secretary general of the UN, Kofi Annan, who has promised in a letter of thanks, to continue to "help solve global problems." Two Belgians - Pierre-Henry Wigny, now deceased, and Guy Massange of Collombs for three to four months in 2000 - were among the founding members of the Academy.
"Belgium is a country that is very open for me," says Eduard Evreinov. "I am trying to introduce a new system in Belgium. But it is very difficult. The Belgian government does not want it. We have no graduates in Belgium," he assures.
Despite numerous letters of complaint Evreinov never received any approval of the French Community. He has not become a naturalized Belgian because, he says, he is "too old and a little deaf."
The court could decide on the candidate's eligibility by early February. David P. Aey says he's proved he has the qualifications to be Mahoning County sheriff, and questions why the incumbent won't accept that."Belford University" offered to sell me a doctoral degree in "Thoracic Surgery" based on my life experiences of reading the newspaper and watching the television evening news.
As promised, attorneys for Sheriff Randall A. Wellington filed a legal motion in the Ohio Supreme Court asking that the Mahoning County Board of Elections remove Aey's name from the March 4 Democratic primary.
The elections board ruled Friday that Aey, of Boardman, is eligible to run for sheriff over the protest of Wellington. After the hearing, Wellington said he'd quickly file legal action with the court.
"I am on the ballot, and the voters of Mahoning County have a right to choose their elected officials by voting on March 4," Aey said. "Mr. Wellington does not want to give the voters that same right. I find that insulting."
Aey says he wants to debate Wellington on issues such as stopping violent crime, properly running the county jail and spending tax dollars in a lawful way.
"That's fine," Wellington said. "My main issue is to prove he's not qualified to run for sheriff."
Wellington, of Youngstown, contends Aey doesn't meet minimum supervisory requirements under state law to be a sheriff candidate.
Citing a 1996 Ohio Supreme Court decision that states they "must liberally construe in favor of the person seeking to hold office," elections board members voted to keep Aey on the ballot.
In Tuesday's filing, Wellington's attorneys said the elections board ignored a 2000 Supreme Court decision that says the requirements to be sheriff are not subject to "interpretative rules."
The elections board will file a response with the court, which could rule on Aey's eligibility as soon as early February. The Democratic primary is March 4. Aey and Wellington are the only candidates in that primary. Republicans didn't field a sheriff candidate. The independent candidate filing deadline is March 3.
Eligible sheriff candidates must either have at least two years of supervisory experience as a peace officer at the rank of corporal or above, or have served at the rank of sergeant or above in the five-year period before the filing deadline. If a candidate has neither of those, he must have at least two years of post-secondary education from an accredited college or university.
Aey's attorneys acknowledged their client doesn't meet the educational qualifications. Aey received a diploma from Belford University, called an online diploma mill by experts.
Aey never rose above the rank of deputy during his 15 years with the sheriff's department. But the elections board determined that his time as a field supervisor for the U.S. Marshals Service's Northern Ohio Violent Fugitive Task Force was equivalent experience.
A throng of supporters showed up at the Legislature yesterday to testify in favor of Paul Suba's appointment as chief of the Guam Police Department, but there were a few critics who questioned his management principles, ethics, and attempt to use a degree from a bogus online institution to pad his credentials. Among those who endorsed the confirmation were Homeland Security advisor Dennis Santo Tomas, University of Guam Prof. Ron McNinch, police commander Joaquin Reyes, businessman Joey Lopez, and private citizen Cole Hendon, who all attested to Suba's leadership skills, professionalism, and dedication to his duty.
"He's shown his sincere dedication to serving first hand on the front lines when called to duty. We need people like Paul to help us in moving the island toward progress," Santo Tomas told the public safety committee, chaired by Sen. Ray Tenorio, R-Yigo.
"I know this man to have a good heart and his leadership will greatly enhance the Guam Police Department," Reyes said.
Lopez said he is convinced that if confirmed, Suba would further try to do his best within the limited resources that GPD has.
McNinch, for his part, described Suba as "a true hero," adding that "we don't appreciate him as much as we should."
But Ben Pangelinan, D-Barrigada, criticized Suba for endorsing a budget reduction for GPD, which the senator said has always been shortchanged.
The chorus of support for Suba was further interrupted by tirades from Tumon precinct commander Lt. Fred Bordallo, who raised questions about the acting police chief's higher education, ethics in government, and management principles, which he said "have caused me to oppose the confirmation."
Bordallo revived the issue regarding Suba's degree from Rochville University, an online institution that is believed to be a bogus diploma mill.
"The Department of Administration rejected Captain Paul Suba's documents indicating he obtained his college degree at Rochville University as an institution of higher learning during his application for Police Major. Captain Suba went on record in media interviews that he would investigate this institution because he 'felt duped,'" Bordallo said.
He said his own research revealed that Rochville University has also "graduated" a terrorist.
"I believe that it is the duty of you senators to examine the application packet of Captain Paul Suba, if in fact Rochville University is included as a listed education credential, that for the record it be noted that the Guam Legislature does not accept Rochville University as valid education credentials, and the applicant can take those documents or diploma, and take the appropriate disposition of them," he said...
A former deputy U.S. marshal who held a supervisory post in Spokane faces a federal criminal charge for allegedly using a bogus college degree he bought on the Internet to get a $16,000-a-year job promotion. The case is the first criminal prosecution of an estimated 6,000 customers who bought degrees from about 125 bogus online universities operated out of Spokane and Post Falls, senior Justice Department officials said Monday. Some purchasers used their bogus degrees to get jobs and others used them for promotions.A follow-up: Deputy marshal to plead guilty, Bill Morlin, Spokane Spokesman-Review, February 5, 2008.
David Floyd Brodhagen, who retired Dec. 23 from the U.S. Department of Justice at age 47, was charged four days later with "official writings" – making and delivering as true a statement knowing it contained false information. The federal misdemeanor carries a maximum of one year in prison, a $100,000 fine and a year of supervised release.
"Brodhagen submitted an application for advancement within the U.S. Marshal's Service which contained a representation that he held a college degree from Saint Regis University," a criminal complaint says.
It also alleges the deputy marshal "presented the U.S. Marshal's Service with a transcript of courses taken and grades received from Saint Regis, which he then and there well knew was not a legitimate post-secondary institution."
The criminal complaint against Brodhagen was filed by Carl E. Rostad, a special attorney to the U.S. attorney general, who reviewed the results of an internal investigation by the U.S. Marshal's Service...
"Getting the degree is not fraud," Rostad said Monday when reached at his office in Great Falls. "It's how you use it that constitutes fraud, and that's what we're alleging here."
Brodhagen is expected to appear Jan. 24 before U.S. Magistrate Judge Cynthia Imbrogno – the same courtroom where the former deputy marshal guarded prisoners over the past two decades...
Brodhagen claimed to be a "Saint Regis University graduate" when he applied to move from a GS-12 position to the supervisory post, which was rated as GS-13, Kline said.
For 2006, the Office of Personnel Management listed the maximum pay for a GS-12 employee at $80,975 and a GS-13 at $96,292...
A former deputy U.S. marshal who bought a bogus college degree online and used it to get a $16,000-a-year job promotion is scheduled to plead guilty to a federal crime next week in U.S. District Court in Spokane, public records show. David F. Brodhagen is scheduled to enter the plea next Tuesday before Senior U.S. District Court Judge John C. Coughenour from the Western District of Washington. That date was rescheduled from Jan. 24.Press release from the U.S. Attorney's Office for the District of Montana: Davd Brodhagen Pleads Guilty in U.S. Federal Court, February 14, 2008.
The judge from Seattle was assigned the case after judges in the Eastern District of Washington, who all have worked with the 47-year-old deputy marshal in various criminal cases, recused themselves from his case.
Brodhagen retired from the U.S. Marshals Service on Dec. 23 and was charged four days later with "official writings,'' a federal charge accusing the public official of providing his employer, the U.S. Government, with a document containing false information.
It is the first criminal prosecution of an estimated 6,000 customers who bought phony college degrees from 125 so-called "online universities" operated by a Spokane-based diploma mill operation.
Eight members of the ring were indicted in 2005.
In a seven-page written plea agreement filed in court last week, Brodhagen said he intends to plead guilty to the federal misdemeanor. It carries a maximum possible sentence of one year in prison, a $100,000 fine and a year of probation.
According to a criminal complaint, "Brodhagen submitted an application for advancement within the U.S. Marshal's Service which contained a representation that he held a college degree from Saint Regis University.''
He got the supervisory job in 2003, moving from a GS-12 rank with a 2006 salary of $80,975, to a GS-13 employee with an annual salary of $96,292.
In his plea agreement Brodhagen admits he "knew the information (he) provided was false."
If the court accepts the plea agreement, which it is not required to do, the government prosecutor will recommend Brodhagen be given two years of probation, 80 hours of community service and a $500 fine.
As part of the plea bargain, Brodhagen would waive his right to appeal any sentence he receives...
United States Attorney's Office for the District of Montana
P.O. Box 1478
Billings, MT 59103
Jessica T. Fehr
Assistant U.S. Attorney
Bill Mercer, United States Attorney for the District of Montana, announced today that during a federal court session in the Eastern District of Washington on February 12, 2008, before Senior U.S. District Judge John C. Coughenour from the Western District of Washington, DAVID BRODHAGEN, a 48-year-old resident of Reardan, Washington, pled guilty to a misdemeanor count of false statement by a public official. Sentencing is set for June 10, 2008, in Spokane, Washington. He is currently released on special conditions.
In an Offer of Proof filed by the United States, the government stated it would have proved at trial the following:
On November 11, 2002, BRODHAGEN, a Deputy U.S. Marshal, submitted an Internet application to Saint Regis University. In this application, BRODHAGEN stated he wanted a Bachelor of Science degree in Criminal Science/Liberal Arts. BRODHAGEN paid $731 by credit card to obtain this degree. As part of his submission package, BRODHAGEN stated, "At this time in my career, I feel it is important to obtain a BA Degree. Without it, I will not be able to go further up in my career ladder. With only seven more years remaining before retirement, it is too late to go to the conventional route of a four year college. This is my primary reason for applying for a degree based upon my experience, training, and college education." St. Regis asked him which classes he wanted on his transcript and what grades he wanted reflected as having received.
The Internet application for Saint Regis University contained a warning stating that the applicant understands they are not enrolling in a school of any type and that Saint Regis University will not provide any representation of accreditation.
Approximately 21/2 months later, on or about January 28, 2003, BRODHAGEN applied for a position as the Supervisory Deputy United States Marshal in the Spokane, Washington, office of the United States Marshals Service. Within the job application, BRODHAGEN claimed he had a Bachelor's degree and was entitled to a 12 point rating indicative of such a degree. He also included a copy of a degree from Saint Regis University indicating he had obtained a Bachelor of Science degree in Criminal Justice on June 5, 2002.
BRODHAGEN was interviewed by the Office of Inspector General (OIG) and stated he located Saint Regis University from an advertisement he read in a magazine. He went to their Internet site, completed their enrollment forms, and paid them $731 to obtain a college degree for "life experiences." He admitted that he never completed any classes from them. BRODHAGEN also stated he did not possess a Bachelor's degree from any other institution.
BRODHAGEN stated he also included a transcript of courses allegedly taken at Saint Regis University, even though he admitted he took no such classes. The transcript showed he completed 29 different classes and received between a "B" and an "A" for every class. The grade point average for his degree was shown on the transcript as 3.65. BRODHAGEN said Saint Regis had previously asked him what grade point average he desired on his transcript, and he told them 3.65.
BRODHAGEN signed a certificate at the end of his job application for promotion within the United States Marshals Service stating, "all information provided in the application are true, complete and correct to the best of his knowledge and belief."
BRODHAGEN told the OIG that a short time after submitting his promotion package, he noted in his Saint Regis University transcript a course entitled "Defense Class For Women," in which he received a grade of an "A-." BRODHAGEN realized he should never have received credit for this class as he was not a woman. He allegedly called the Marshals Service Human Resources Department and questioned an unknown female whether he could receive credit for this course and if the degree was in fact valid. She told him to call some other colleges to determine if they would accept his courses from Saint Regis University. BRODHAGEN subsequently called Concordia College, which he attended in 1994, and found they would not accept the Saint Regis courses.
BRODHAGEN said that over the course of several telephone calls with the unknown female in Human Resources, it was agreed upon that BRODHAGEN would not receive any credit in his promotion package for obtaining a four year degree from Saint Regis. BRODHAGEN claimed he subsequently submitted a revised education page to his promotion package showing he did not possess a four year college degree and his education points were downgraded from 12 points to 4 points.
BRODHAGEN was adamant that he initiated the inquiry with the female in the Human Resources Department concerning the validity of the Defense Class For Women credit and the validity of his degree.
Contact with the Chief of the Merit Promotion Department within the Marshals Service and two other employees was unsuccessful in determining who BRODHAGEN may have talked to about the Saint Regis degree. The Chief of the Merit Promotion Department said BRODHAGEN would have had to talk to her or the other women interviewed as they were the only people involved in the application and hiring process. She also noted that BRODHAGEN'S application package had been lost. [A copy of the application was retrieved from BRODHAGEN during the investigation].
BRODHAGEN was selected by the U.S. Marshal of the Spokane, Washington office for the position of Supervisory Deputy United States Marshal. The Marshal said whether BRODHAGEN had a Bachelor's degree never came up, nor was it an issue in him being selected for the position. He relied on the list of suitable candidates from the promotion packet provided to him by the career board to make his selection. He was not allowed to interview any candidates. The Marshal said it was to BRODHAGEN'S advantage in that he was the only candidate the Marshal knew.
BRODHAGEN claimed that, although he never took any classes from Saint Regis University, his life experiences, other college courses, and job experiences as a United States Marshal entitled him to the Bachelor's degree from Saint Regis University. BRODHAGEN said at the time, he believed the degree to be valid and that he did nothing wrong.
In October of 2007, BRODHAGEN took a polygraph examination to evaluate whether he could have sincerely believed that he could legitimately claim that he had a legitimate college degree. He failed conclusively, but made no admissions.
BRODHAGEN faces possible penalties of 1 year in prison, a $100,000 fine and 1 year supervised release.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Carl E. Rostad prosecuted the case for the United States.
The investigation was conducted by the Department of Justice Office of the Inspector General.
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A copy of the Offer of Proof can be obtained by contacting Sally Frank at (406) 247-4638
Operators of a Spokane-based diploma mill were counterfeiting and selling degrees and transcripts from some of the largest universities in the United States, in addition to cranking out degrees from fictitious online universities, new court filings say. Dixie and Steve Randock, the Colbert couple who used a Hillyard print shop and a rented basement office in Post Falls, are accused of selling counterfeit degrees from the University of Maryland, the University of Tennessee, Texas A&M and George Washington University.Note that the president of the University of Tennessee used to be Lamar Alexander – a former U.S. secretary of education. As the senior senator from Tennessee, Alexander now serves on the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions. This is the comittee that will consider anti-diploma mill legislation when it sees the 2008 Higher Education Act reauthorization bill.
The Randocks face a June trial on federal charges of conspiracy, wire fraud and money laundering. Investigators believe the operation hauled in $5 million.
The revelation that the Randocks also sold counterfeit degrees and transcripts from bona fide universities is expected to stir interest among employers, university and college registrars and others in academic circles pressing for additional levels of validation for college degrees and transcripts.
Thomas C. Black, the registrar at Stanford University, said Monday the Spokane case points out the need for electronic validation of degrees and transcripts by employers and others.
"I join a number of my colleagues around the country in feeling at times enraged or deeply disturbed about credential fraud and the havoc caused by diploma mills," Black said in an e-mail.
"Some of us have gone beyond cease and desist orders to devise a new way to deliver and validate credentials electronically through digital signature technology," Black said, referring to the same technology that protects Internet e-commerce sites...
The sale of counterfeit degrees from legitimate universities is detailed in 250 pages of documents and exhibits just filed by Assistant U.S. Attorney George Jacobs, who is opposing a defense request to travel to Liberia. Defense attorneys for the Randocks and two other defendants want U.S. taxpayers to pick up the cost of sending them to Liberia to get sworn statements from seven of that country's high-ranking officials. The defense team claims the Randocks' online universities were "accredited by the National Board of Education" in Liberia.
It's essential to the defendants' rights to a fair trial, the defense argues, to travel to Liberia to question a Liberian Supreme Court justice and that country's former ambassador to the United States, Abdullah Dunbar, who was secretly videotaped accepting a cash bribe from a diploma-mill co-conspirator in a Washington, D.C., hotel room in 2005.
The federal prosecutor said it's irrelevant what accreditation the defendants believed they had because they "routinely manufactured degrees, transcripts and other academic products that bore the signatures of fictitious university officials." Dixie Randock used at least 11 aliases as part of the scheme, court documents say.
"The defendants also manufactured degrees in the names of legitimate universities operating in the United States," Jacobs wrote in his 22-page brief.
They counterfeited a bachelor's of science in criminal justice degree and an accompanying academic transcript in the name of the University of Maryland, and a bachelor's of business administration degree and transcript from the University of Tennessee, Jacobs said.
A counterfeit degree from Texas A&M University bore the signatures of two fictitious university officials, "Patrick O'Brien" and "James Cooper," two of the aliases used by Dixie Randock, Jacobs said.
At the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, Amy Blakely, assistant director of media relations, sounded stunned when reached for reaction.
"We've just heard of this and, if the allegations are true, we are disappointed that someone would use the university's name for such purposes," she said.
At the University of Maryland in College Park, spokesman Neil Tickner said senior university officials "don't want to comment, probably because it seems so obvious that it's a terrible thing.."..
Almost half the colleges checked on an official list of approved providers for overseas students have been struck off, the government has said. Following fears about bogus colleges, the government said it had inspected 256 colleges since 2005, leading to 124 being removed from the list.
There are about 2,000 private colleges on the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills' register.
A place at one of these colleges is a means to getting a UK student visa.
A DIUS spokesman says that colleges on the register of education and training providers are now facing unannounced inspections.
But Conservative university spokesman, David Willetts, expressed concern that so many colleges on the government's approved list have turned out to be bogus.
"It begs the question of how they got on to the list in the first place and suggests the government's process for accrediting them is not up to scratch," said Mr Willetts.
A BBC investigation this week revealed an example of a college offering courses with no legitimate accreditation - described as "dodgy" by its own chancellor.
There has been a longstanding problem with bogus colleges - often either set up to sell fake degrees or else as part of an immigration and visa scam, allowing people to enter the UK as students.
The approved register of education providers was created in 2005 to prevent such abuses - requiring applicants for student visas to show that they would be attending a legitimate institution.
But this register, the gatekeeper for those seeking student visas, is now under scrutiny - with an unspecified number of bogus colleges among those removed from the list.
Dius says that the check ups, aimed at preventing bogus colleges, might also have found other technical reasons for removing the registration of institutions.
It also remains unclear how many of the remaining 1,750 colleges have ever been physically inspected before or after inclusion on this register.
Among those currently on the list is a college whose website content is mostly links to services including online gambling.
Bogus colleges charge overseas students thousands of pounds in fees for a place - which is then used as a way of entering or remaining in the UK on a student visa.
Such bogus colleges often claim to have well-equipped campuses, but in reality are operating from temporary office addresses. Websites can have pictures of college buildings or landscapes which are nothing like their authentic locations.
Overseas students are required to attend courses for at least 15 hours per week. But they are allowed to work - and their spouses and children are also entitled to work in the UK.
A DIUS spokesperson says that the integrity of the list is taken very seriously - and that the vast majority of private colleges are legitimate.
The introduction of unannounced inspections in November was intended to catch bogus colleges which might not really have the students, facilities and staff claimed when they registered.
But the list does not make any assurances about the quality of the education available at these institutions.
An international education scam that targets foreign students who come to study in the capital has been exposed by a BBC London investigation.
The bogus Irish International University (IIU), which offers sub-standard and worthless degrees, has been allowed to flourish in the UK - virtually unchecked by the government - for the last seven years.
Although the organisation is unaccredited, hundreds of students have been given educational visas to enter Britain and take its exams at private colleges in London.
The IIU, which has 5,000 students worldwide and thousands of graduates, maintains the illusion of a valid education through its elaborate but highly misleading website.
This illusion is enhanced by the university's continued use of Oxford and Cambridge facilities to stage its award ceremonies.
After each event photographs appear on the IIU website showing happy students receiving awards at the UK's best seats of learning.
Our investigation took us from London to Dublin, Oxford and finally Monte Carlo in search of those behind the IIU.
A BBC journalist and an actor posing as fake academic were invited to the IIU's award ceremony which, surprisingly, was held at the Divinity School, next to the Bodleian Library, in the very heart of Oxford University.
The ceremony was due to go ahead at Cambridge, but after BBC London alerted the university authorities the event was cancelled. That did not stop the IIU switching venues to Oxford at the last minute.
In Oxford, our journalist and actor secretly filmed the award ceremony and recorded meetings with university boss and Executive President Professor Hardeep Singh Sandhu, a Malaysian businessman and faculty member Dr Edwin Varo.
Dr Varo, told us that the IIU was not bogus and was registered in Ireland and that it had applied to the government and had been given approval to use the word university.
In Dublin, Sean O'Foghlu, Chief Executive of the National Qualifications Authority of Ireland, told BBC London: "To use the word university in a title it needs approval from our Department of Education and Science - no such approval has been given by our department."
The university website clearly stated that the university had a campus in Dublin. We visited the address given by the IIU on its website - there was no campus, just a mailbox.
The website also claimed that the IIU's educational programmes were accredited and quality controlled by the impressive sounding QAC-UK Ltd - the Quality Assurance Commission, based in North London.
During secretly filmed meetings, Professor Sandhu told our undercover team that the QAC was an "independent body" that maintained the quality of education in the UK and elsewhere.
Faculty member, Dr Varo explained that the QAC staff: "Focus more on your curriculum - on your teaching; focus on your evaluation - they focus on your faculty - who are your faculty - what amount of real teaching takes place."
The QAC website listed an impressive roll-call of staff including the QAC Commissioner General and an Acting Commissioner General.
Our reporter visited the QAC and instead of finding a commissioner general we found four telephonists fielding calls for countless companies at yet another virtual office.
A further check at Companies House revealed that far from the being "independent" the QAC is in fact owned by university boss Professor Dr Sandhu.
Bona fide academic, Professor Geoffrey Alderman, gave evidence to the Home Affairs Select Committee on the subject of bogus institutions.
He told us: "Some of these colleges will say, 'sure we're accredited', but when you say 'by whom?', they name an accrediting institution which in fact they themselves own."
University boss Professor Sandhu, who sits on the governing council is a Doctor of Letters, a doctorate awarded by another unaccredited university based in the Caribbean.
His professorship is "honorary", awarded by a European association set up to give out professorships.
On the website he also called himself "Sir H Sandhu" but his knighthood was not bestowed on him by the Queen.
One person missing from the Oxford award ceremony was the university's Honorary Chancellor, His Excellency Baron Knowth - real name Professor Jeffrey Wooller - a successful chartered accountant from London.
Professor Wooller, a member of the Institute of Chartered Accountants, owns a £1.2m townhouse in Kensington but spends most of his time living as a tax exile in Monte Carlo.
Our actor, again posing as a fake academic, arranged to meet Professor Wooller, at a hotel in Monaco. We secretly filmed this meeting.
He told our fake academic that the IIU was not "recognised anywhere."
He admitted to our actor that the website was an illusion: "When you look at the website, it's a figment of someone's imagination. Someone's dreamt up what a university should look like, and that's what's on the website."
Professor Wooller told us that students paid a lot of money to attend the award ceremonies, adding: "If you can mention Oxford, Cambridge then the whole world thinks that it must be a good university."
He then said of the university's operation: "The whole thing's dodgy." He even said that the IIU's governing council, of which he and Professor Sandhu are both members, did not exist.
A BBC London reporter then confronted Professor Wooller:
Reporter: You said the whole thing is dodgy.
Mr Wooller: It is dodgy!
Reporter: Oh so you admit it's dodgy?
Mr Wooller: Of course it's dodgy.
He also told our reporter that he had been given his professorship by the IIU and that he had bought his "Baron" title.
Professor Wooller refused to quit as honorary chancellor stating that most IIU students were happy and that the university was good value for money.
Professor John Arnold of Loughborough University has seen coursework from an IIU graduate.
He said: "Students are paying for this, what I would regard as worthless and bogus qualifications. I would say buyer beware from the point of view of students.
"You know I really think that they'll probably be getting qualifications which are unlikely to be taken seriously at least in Western Europe."
Following BBC London's investigation the IIU will now no longer be allowed to use Oxford and Cambridge's facilities to stage their award ceremonies.
Oxford University issued a statement stating that they would not be renting its facilities to the Irish International University in the future.
The IIU website survives but since our investigation it has undergone a radical overhaul.
The reference to a Dublin campus has been removed, the QAC is "no longer involved with the Irish International University" and its logo no longer appears on the website.
Professor Sandhu told BBC London that the university will not renew its affiliations with any private colleges in London.
The government is promising that by 2009 all colleges wishing to bring overseas applicants into the country will need to be accredited.
Higher Education Minister Bill Rammell said: "Our universities are rightly regarded as world class and any attempt by bogus institutions or conmen to tarnish this hard won reputation will not be tolerated.
"The UK has some of the toughest regulations in the world governing the award of higher education qualifications. The vast majority of private colleges in London operate lawfully and provide a high-quality service to their students.
"We are working very hard on behalf of students to ensure that all private institutions meet strict quality standards.
"Where we are not satisfied that this is the case with a particular college, we will not hesitate to investigate and if necessary, close it down.
"I would encourage all new students to carefully check the credentials of the college they wish to enrol at and if they have any concerns, contact their local trading standards team."
APA-Monrovia (Liberia) The National Commission on Higher Education has closed down several 'universities' in the country for failing to meet the minimum requirements set by the Ministry of Education, APA has learnt here. Making the disclosure to reporters in Monrovia this week, the Director General of the National Commission on Higher Education, Dr. Michel P Slawon named the affected universities as Berea Theological Seminary, Vision International University and Bible College, St. Martin College of Career Development, C.C. Pennoh Community College on Gurley Street, Liberty Theological Seminary , Liberia College of Professional Studies, Liberia College of Technology, Lloyd Faulkner Theological Seminary and ALL Charismatic Theological Seminary all located in the capital Monrovia.
Others are St. Clement University, Global Univeity, Evangel Christian University and Liberia University Colege.
Others affected are John Evangelical Seminary, Monrovia University and the Christopolis University.
Dr. Slawon said in line with a survey conducted by the secretariat of the Commission, those universities had not demonstrated the potential to grow into degree-granting institutions in the country.
He also pointed out that the action was based on the fact that those institutions had no mission statements, qualified faculty and staff, student services, libraries, institutional policies and programs.
Other reasons cited by the Commission for shutting down the sub-standard institutions also include poor curriculum without detailed course descriptions and programs, poor instructional facilities and poor institutional materials and equipment.
The Commission has also announced the closure of all unknown and known distance learning/online universities claiming to operate in Liberia.
The Director General of the National Commission on Higher Education named these institutions as the Concordia University, Virtual University, James Monroe University, Global University, St. Clement University, Brendan University, Evangel Christian University, St Luke School of Medicine and Adam Smith University.
Dr. Slawon named the government-run University of Liberia, Episcopal Church-run Cuttington University and the William V.S Tubman Technical Colege as the only fully accredited institutions of higher learning in Liberia.
These institutions fall in category 1 of a Resolution presented by by the secretariat of the Commission on Higher Education, he said.
Institutions which fall in category 2 have been permitted to operate. They include the United Methodist University, African Methodist Episcopal Zion University College, Stelle Maris Polytechnic, African Methodist Episcopal University and Liberia Theological Seminary.
According to Dr. Slawon, these institutions are recognized by the government but not accredited, adding these institutions may operate while seeking accreditation.
He explained that these institutions have acceptable facilities, limited library holdings, fair curriculum, but without clear and detailed course descriptions and programs.
Documents: Motions in support of depositions trip: Phillip Wetzel | Brian R. Breen Defense attorneys for four remaining defendants in a Spokane-based diploma mill case want to travel to Liberia to depose seven of that country's high-ranking officials, including a Supreme Court justice.
U.S. taxpayers would pick up the as-yet-undetermined bill if the request is granted by U.S. District Court Judge Lonny Suko, who's assigned the wire fraud and money laundering case.
Included on the list of Liberian officials to be deposed is that country's former ambassador to the United States, Abdullah Dunbar, who was secretly videotaped accepting a cash bribe from a diploma-mill co-conspirator in a Washington, D.C., hotel room in 2005, court documents say.
Bribes allegedly made to Liberian politicians helped the accused Spokane operators of 125 bogus online universities obtain "Liberian Board of Education accreditation" for diplomas cranked out at a Hillyard print shop and mailed out with phony transcripts from the basement of a Post Falls office building, federal investigators say.
The U.S. attorney's office had no immediate response Monday when asked if federal prosecutors would oppose the unusual travel request.
In new legal filings, attorney Phillip J. "Dutch" Wetzel, who represents defendant Dixie Randock, said the trip to Liberia is needed to "preserve testimony" from the Liberian officials whose testimony may be crucial to the defense case.
"Our request is to take depositions to preserve their testimony in case they can't or won't appear at the trial," Wetzel said Monday.
In federal criminal cases, attorneys must get a judge's permission to depose a witness "in order to preserve testimony for trial" if the court concludes it's warranted "because of exceptional circumstances and in the interests of justice."
The Liberian officials are beyond the reach of a U.S. District Court subpoena, so they would have to voluntarily agree to travel to Spokane to testify as defense witnesses at the trial of Randock and her husband, Steve, and co-defendants Heidi Lohran and Roberta Lynn Markistum.
"Our hope is still that they would agree to testify at trial, too," Wetzel said.
A hearing date for the travel request hasn't been set, but prosecutors and defense attorneys are scheduled to be back in U.S. District Court in Yakima on Jan. 10 for closing arguments on a pending defense motion to suppress evidence.
Indictments in the diploma mill case were returned in October 2005 after a nine-month multiagency investigation called Operation Gold Seal.
The indictments charge the Randocks and six other defendants with conspiracy to commit wire and mail fraud. The Randocks also were indicted on a charge of conspiring to launder more than $1 million they collected from selling the bogus degrees.
The jury trial is now scheduled for June in Spokane.
Wetzel declined to estimate how much it would cost to send him and other members of the defense team to Monrovia, Liberia, or whether the depositions would be videotaped.
Defense investigator Brian Breen, a retired Spokane police detective, made a court-authorized 16-day trip to Monrovia, Liberia, in late October to contact and interview various witnesses.
Now, based on Breen's fieldwork, Wetzel and defense attorneys Pete Schweda, Tim Trageser and Richard Wall say in court documents they want to depose Issac Roland, the former director general of Liberia's National Commission of Higher Education, and Ambassador Prince Porte, the former chargé d'affaires at the Liberian embassy in Washington, D.C.
Also on the list are Aaron B. Kollie, the former chief of mission at the Liberian Embassy in Washington, and Kabineh Ja'neh, associate justice with the Liberian Supreme Court.
Worthless university degrees "conferred" by criminal rings that help dupes and wrongdoers obtain fraudulent credentials have played a part in foreign terrorists' plots to skirt federal immigration and visa laws, say backers of a bill pending in Congress that would crack down on the practice. Earlier exposes of the wide extent of degree mill abuses committed by federal technologists, first reported in Government Computer News, led to the exposure of credential misrepresentation by one senior Homeland Security Department official, who lost the No. 2 job in the department's Chief Information Officer's Office, in addition to credential fakery by dozens of other government information technology employees.
That award-winning, yearlong series of stories prompted two federal investigations, a Senate hearing and changes in the government's methods of evaluating higher-education credentials. Attention now has been focused on the prosecution of a fake degree ring centered in Spokane, Wash.
Rep. Betty McCollum (D-Minn.) and eight other Democrats in the House have sponsored the Diploma Integrity Protection Act as the first federal legislation since the creation of the Internet to directly confront the problem of fraud related to diploma mills...
When prosecutors in three states won convictions against bogus medical practitioners who sought degrees from Kentucky-based Internet medical schools, there were no laws to target the diploma mills that handed out the fake credentials. The scenario was further complicated because some of the schools claimed to have foreign campuses.
Now there's a bill moving through Congress that would result in federal sanctions against diploma mills -- and the measure has picked up support from Kentucky Congressmen Hal Rogers and Ben Chandler.
In promoting the legislation, sponsor Rep. Betty McCollum, D-Minn., is citing the case of a Rhode Island man who received what prosecutors say were fake naturopathy and medical degrees from a Kentucky-based Internet school.
John Curran, who said he got the degrees through Stephen J. Arnett of Magoffin County, treated hundreds of patients before he was convicted of wire fraud and money laundering in connection with his practice. Two other men, one in Nevada and one in Kentucky, who said they got their medical educations through Arnett have been convicted of practicing medicine without a license...
A bill McCollum sponsored was recently folded into a larger higher education bill. It is expected to be voted on by the full House of Representatives in the next several weeks. The House Education and Labor Committee unanimously approved it Nov. 15.
If passed, the legislation would direct the Federal Trade Commission to target diploma mills that say they are legitimate schools. The legislation would also create a commission of higher education, law enforcement and legislative experts to promote federal-state cooperation in identifying diploma mills and facilitating enforcement and prosecution.
McCollum introduced the legislation because of problems with diploma mills in Washington state and concerns of federal officials that some clients of diploma mills might be entering the United States to conduct terrorist activities, said her press secretary Bryan Collinsworth.
She has reviewed the Kentucky cases and is using them to illustrate the problem, he said.
"We need to be able to trust that our doctors, engineers, scientists and public officials have earned their degrees legitimately," McCollum said. "The use of fake diplomas for criminal purposes -- to pose as a doctor and treat patients, or enter our country illegally to do us harm -- is an outrage that has to be stopped."
Chandler, who noted that Kentucky has had problems with degree scams, said the proposed legislation "is a good first step in combating this problem."
Rogers also mentioned the effect such degree mills have on the state.
"Cracking down on individuals who peddle bogus diplomas ensures the integrity of higher education," he said. "This kind of fraud undermines our region's strong community college system and their students who work very hard to obtain degrees. It should be recognized for what it is -- criminal activity that shortchanges everyone else who plays by the rules.."..
Their teenager was facing an excruciating death from cancer. His parents searched frantically for a way to ease his pain. David and Laura Flanagan of suburban Denver believed they found that, and more, in the office of Dr. Brian O'Connell. O'Connell assured the Flanagans he could not only relieve 18-year-old Sean's suffering from late-stage bone cancer, he could cure Sean as he had others.
O'Connell's treatment of choice: photo luminescence, a form of "energy medicine" using light waves. O'Connell would take a vial of blood from Sean's body, expose it to ultraviolet light from a device, then inject the treated blood back in a hydrogen-peroxide solution. Although the treatment was unconventional, the Flanagans took comfort in O'Connell's charisma and in his impressive credentials as a naturopathic doctor.
"The certification and accreditations were plastered all over his wall," David Flanagan said. "There wasn't a bare spot. Everything seemed legit."
Everything was not.
Two days after Sean's treatment by O'Connell began, the young man was rushed to the hospital with an infection caused by the injection. Six days after that, as O'Connell administered another round of treatment, Sean begged, "Please, God, no more." The next day, Dec. 19, 2003, Sean died — about six months sooner than his medical doctors had predicted...
But even in their sorrow, the Flanagans never suspected O'Connell was anything less than he claimed to be. It wasn't until months later — when they saw him on television, being led away in handcuffs — that they discovered they had been cruelly duped.
O'Connell, 35 at the time, had been arrested for practicing medicine without a license. After the Flanagans told law-enforcement officials Sean's story, criminally negligent homicide was added to the charges. O'Connell was convicted and sentenced to 13 years in prison.
But what of that wall of degrees and certificates in his office? It was a facade of legitimacy. O'Connell had no formal medical or government-accredited naturopathic training.
Rather, The Seattle Times has found, he and scores of other "energy medicine" practitioners are graduates of a multimillion-dollar industry that gives them deceptive credentials.
These people buy the appearance of legitimacy through an international network of unaccredited health-care schools and murky trade associations.
Many operators of "miracle machines" have used sham credentials to lure unsuspecting patients into expensive, dubious and sometimes-fatal treatments.
The Times found:
• At least 104 unaccredited schools dole out alternative-medicine degrees or certifications that are not recognized by the U.S. Department of Education. Most operate only through the Internet or by mail order. The largest alternative health-care school in the United States, Clayton College of Natural Health, is an unaccredited home-study program that claims it has issued more than 25,000 degrees.
• Some of the largest and seemingly independent health-care credentialing organizations are in fact controlled by one of two businessmen — one in Las Vegas, the other in Texas. Their organizations are mail-order factories that issue professional titles and hand out accreditations to more than 100 schools.
• Many buyers of energy devices receive credentials and certificates from manufacturers who operate or sponsor training programs. Device operators use these titles to market themselves as health-care practitioners.
Meanwhile, the alternative-medicine schools that are accredited by the federal government are dismayed by the explosion of untrained and uncertified operators...
One of the framed certificates on O'Connell's wall was from the American Naturopathic Medical Association (ANMA). Impressive-sounding, to be sure — but it comes from a Las Vegas post-office box. The businessman who founded the organization in 1981 has feuded for years with AANP and the mainstream, state-licensed naturopathic community.
Donald Hayhurst, 71, is the godfather of mail-order health-care credentials. He has issued thousands of credentials to practitioners, and he accredits some schools.
Hayhurst has doled out 4,000 ANMA memberships, at a cost of $350 apiece. Each year, its members attend a convention in Las Vegas that includes speakers, training and products. More than 1,000 people attended this year's convention at the Riviera Hotel & Casino, where vendors aggressively pitched dozens of energy devices, lasers and herbal concoctions...
Hayhurst's chief competitor is Donald A. Rosenthal, 56, who orchestrates a network of accreditation and credentialing organizations around the world. That network claims to include more than 4,000 members and nearly 100 health-care schools.
Rosenthal said he has degrees as both a medical and a naturopathic doctor. But he is not a licensed doctor in any state. His degrees were issued by schools that are not accredited by the Department of Education.
Rosenthal maintains a low profile from a small office in Galveston, Texas, the base of his parent organization, the American Association of Drugless Practitioners. After a bankruptcy in the 1990s, he lives in a $78,000 home near town.
Many energy-medicine operators nationally have certification from Rosenthal and describe themselves as "drugless practitioners." Rosenthal said the idea for this designation was developed in 1990 when he talked with chiropractors who sought a way to bolster their professional credentials.
Becoming a member of the association is as easy as faxing in a brief application with a photocopy of a driver's license and $260. In return, applicants are issued certificates that declare them a Board Certified Holistic Health Practitioner.
One man who took advantage of this ease of certification from Rosenthal was Ralph Mitchell, who parlayed his "drugless practitioner" title to draw patients into his Greenhouse Health & Wellness Center in Molalla, Ore. Mitchell, who called himself a naturopathic doctor, used unproven energy devices to treat seriously ill patients.
Among those devices were an ion footbath called Body Cleanse, which purports to extract toxins from the body, and a skin-response biofeedback device made by BioMeridian that Mitchell used to diagnose medical conditions, state records show.
The Oregon Attorney General's Office investigated Mitchell and found that the medical conditions of clients worsened under his care. In September, Mitchell agreed to pay $25,000 to the state and is now prohibited from practicing medicine.
For schools wanting accreditation from Rosenthal, the process is just as simple. They are required only to mail a copy of their curriculum, and a fee. Rosenthal does not visit the school or interview owners, instructors or students, he said.
Some of the schools accredited by Rosenthal include the Academy of BioEnergetics in Utah, the Energetix College of BioEnergetic Medicine in Georgia and the Florida Vedic College.
None of the institutions is accredited by the federal government.
For instance, the Holistic Healers Academy was opened in 2002 and operates from a post-office box in Convent Station, N.J. Home courses cost $160 each with subjects such as "advanced energy healing."
Co-founder Kristen Lauter doesn't rely on Rosenthal just for accrediting her academy. She is Certified Holistic Health Practitioner #76892201 — a credential issued by Rosenthal.
And her bachelor of science degree came from Clayton College of Natural Health of Birmingham, Ala., the nation's largest unaccredited alternative health-care school. Clayton boasts accreditation from both Rosenthal and Hayhurst.
Founded in 1980 by Lloyd Clayton Jr., the college offers home-study courses that range from $4,300 to $6,400, for degrees from natural science to holistic health.
Clayton officials said the college fulfills a mission to provide quality training to students who do not desire a traditional four-year education...
A talented young woman, 18 years old and already a successful filmmaker, actress and model, is diagnosed with terminal ovarian cancer. America's best medical centers say they can do nothing more to help. In despair, she turns to a doctor who says his treatments will make her well. On his office wall are diplomas from the "St. Luke School of Medicine." The doctor prescribes an odd vegetable drink and insists it will heal her, but only if no other food is eaten. This treatment, which the woman strictly follows, does nothing to relieve her pain. Instead, it condemns her to spend the last weeks of her life not only battling the final stages of cancer but starving herself to a weight of 80 pounds.
This is what John Curran did to Taylor Alves in 2002, with the assistance of a phony medical degree from the "St. Luke School of Medicine." For $3,500, this completely fraudulent "diploma mill" mailed Curran two official-looking degrees -- no training, no coursework and no questions asked. Curran then sold his services as a physician in Rhode Island...
Allen Ezell, who ran the FBI unit that used to prosecute diploma mills, estimates that scam schools in America now sell more degrees each year than are awarded by the entire 34-campus University of California and Cal State systems...
Diploma mills also pose a serious threat to national security.
A few years ago, a Syrian chemical weapons expert applied for three advanced degrees from "James Monroe University" -- along with a note saying that he wanted the degrees as soon as possible in order to acquire a skilled worker visa and remain in the United States.
Within weeks, the phony James Monroe University sent Mohamed Syed diplomas in chemistry and engineering. The only question asked was whether he would pay with Visa, MasterCard, or American Express.
Fortunately, Syed was not a terrorist, but a federal investigator posing as one. The elaborate diploma mill that provided these degrees, however, has sold thousands more to customers in the Middle East who could use them for illegal entry into the United States...
Taxpayers are picking up the tab for this fraud, with hundreds of millions of dollars in excess salary paid out each year to federal employees who have gained promotions through fake degrees they knowingly purchased or unwittingly accepted.
The problem of diploma mills is too large to be addressed by state and local law enforcement alone. Modern diploma mills are often multinational enterprises...
The Diploma Integrity Protection Act is the first federal legislation since the creation of the Internet to directly confront the problem of diploma mills and their fraud schemes. On Nov. 15, the House Education and Labor Committee unanimously approved a major higher education bill that included the language of this legislation.
If passed, this bill would empower the U.S. Departments of Education and Homeland Security to stop the use of fake degrees for purposes of federal employment and immigration, and direct the Federal Trade Commission to act against diploma mills that claim to have been recognized as legitimate universities. It would also assemble a commission of higher education, law enforcement and legislative experts to promote federal-state cooperation in the identification of diploma mills and enable efficient enforcement along with swift prosecution. The bill now goes to a vote in the full House...
Betty McCollum, D-Minn, is a member of the U.S. House of Representatives. George Gollin is a professor of physics at the University of Illinois and a member of the Board of Directors of the Council for Higher Education Accreditation.
Accused diploma mill operators Dixie and Steve Randock, of Colbert, told a federal judge they believed a hallway adjoining their leased Post Falls office suite was the designated private storage space for their companies. Their testimony came at the end of a protracted evidence suppression hearing where a team of defense attorneys asked U.S. District Court Judge Lonny Suko to suppress 20,000 pages of documents stored in 11 cardboard boxes seized from the hallway by federal task force officers on March 29, 2005.
Defense attorneys Phillip "Dutch" Wetzel, Peter Schweda, Tim Trageser and Richard Wall argued during the eight-day hearing that the evidence should be tossed out because government agents committed "misconduct" by leaving a handwritten note – a ruse – instead of a federal search warrant with employees Heidi Lorham and Roberta Lynn Markistum. The two worked in Suite 8B in the Post Falls Professional Building, 601 W. Seltice Way.
Three months into "Operation Gold Seal," the federal task force drew a bead on the Post Falls office suite, suspecting the companies registered there with the state of Idaho as "Kaching, Kaching Inc." and "When Pigs Fly Inc." were nothing more than fronts for an estimated 125 online universities selling phony degrees around the world.
The Randocks, the accused masterminds of the diploma mills, hastily moved their operation to Post Falls in August 2004 from an office at 14525 N. Newport Highway in Mead after a series of news stories about the operation were published in The Spokesman-Review, witnesses testified at the hearing that concluded Friday.
If the evidence from the Post Falls office hallway is suppressed by the judge, it would eliminate one significant building block in the yearlong federal investigation that ultimately led to indictments two years ago. The seizure of the cardboard boxes and other investigative work, including undercover purchases of college degrees and transcripts, led investigators to search several other locations in August 2005, including the Randocks' home in Colbert, their "Home Boys" office building in Mead and the Post Falls office.
In October 2005, the Randocks were among eight defendants indicted in U.S. District Court in Spokane on charges of conspiracy to commit wire and mail fraud. The Randocks also were indicted on a charge of conspiring to launder more than $1 million they collected from selling bogus degrees.
Suppression could lead defense attorneys to seek dismissal of criminal charges against the defendants.
Dixie and Steve Randock separately took the witness stand Thursday and Friday, as their attorneys argued that investigators were guilty of "government misconduct" by not leaving a copy of a search warrant with the occupants of Suite 8B. After taking the boxes, an agent left behind a handwritten note saying the boxes were taken to the county landfill by an "angry tenant."
That was merely a legal ruse used by investigators who didn't want the Randocks to know they were the subjects of an ongoing federal investigation, prosecution witnesses testified.
Investigators complied with federal search and seizure rules by delivering their search warrant to the building owner who, prosecution witnesses testified, had control over the publicly accessible hallway where the boxes were stored. At the conclusion of the hearing, the judge said the legal issues before the court deal with the search warrant, issued by an Idaho judge to seize the boxes, and the subsequent conduct of officers who made the seizure. He scheduled closing arguments for Jan. 10 in Yakima, but they could occur earlier if his other scheduled cases settle and there is an opening in his court docket.
Mark Schoesler, the Washington state senator who represents both Pullman and Cheney, has an understandable interest in protecting the integrity of academic diplomas granted by Washington State and Eastern Washington universities. Now his one-time legislative colleague, U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, has a chance to reinforce Schoesler's efforts at the federal level, where she's on the House committee that is considering a bill to curb bogus diploma mills.
Schoesler labored for two years in Olympia pushing a measure that finally became law in 2006. It makes it a crime to sell or use phony academic credentials, a practice that can lead to unjustifiable public expense, among other complications, and can even threaten homeland security.
The issue is particularly germane in Spokane, home to Saint Regis University, the operation of Dixie and Steve Randock, of Colbert. The Randocks are awaiting trial on federal charges that the diplomas they sold over the Internet defrauded consumers around the world. Four of their co-defendants already have pleaded guilty, one of them admitting he paid thousands of dollars to Liberian officials so their nation would accredit Saint Regis.
The case played an influential role in U.S. Rep. Betty McCollum's decision to sponsor the Diploma Integrity Protection Act. The Minnesota congresswoman and several fellow Democrats want to ban the sale and use of fraudulent college degrees used for federal purposes.
Job promotions – and the pay raises that accompany them – could be one such federal purpose. So could evaluation of visa applications by foreigners seeking admission to the United States. A college degree can improve an applicant's chances of being admitted, and Saudi Arabia, home to the 9/11 terrorists, is one country where many of the degrees sold by Saint Regis went, federal officials say.
According to McMorris Rodgers' chief of staff, Connie Partoyan, the Eastern Washington congresswoman backs the intent of McCollum's bill, but has some reservations she hopes to resolve in the bill itself. As a member of the House Education and Labor Committee, where the measure has been referred, McMorris Rodgers will have that chance.
We hope she pursues it diligently.
Taxpaying Americans shouldn't have to shoulder the cost of inflated salaries for public employees who buy their way up the salary ladder with purchased rather than earned degrees. Nor should they be put at risk because private-sector workers have sneaked into sensitive positions they weren't honestly prepared for. And none of us should have to face the consequences of hastening the arrival of prospective terrorists who are gaming our immigration system.
And, oh yes. Let's not overlook the fact that upright citizens who study hard and do the work that goes into a legitimate degree are entitled to the benefits of their accomplishments when they compete for their place in the economy
A federal task force that cracked a diploma mill based in Spokane set up a bogus Web site as part of the investigation, according to new court testimony. That testimony came from Secret Service Agent John Neirinckx at a U.S. District Court hearing in Spokane, where defense attorneys are asking Judge Lonnie Suko to suppress evidence taken from a basement hallway in a Post Falls office building in March 2005.
The evidence suppression hearing began in mid-October and was suspended until Tuesday because of witness-scheduling issues. It is expected to continue through Thursday.
The judge will then decide if task force agents overstepped their legal authority when they took cardboard boxes containing 20,000 pages of business records with a search warrant issued by another federal judge.
Defense attorneys representing Dixie and Steve Randock and two of their employees contend task force agents committed "government misconduct" when they failed to leave a copy of the search warrant used to obtain the boxes with the Randocks, who had leased Suite 8B in the Post Office Professional Building. The boxes were in a hallway outside the suite.
Federal investigators say the boxes were left unattended in a publicly accessible portion of a basement hallway that was under the control of building owner Ray Guerra, who was given a copy of the search warrant.
When the Randocks discovered the boxes were missing, they reported a "theft" to the Post Falls Police Department and filed a $200,000 damage claim with their insurance company, according to testimony.
When a Post Falls police detective went to question the Randocks about their reported theft, he was joined by a plainclothes Spokane police detective who was assigned to the task force. Surveillance photos of that meeting were introduced at the evidence suppression hearing.
The undercover operations being carried out as part of "Operation Gold Seal," the federal agent testified, included purchases of bogus college degrees and transcripts by another U.S. Secret Service agent.
The degree purchases and online transactions involved the use of an undercover Web site, known as "RADTU" [Randolph Addison Davis Technical University], set up by the U.S. Secret Service, Neirinckx testified.
The investigation centered on the manufacturing and sale of fraudulent college degrees to consumers worldwide over the Internet, using various entities, including Saint Regis University, James Monroe University, Robertstown University, Trinity Christian School and others.
The operators of the diploma mills also branched out, selling "accreditation" and "transcript verification" to other bogus online diploma mills, according to documents filed in the case.
More than 6,000 bogus degrees were sold, raking in an estimated $5 million, according to court documents.
The investigation ultimately led investigators to the basement Suite 8B in the Post Falls Professional Building, the lead investigator testified. Records on file with the Idaho Secretary of State showed the businesses in that office were using the names "Kaching Kaching Inc." and "When Pigs Fly Inc.," Neirinckx testified.
After taking 11 boxes on March 29, 2005, the agent testified he left the search warrant with the building owner and taped a handwritten note to the hallway that said: "Whoever left their boxes of stuff in this hallway can look for it at the county landfill."
Neirinckx said he authored the note as a ruse because he didn't want to tip off the occupants of Suite 8B to the federal investigation and continuing undercover operations.
Information obtained from the boxes taken in March 2005 led investigators to serve a series of other search warrants in August of that year.
In October 2005, the Randocks and six others were indicted on federal charges of conspiracy to commit wire and mail fraud. Four defendants have pleaded guilty and agreed to testify against the Randocks, Heidi Kae Lorhan and Roberta Markishtum. Their trial is scheduled for next June.
Federal legislation inching its way through Congress would outlaw "diploma mills" like those at the center of a criminal case being prosecuted in Spokane. Eight members of Congress are co-sponsoring the proposed "Diploma Integrity Protection Act," introduced earlier this year by Rep. Betty McCollum, D-Minn.
The legislation would "reduce and prevent the sale and use of fraudulent degrees in order to protect the integrity of valid higher education degrees that are used for federal purposes."
Even though the impetus for the proposed legislation was the worldwide diploma mill operation uncovered in Spokane, the region's congresswoman has declined to be a co-sponsor.
Republican Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers has "reservations about the legislation" currently supported only by House Democrats, according to her chief of staff, Connie Partoyan. "We are very supportive of the spirit and intent of the bill," Partoyan said Friday.
However, McMorris Rodgers thinks the proposal contains some "duplication" of oversight provided by existing laws and government agencies. "We are working to make the bill better," Partoyan said.
The Eastern Washington congresswoman, meanwhile, "is pleased that in Spokane they are taking this issue seriously and prosecuting, at the federal level, those who run diploma mills," Partoyan said.
Possibly as early as this week, the bill – or at least significant portions of it – is expected to be attached to higher education reauthorization funding that's before the House Education and Labor Committee. As a member of that House committee, McMorris Rodgers will get to vote on the legislation.
She has been urged to support McCollum's legislation by the Rev. Robert Spitzer, president of Gonzaga University.
Spitzer's support comes in part because Gonzaga's sister Jesuit school, Regis University in Denver, was caught in the confusion created by "Saint Regis University," one of 125 bogus online universities and high schools created by the Spokane-based operation.
"The impact on Regis University by this 'Saint Regis' pseudo-university, coming out of this diploma mill here in Spokane, had been significant," said Dale Goodwin, public information officer for Gonzaga.
"Father Spitzer was more than happy to urge Rep. McMorris Rodgers to go ahead and co-sponsor this bill," Goodwin said. The Gonzaga president "supports any tightening of the rules on these diploma mills."
Regis University in Denver also strongly supports the proposed federal legislation, said spokeswoman Kristen Blessman.
Regis president, the Rev. Michael J. Sheeran, S.J., said the university's "name and good reputation were significantly damaged by the efforts of a diploma mill known as Saint Regis University."
"Although government authorities were sympathetic, there was minimal legal protection for (our) university," Sheeran said last week. "It's important that these same authorities be better armed in the future with laws that protect legitimate institutions of higher education, employers and future students from fraud."
McCollum, a co-sponsor, said she was "incensed" by news reports about the phony college degrees being sold around the world by the Spokane-based diploma mill operators.
"I care about quality higher education, and it was shocking to learn about the prevalence of fake degrees and the dangers they pose," she said. "My legislation ensures that we will be able to trust the credentials of our doctors, engineers, government employees and skilled immigrant workers."
McCollum said last week she hopes the language of her bill will be integrated into the Higher Education Act by committee chair Rep. George Miller, D-Calif.
U.S. Attorney Jim McDevitt, the chief federal law enforcement official in Eastern Washington, said Justice Department policy prevents him from commenting on proposed new laws "but we're always looking for new and better law enforcement tools, especially ones that clarify certain areas of the law."
He oversaw the work of a multi-agency state and federal task force that spent nine months investigating the Spokane diploma mill, first publicly detailed in a story published in November 2003 in The Spokesman-Review.
Investigators discovered that many of the people who bought the bogus credentials – from bachelor's to doctoral degrees – were foreign nationals. They used the degrees to get H-1B visas and improve their chances to immigrate to the United States.
The revelation that potential terrorists could use bogus degrees to enter the United States caused homeland security concerns that reached the highest levels of government.
In October 2005, for the first time in the U.S., a federal grand jury returned a multicount indictment against eight people for the operation of an Internet-based diploma mill that defrauded "consumers worldwide."
Those indicted included former Spokane Realtor Dixie Randock, her husband, Steven Randock, and her associates who operated out of offices in Hillyard, Mead and Post Falls.
The Spokane-based operation raked in an estimated $4.7 million in sales of fraudulent college degrees, court documents say.
Four defendants have pleaded guilty, but Randock and her husband await trial next year on the charges, also including money laundering.
U.S. Reps. George Miller (D-CA) and Rubén Hinojosa (D-TX) introduced legislation today to address the soaring price of college and remove other obstacles that make it harder for qualified students to go to college. The College Opportunity and Affordability Act of 2007 would reform and strengthen the nation's higher education programs to ensure that they operate in the best interests of students and families...A link to the entire bill (747 pages) is here. Note that the bill includes a 15-page portion titled "Part H Diploma Mill Prevention" beginning on page 579. I have archived a copy of Part H here. The text includes much of Congresswoman Betty McCollum's House Resolution 773, The Diploma Integrity Protection Act of 2007.
Diploma mills in the Philippines have been placed in a spotlight recently after 13 officers from the South Korean army were sacked and prosecuted for faking Filipino university degrees. An Agence France Presse report said military prosecutors have indicted the 13 lieutenant-level officers for getting fake degrees in Manila. A defense ministry spokesman said eight people waiting to be commissioned as officers were also found to have forged degrees from the same university.
"Their commissions have been canceled. They have been ordered to complete obligatory military service as enlisted soldiers," the spokesman said.
South Korea recruits hundreds of college graduates as officers each year in addition to military academy graduates.
Yonhap news agency said investigators flew to the Philippines on a tip-off in August that the officers had stayed in the country to secure forged college degrees through a broker.
The scandal erupted in early July when government prosecutors investigated Dongkuk University professor Shin Jeong-Ah for fabricating a Yale doctorate.
Shin, 35, was arrested last month with her alleged lover Byeon Yang-Kyoon, a former top policymaker. He was charged with influence-peddling by allegedly abusing his position to help Shin further her career.
President Roh Moo-Hyon dismissed Byeon and expressed embarrassment over the scandal, which prompted a probe into the academic backgrounds of thousands of professors and civil servants.
In recent months dozens of celebrities from the cultural, entertainment and religious worlds have either confessed to faking their academic records or were found out.
Education experts say the tendency to emphasise paper qualifications rather than ability, combined with loose verification systems, tempts some Koreans to forge academic backgrounds.
When we pay the high cost of college tuition, we assume those in front of the class are well qualified and highly educated. But are they?
CBS 42 News found a number of college professors who hold PhD's from schools that the state of Texas describes as substandard.
On Thursday night CBS 42 investigative reporter Nanci Wilson looked at higher education and professors -- who some say -- took a short cut to a PhD.
Michael Ringer is a credential verifier. He makes sure college degrees are legitimate. Some aren't.
"There have been doctors that aren't legitimate, therapists and a few cases of engineers that are approving bridges that have no right to be approving bridges," Ringer said.
The Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board posts a list of institutions whose degrees are illegal to use in Texas.
We found a number of professors with degrees from schools on the list.
One of Baylor University's top educators -- Anne Grinols -- earned her PhD in Business Administration at Kennedy Western University -- a school the state of Texas doesn't recognize.
She is Baylor's Assistant Dean for Faculty Development and College Initiatives.
Karen Pickard is the Assistant Professor for Emergency Medicine at UT Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas. Her Masters in Healthcare Administration came from Kennedy Western, too.
According to her email response -- she didn't know the school isn't recognized.
But the U.S. Congress knows.
In 2004 it held hearings about federal money being spent on degrees from diploma mills. A former admissions counselor for Kennedy Western University testified.
"I soon discovered this was like no other school I had ever seen," said Andrew Coulombe, the former Kennedy Western Admission counselor. "I saw immediately that I had been misled by Kennedy Westerns' recruiter. I was not going to be counseling anyone. I had been hired to be a telemarketer, using a script to sell Kennedy Western just like any other product."
Coulombe said he called about 500 potential students per week.
"We were also instructed to tell applicants that at Kennedy Western, they would be taking the same classes that students took at real schools, like Harvard or Princeton," Coulombe said. "I went to a real school. Kennedy Western is not a real school."
He told lawmakers -- credit was given for little work.
"Based on my observations during the time I worked at Kennedy Western, I can tell you that there is no value to a Kennedy Western education," he said. "Anything you learn there can be learned by buying a book and reading it on your own."
Lawmakers heard about another school -- California Coast University. That's where Deanna Sutton got her Masters and PhD. She's now an Assistant Professor at UT Health Science Center in San Antonio.
California Coast is on the state's list of institutions whose degrees are illegal to use in Texas.
"It is a misdemeanor and they can be charged," says State Representative Fred Brown.
Brown sponsored the legislation.
"I thought we were just sending the wrong signal to our students in our university system that they are out there working as hard as they could to get their degree and then we have people going online to get their degrees and getting fat increases in their salaries because of it," Brown said.
It didn't take long to find -- that anyone with a computer and printer -- can get a quickie degree.
It only took me about three minutes, and I've got four PhDs. One in Anthropology -- Neurology -- Mechanical Engineering and Nursing.
The problem, of course -- these degrees aren't worth the paper they are printed on.
Not all non-accredited schools make it this easy. Some do require students do some kind of work. But the director of standards for the state's Higher Education Board says the level of work required doesn't meet the state's educational standard. Still, some students insist they earned and deserve an advanced degree.
"It's unfortunate that people who do that, actually let themselves believe it's a legitimate credential," said David Couch with the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board.
And some work hard at convincing others it's no big deal.
"It is a big deal," says Brown. "I mean, it's the whole deal! Because they are sitting there teaching our students every day, bringing them up, giving them an education, but they are saying it's right to break the law?"
Brown says authorities need to act.
"Really, what needs to happen is we need to have a number of people charged with a misdemeanor," Brown said.
So if you are using a degree from a school the state doesn't recognize, beware.
"That they are going to get caught. Somebody is going to come get them," Brown said. "They need to get ready. Either that or they need to pull that diploma down, because it's wrong in every aspect."
The penalty -- if convicted -- for using a degree from a non-accredited institution in Texas -- is a $2,000 fine and up to six months in jail.
When Florida's top juvenile justice official, Walt McNeil, pursued a master's degree, he said he wanted to combine his two passions of religious faith and criminology. But even though he lived in a state capital with two major universities, he chose an obscure correspondence school in rural Louisiana, a decision that has brought criticism from academic experts.
McNeil, Gov. Charlie Crist's well-respected choice to restore trust in the juvenile justice system, received a master's degree in criminal justice from St. John's University. It's not connected with the better known school in New York City and is not accredited by any agencies recognized by either the U.S. Department of Education or Council for Higher Education Accreditation.
During McNeil's term of study in 2001, St. John's, which claims to be widely known for its antiterrorism curriculum, ran its operations from a converted house near the town of Springfield, La. (pop. 400). Until 2001, the school was listed in Louisiana corporate records as the St. John's University of Practical Theology. The school relocated to a house in Nashville in 2005.
McNeil's degree links one of the Florida's top law enforcement officials to a long-festering national problem: the proliferation of degrees from institutions that are widely considered to be questionable. Experts estimate there are thousands of such institutions - and hundreds of thousands of people who have used them to cut corners, pad resumes and, in the view of critics, perpetrate academic fraud...
McNeil is "putting himself on the same standard as other people with legitimate master's (degrees). It's not morally acceptable," said Allen Ezell, a former FBI agent who has written books on the issue and now investigates corporate fraud as a Wachovia vice president in Tampa. "He's a cop. He's a law enforcement officer. He's supposed to lead by example.."..
McNeil brought a solid record as police chief. "Very disciplined, very honest, very straightforward," said his predecessor, retired Tallahassee police Chief Mel Tucker.
But his appointment also opened the door to a murky, alternate universe in higher education.
In an initial interview last week, McNeil said he could not remember any courses he took at St. John's or the names of any professors or how much tuition he paid. He also was not sure whether he wrote a master's thesis. "I think I did," he said.
Friday, McNeil said he was not required to write a master's thesis. He said it took him from 18 months to two years to complete the work and that his duties included teaching online courses to undergraduates.
His transcript shows McNeil took three classes, for which he was awarded 10 credits, and received nine credits for teaching undergraduates. He received 19 more credits for past work, which he says included six credits for professional experience and 13 credits for previous graduate study at the University of Virginia.
McNeil holds an associate degree in law enforcement from Jones Junior College in Mississippi and a bachelor's degree in criminal justice from the University of Southern Mississippi. He also took courses in 1996 toward a master's degree in business administration at Nova Southeastern University.
A police chief who McNeil said encouraged him to attend St. John's, John Packett of Grand Forks, N.D., has a doctorate in criminal justice from the school but said he does not list it on his resume.
"It's just not an appropriate academic credential," said Packett, a former St. John's instructor. He said that while St. John's students did legitimate coursework, he viewed it as continuing education or in-service training.
St. John's "was not a diploma mill, but at the same time it wasn't accredited," Packett said.
Packett recalled that McNeil was a "top-notch" student in his community relations course, where assignments included reading assigned text and answering discussion questions.
An Internet search for St. John's yields little up-to-date information. But an old St. John's Web site from 1999 shows an array of degree offerings - from mainstream subjects like criminal justice and psychology to alternative areas such as parapsychology and hypnotherapy. The site says St. John's "was the first fully accredited University in the United States to offer Associate, Bachelor, Master and Doctoral Degrees totally through external studies."
Beneath links to programs and student information, another link says, "Important Announcement: How You Can Be Free From The Smoking Habit Now!!"
Pamela Winkler, the retired president of St. John's and widow of its founder, said the school has "private accreditation." A 1998-1999 St. John's catalog says the university was accredited by the Beebe, Ark., Accrediting Commission International.
"It's basically a guy in some church," said Alan Contreras, who heads Oregon's Office of Degree Authorization, which closely tracks schools with questionable accreditation. "Anything accredited by ACI in Beebe, Ark., is either fake or substandard, as far as I know.."..
The government of Liberian has insisted that it will not weaver in its quest to close down all bogus universities operating in the country. Education Minister Dr. Joseph Z.B. Korto made the declaration Friday when he hosted a press conference to reemphasize government's stance on the issue.
Dr. Korto said while it is true that government will not relent on its decision, it would also be cautions because, according to him, most ex-combatant students undergoing rehabilitation and reintegration programs are enrolled at these unfit institutions.
He said such care was necessary so as not to create instability and trouble. He said affected students attending these institutions could turn disgruntle and go on the rampage as a result of closure of these institutions they attend.
Dr. Korto said the existence of these substandard tertiary institutions is an age old problem that should have been halted by previous administration, but this government, he vowed, will not hesitate to curtail the situation.
What is even more disappointing, the Minister indicated, is that owners of these bogus universities got official permits and clearances from past legislature before they proceeded to the Education Ministry and the National Commission on Higher Education for final clearances to operate.
Dr. Korto said the Ministry is currently working on criteria for the establishment and accreditation of standard universities or higher institutions of learning in the country.
He said government was supportive of extension of universities to all parts of the country to absorb the growing number young Liberians wishing to seek college educations. This, he however pointed out, does not mean that government would support the existence of bogus universities.
He said when the new guideline is developed, higher institutions of learning that do not meet it will be asked to do so or shut down.
Meanwhile Dr. Korto has left the country to participate in this year's general meeting of UNESCO in Paris, France. He is expected the address the gathering and hold top-level discussions with UNESCO secretary general on education in Liberia.
Four Spokane-area residents accused of operating a fraudulent world-wide diploma mill are attempting to have evidence gathered against them suppressed in U.S. District Court. Attorneys for Dixie and Steve Randock, of Colbert, and Heidi Kae Lorhan and Roberta Lynn Markishtum, both of Spokane, are asking Judge Lonnie Suko to suppress evidence or dismiss federal criminal charges they face because of what they contend is police misconduct.See also Diploma mill suppression hearing continues, Bill Morlin, Spokane Spokesman-Review, October 17, 2007.
All were indicted by a grand jury in October 2005 on charges of conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud. Additionally, the Randocks were indicted on money-laundering charges...
The defendants are accused of operating as many as 125 Internet-based diploma mills – selling worthless college and university degrees, and even high school diplomas – to more than 6,000 purchasers, including firefighters, military personnel and government officials who, in some instances, used the bogus degrees for promotions.
A lengthy task force investigation, headed by the U.S. Secret Service, revealed that at least half the phony college degrees from the online universities operated by the Randocks were sold to foreign nationals.
Foreigners – including potential terrorist suspects – who purchased the bogus degrees for a few thousand dollars each were given preference in getting "H1-B" visas, using their educational backgrounds as reasons for legitimate entry into the United States, investigators said.
The operators of the diploma-mill operation, court documents allege, claimed their various universities were accredited by the Board of Education in Liberia.
One of four other defendants who have pleaded guilty in the case admitted he got money from the Randocks to make a series of cash bribes to pay three top-ranking Liberian diplomats in exchange for the so-called accreditation.
At the suppression hearing, defense attorneys argued that evidence gathered against the Randocks should be suppressed "due to outrageous government misconduct," violating the defendants' Fourth Amendment rights, protecting the right of privacy.
The conduct at issue involves the seizure of several cardboard boxes of documents related to the online diploma mills. The boxes were left in the basement hallway of a Post Falls office building where the Randocks had leased a small office for part of their online operation.
Agents who seized the boxes left their search warrant with the building owner and a note in the hallway saying "whoever left the boxes ... can look for (them) at the county landfill."
In the government's response, Assistant U.S. Attorney George Jacobs said the defendants "are asking the court to adopt a theory of the Fourth Amendment akin to J.K. Rowling's Invisible Cloak – to create at will a shield impenetrable to law enforcement view even in the most-public places."
"The defendants do not have an expectation of privacy in a hallway in a commercial office building that society would accept as reasonable," Jacobs said in opposing the motion to suppress the evidence.
As the three-day suppression hearing began Monday, the federal prosecutor told the court that he expected to call more than two dozen witnesses.
The first three witnesses, including other building tenants and a maintenance man, said the hallway where the boxes were left was behind a door that couldn't be locked, just outside a locked storage vault used by other occupants.
Kevin Kimpton, a certified public accountant who leased an office in the professional building, testified that the area where the boxes were left was accessible to the public and frequently was "used to store junk," including paint cans...
The "targets" of a diploma mill investigation reported a $200,000 theft of business records in 2005, two months after 11 boxes of documents in cardboard boxes were seized with a search warrant in a Post Falls office building by a federal task force operation dubbed "Operation Gold Seal." Bryan Tafoya, a Spokane Police detective assigned to the task force, joined Post Falls Police detective Dave Beck when they went to the Post Falls Professional Building on Seltice Way on May 31, 2005, to investigate the reported theft.
Under questioning by defense attorneys today at an evidence suppression hearing in U.S. District Court, the Spokane Police detective conceded his primary reason for going to the business office and interviewing Steve and Dixie Randock and their employee Roberta Markishtum was to gather information for the federal diploma mill investigation.
Defense attorneys are attempting to have the evidence found in the boxes suppressed or the charges against the Randocks, Markishtum and Heidi Lorham dismissed because of what the defense contends is "outrageous police conduct."
The hearing is expected to conclude this afternoon or Thursday before Judge Lonnie Suko issues a ruling.
The defense attorneys argued that the Spokane Police detective, while really a member of the federal task force, used a ruse to trick the Randocks into believing he was a Post Falls Police officer, investigating their theft report.
Tafoya testified the task force was interested in learning if the Randocks were attempting to file a fraudulent insurance claim by reporting to police that the boxes of records were worth $200,000.
The defense also argues the task force left a copy of a search warrant served in March 2005 with the building owner and not with the Randocks and their employees who leased basement Suite 8B adjoining the hallway where the boxes were stacked and accessible to anyone.
Under questioning by defense attorney Peter Schweda, Tafoya testified that the boxes contained credit card numbers, Social Security numbers and other personal data from people who made online purchases of college degrees from various Internet schools operated by the Randocks.
Tafoya testified he was prepared to tell anyone who asked that he was a Spokane Police detective, assigned to "Operation Gold Seal," but no one did.
The Spokane Police detective testified that the Randocks were extremely vague and evasive when he asked them about the nature of the businesses they operated out of the Post Falls office building. Tafoya testified he was federally deputized in September 2005 when his continued work with the task force required him to accompany Secret Service agents out of town...
HIGHER learning institutions in the country are facing critical shortages of lecturers, undermining the production of competent graduates, it has been revealed. Various University Dons, who met in Dar es Salaam during the Inauguration of the Committee of Vice Chancellors, Principals and Provosts in Tanzania, said that the situation was even worse in private universities since most of them do not have capacity to hire qualified lecturers.
They noted that the situation was the same in the newly established universities, including public ones.
"We have not established exact figure of required lecturers but the situation is evidently pathetic. We foresee a serious problem in this area ," said the Executive Secretary of Tanzania Commission for Universities (TCU), Prof Mayunga Nkunya.
Prof Nkunya said that a university must, at least, have a permanent lecturer for each of the core course something he said was not the case with most of the private and newly established universities in the country...
Prof Msolla also reiterated the government's commitment to deal with unaccredited universities offering fake degrees, saying that his office was in the process to prepare a bill that would give TCU legal mandate to verify degrees and PhDs obtained abroad.
The TCU Executive Secretary said most of fake degrees came from United States of America and India universities, calling on parents and student to verify the status of universities they intend to join before enrolling.
Six people have been arrested since June and accused of submitting fake degrees in applications for jobs with the New York Fire Department, the authorities said yesterday. According to the city's Department of Investigation, the Fire Department's candidate investigation division became suspicious of diplomas held by three men and three women who applied for jobs as firefighters, emergency medical technicians and a clerical associate. An investigation revealed that four of the candidates had submitted fake high school diplomas or equivalency certificates, and two had submitted degrees from Belford University, an online diploma mill, according to the Department of Investigation.
An investigator went to the Web site of Belford University and obtained a bachelor's degree with highest honors in aerospace engineering for $509.15, the department said. After failing an "entry exam," the investigator was urged by the Web site to take it again, and was sent the answers. The investigator had entered his age as 12 and had written, "I luv planes and rockets," the authorities said.
One applicant was arrested in June, three in September and two on Thursday. A report released in January found that 14 members of the Fire Department had submitted fake degrees to be promoted or hired. The Fire Department said it rejected all but three of the fake diplomas and later fined all 14.
Charges in the latest inquiry include felonies of falsifying business records.
Sixteen Sacramento city firefighters together pocketed $50,000 in extra pay after using bachelor's degrees purchased from online diploma mills to obtain raises, a Bee investigation has found. Fire officials became suspicious only after a dozen more firefighters applied for the 5 percent education incentive raises using the mills' diplomas, said Deputy Fire Chief Leo Baustian. Eight of the 28 total were captains.
Yet the firefighters already paid raises between April 2005 and April 2006 were allowed to keep the extra money and no firefighter was disciplined, according to Fire Department documents, city payroll records and other documents obtained under the California Public Records Act.
By contrast, similar conduct in other cities has led to fines, discipline and more. New York City was among the most aggressive, publicly lambasting 14 firefighters following a law enforcement investigation into their behavior and last month collectively fining them $135,000.
Baustian defended the Sacramento Fire Department's handling of its cases, pointing out that officials rescinded the raises once they learned of the problems and that the clerk who processed the raises retired. Efforts to recover the money were opposed by the firefighters union, he said, and disciplinary action also was ruled out.
"We felt the burden of proof in a discipline case would be on the city to prove there was intent (by firefighters) to deceive and that was going to be a difficult matter," Baustian said.
However, New York's Department of Investigation commissioner, Rose Gill Hearn, who oversaw the probe there, said such schemes need to be publicly denounced, and people punished, as a deterrent.
"How is (Sacramento's) approach fair to other Fire Department members who went out and really did the work, went to the courses so they could get the degree to get to the next level?" Hearn asked.
Retired FBI agent Allen Ezell, a co-author of "Degree Mills: The Billion-Dollar Industry That Has Sold Over a Million Fake Diplomas," also criticized the Fire Department's response to what he called fraud.
"Taxpayers' money is knowingly allowed to be kept by people who presented phony degrees to get raises?" he asked. "Is this the example the Fire Department wants to set in the community?."..
The Bee investigation found that the use of diploma mills to gain raises has spread to at least one other fire department in the Sacramento area, but that agency appears to have taken a tougher stance than the city department.
The Sacramento Metropolitan Fire District, which provides fire protection to unincorporated Sacramento County, confirmed that it is investigating a dozen employees after seven firefighters submitted degrees from two online universities to get 10.5 percent raises.
"People have been disciplined and there's still more to be punished," said general counsel Richard Margarita.
Though the fire district declined to release documents about the matter, citing the ongoing investigation, Margarita said the firefighters have been ordered to repay the extra money they earned, plus interest. Other discipline, he said, has ranged from written warnings to reduction of vacation time.
Firefighters not questioned
Alarm bells went off in the Sacramento Fire Department after officials realized that 19 of the 28 firefighters applying for or already receiving the education raises had used bachelor's degrees from Madison University, which awards degrees "without the normal course work and study required with higher education," internal city documents show. The remaining degrees came from Almeda and Rochville universities.
Education officials in several states and Ezell, who has investigated the diploma mill phenomenon for more than a decade, have identified all three universities as diploma mills that issue degrees for cash with little or no course work or classroom study or work.
For example, the Rochville Web site promises a buyer a bachelor's degree "on the basis of what you already know"; Madison's site offers credit "for prior experience"; and Almeda's states it grants degrees based on "life experiences."
Texas education officials include the three on that state's list of institutions that grant fraudulent or substandard degrees. Texas is one of the few states to aggressively investigate and prosecute diploma mills. There, it is a misdemeanor to use those diplomas to get a job, a state license or a raise. No such law exists in California.
Baustian said his department didn't question any of the firefighters directly about what they did or why, instead communicating with their union leader, David Charron -- a city firefighter and vice president of the Sacramento Area Firefighters, Local 522...
"There was confusion about the meaning of accreditation; the (union contract) language was not clear," Vina said. "We took a proactive stance and nobody intimidated us. We stopped the raises, we cleaned up the language, and the problem has been fixed."
Fargo declined requests to discuss whether she was satisfied with the way the matter was handled.
Applications surged in '06. How the Sacramento Fire Department managed its diploma mill problems, behind closed doors and with zero publicity, stands in sharp contrast to responses of other agencies in the past year:
The education benefit has been available since 1987 in the Sacramento Fire Department, but it was not until spring 2005 that the firefighters in question began submitting degrees from diploma mills to get the extra pay, documents show. In spring 2006, applications surged.
- Fourteen New York City firefighters were publicly named in a New York City Department of Investigation report n January that described their conduct as "dubious at best and in some cases simply dishonest." The 27-page report said that the men had submitted bogus degrees from four diploma mills to secure promotions. Two weeks ago, the Fire Department fined the firefighters a total of $135,000. In announcing the fines, Hearn, the commissioner, said the misconduct undercut the diligence, honesty and hard work of firefighters who had legitimately earned degrees.
- Two Naples, Fla., police officers were fired in 2006 for submitting Almeda University degrees to get raises of $80 a month. Though the Naples city manager later overturned their firings, the officers were suspended for 10 days without pay and ordered to return the money and take an ethics course. Naples also hired an independent consultant to help it tighten the Police Department's education credential verification.
- Sgt. Jack Burright of the Benton County (Ore.) Sheriff's Department withdrew as a candidate for sheriff in July 2006 after the Corvallis Gazette-Times raised questions about his education background, including why he had used a degree purchased from diploma mill Farington University to try to get a promotion. Burright was fired by the department for that and other alleged misrepresentations about his credentials but has sued for wrongful termination.
On April 15, 2006, the city canceled the 16 raises it had granted and denied raises to 12 other applicants.
Fire and city officials initially took steps to recover the money, proposing a lump sum repayment or a series of payroll deductions, city documents show. That's when lawyers stepped in from the firm representing the union, Mastagni, Holstedt, Amick, Miller, Johnsen and Uhrhammer. Union Vice President Charron filed a grievance in May 2006 to oppose the efforts to cancel the raises and recover the $50,000 paid out in salary increases, documents show.
Neither lawyers at the firm nor Charron responded to telephone messages and letters requesting interviews.
'Good intentions' claimed The highest-ranking firefighter who received a raise for his unaccredited degree was Marc Bentovoja, a captain and acting battalion chief. Payroll records and internal city e-mails show Bentovoja was told last January that he had wrongly received $4,216.87 in education incentive pay for his diploma from Madison University.
Reached by telephone, Bentovoja, of El Dorado Hills, declined to answer questions. Last week, however, he issued a written statement through Fire Department spokesman Jim Doucette.
In it, he said he had heard good things about Madison and "sent them my resume which included my college transcripts, my Associate of Arts Degree, and my life and work experience history. I paid my tuition, which was over $2000.00, and purchased my books. It took me about 7 months to complete the courses, which included tests and written assignments."
"I obtained this degree only under good intentions," he added. "At no time was I aware that there were different 'accreditation organizations.' "
Doucette said he did not know what work or classroom study Bentovoja did to get his bachelor's degree in fire science. Specifying that it was his personal opinion and not the department's, Doucette added:
"These guys didn't all try to screw the city over. There's no doubt some did, but not all."
Madison was by far the most commonly used diploma mill, the choice of nine others who received raises: Capts. Richard Hudson, Robert Johnson and Rick Vasquez; apparatus operators Stephen Campbell, Sean Dail and Michael Smith; and firefighters Travis Decampos, Sean Filben and Jason Meyer.
Using Rochville University were Capt. Bryon Mefford, firefighter Craig Wexler and apparatus operator Don Morelan. Almeda University was chosen by apparatus operator Robert Arbaugh and firefighters Dawn Ogden and Jeffrey Shilin.
The men did not respond to requests for comment made through Doucette and their union.
However, Shilin, a bodybuilder once featured as a bare-chested Mr. August in a firefighter charity calendar, did respond when Leo Baustian informed him in an April 10, 2006, e-mail that his raise was canceled and an investigation would begin into his "overpayment" of $3,586. He fired back a bitter reply.
"Sure would be nice leo if you, the administration and the city would stop trying to take from firefighters and try giving once in a while, gee what a concept!" Shilin wrote in the e-mail, obtained through the state Public Records Act.
City settled with union In February, the union grievance was rejected by Edward J. Takach, a city labor relations officer.
"Local 522 provided no documentation to support that these degrees at issue here were obtained through normal course work and study," Takach wrote. "To allow the incentive to be paid for these degrees would open the door to other degrees which can be obtained just by submitting a check."
In his grievance, Charron claimed that the degrees had come from universities accredited by the World Association of Universities and Colleges. That met terms of the union's contract with the city, he maintained, which does not specify which accreditations are acceptable.
Takach responded in his ruling that WAUC is not a proper accreditation agency and is not recognized as one in the higher education world.
"No request has come from the union to expand the standard to online degree programs from diploma mills," he wrote. "The union interpretation would lead to a nonsensical result."
Despite Takach's ruling, the union took its dispute to binding arbitration on Feb. 9. That move, Baustian said, left fire officials worried they could end up worse off if they continued efforts to recover the $50,000.
"We feared if we lost the arbitration, it would open the door to people coming in and using more of these diplomas," he said.
The city settled the dispute with the union on July 23. The deal was simple: The union withdrew its grievance while the city dropped plans to recover the $50,000 in incentive pay and agreed not to punish those who submitted the degrees.
Two of Fort Bend County's top elected officials this week have opted to stop referring to themselves as doctoral recipients, having been informed they may have broken Texas law. In 2004, County Judge Bob Hebert took credit for earning a Ph.D. from California Coast University, while County Clerk Dianne Wilson began referring to herself as "Dr. Wilson," based on a title she earned through Kennedy Western University, now known as Warren National University.
It turns out since at least 2005, however, it is a crime in Texas to promote degrees from either school. The Texas Legislature that year passed a law which let the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board created a list of schools, "whose degrees are illegal to use in Texas." Both California Coast and Warren National were included on the list.
The law made it a Class B misdemeanor to use "substandard degrees" to apply for jobs in Texas.
Wilson, who has been particularly insistent on calling herself a doctor, this week changed her standard telephone greeting, which for years thanked individuals for "calling the office of Dr. Dianne Wilson, Fort Bend County Clerk."
"I took an oath of office that I would uphold the laws of the state and country, and that's now a law in Texas, so I'm honoring it," she said on Thursday.
The hubbub, say both officials, began on Monday when a reporter with Houston's Channel 11, KHOU, told them of Texas Penal Code 32.52, which is the law passed by the Legislature in 2005.
"Certainly when I realized there was a law like that, I removed it from my (campaign) Web site and took it off my wall," said Hebert.
Hebert said he found a reference to his California Coast degree on the county Web site, and had it removed. Otherwise, no changes will need to be made to any county stationery or legal forms, he said.
Wilson, however, said she will alter references to herself in county paperwork as well as in software programs used by the county.
Both California Coast University and Warren National University (then Kennedy Western) in 2004 were named by the U.S. General Accounting Office as "diploma mills." The GAO, which monitors federal spending, specifically took to task the use of taxpayer money to pay for federal employees' enrollment in the schools.
California Coast University on its Web site does claim accreditation by Distance Education and Training Council, but that agency is not recognized for accreditation by the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board.
As for Warren National, it does not bother with any accreditation.
"The true recognition of a Warren National degree comes from its voluntary acceptance by the business, professional and academic communities," states the school's web site...
Degrees granted for little or no academic work would be banned in Virginia – and the people issuing or using them would be criminals – under a resolution passed Tuesday by the State Council of Higher Education. The resolution asks the General Assembly to consider legislation in the 2008 session to outlaw so-called "diploma mills."
The council proposed that anyone who operates or advertises such a service, or awards degrees or certificates from an otherwise legitimate one without requiring the work, would be guilty of a misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail and a $2,500 fine. Knowingly using such fraudulent credentials would be punishable by a fine of as much as $500. And anyone damaged by such activities could sue.
Similar federal legislation was proposed in 2006 but never passed, a State Council report said. Fourteen states have enacted laws prohibiting the practice.
"As other states pass legislation against the production and use of fraudulent credentials," the report concluded, "Virginia becomes more attractive as a home for those who wish to produce them."
Virginia hasn't yet seen much evidence of "diploma mills," but Linda Woodley, who oversees private and out-of-state schools operating in Virginia, said she has been getting calls.
"We want to take a proactive stance against this fraudulent activity," Woodley told the council.
The law would target postsecondary schools that issue degrees or certificates without requiring "substantial student academic work" or appropriate exams.
Among the problems, the council's report concluded, are unqualified people using such credentials to get jobs – potentially life-threatening in health professions. Students waste money obtaining credentials that turn out to be worthless, and employers are cheated.
The fraud also diminishes the credentials of legitimate institutions, the report said...
The prosecution is investigating 20 professors who allegedly obtained their doctoral degrees from foreign unaccredited universities and used those records to get their jobs. The Korean Research Foundation submitted a list of 100 people who got their doctoral degrees from foreign unaccredited higher educational institutes since 2003 to the Seoul Central Prosecutors' Office. Based on this, the prosecution tracked down their careers and found 20 of them working for universities in Korea.
It is now questioning university officials whether this is a reflection on the hiring process. The names of the 20 may be revealed, which is expected to damage the reputation of the education field now voluntarily searching for graduates of diploma mills.
Meanwhile, the prosecution indicted Kim Ock-rang, the head of Dongsoong Art Center and professor at Dankook University's art management department, without detention Tuesday.
She obtained a master's and a doctor's degree in art at Sungkyunkwan University with her bachelor's degree from Pacific Western University, which was an unaccredited institute in the U.S. She also used the degree to apply for the university professorship.
An unaccredited institute of higher learning is a school not approved by the state government as a legal academic institute. Such schools are operated under business licenses only, or black-listed for offering a curriculum deemed inadequate, but issue degrees or use deceptive advertising about their institutions.
Kim reportedly admitted all the allegations saying she had no chance to study because she was married young, and she needed a diploma to start her career. The prosecution found Kim had donated tens of millions of won to Dankook University, Sungkyunkwan University and many others, but said they were not kickbacks for her professorship.
Kim is one of many prominent figures in society who are, or will be, under the prosecution's investigation over diploma forgery. Art curator Shin Jeong-ah who was dismissed from Dongguk University, renowned architect Lee Chang-ha who also quit teaching at a college and actress Jang Mi-hee who allegedly faked her diploma from Dongguk University to teach at Myongji University, are those who are allegedly among the prosecution's...
The website of Rochville University in the United States carries the message, "Order now and receive your degree in just five days!" "No studies, no attendance, no examinations," a separate notice reads. A Bachelor's or Master's degree costs US$499, while a PhD costs $599. There's even a three-for-one special at a $559 discount where a customer can buy all three degrees at once for $1,038. There are many more places like Rochville University in the U.S. that serve as on-line "diploma mills." They are about the size of a small language school and hand out Master's degrees to people who submit just six reports and PhDs to people who write up 12 reports. Kim Sang-keun, the head of the Korea Research Foundation, says an investigation of 31,387 people who got PhDs overseas between 1982 to October last year shows around 1,000 of them got them from non-accredited universities, most likely from bogus institutions like Rochville University. We must prevent people with bogus degrees from teaching students. There are over 60,000 full-time university professors in Korea. According to the investigation by the Korea Research Foundation, around one in 30 has a dubious diploma. This makes it possible that there are hundreds, if not thousands of professors with bogus degrees.
Koreans earning overseas PhDs are required to report their degrees to the Korea Research Foundation, but that organization does not have a system of checking the quality of the degree. In the end, the hiring university must be in charge of vetting their qualifications. The former Dongguk University assistant professor Shin Jeong-ah and Dankook University professor Kim Ock-rang are among the more prominent cases of fraud, and those universities have now vowed to check the degrees of all of its professors. Other universities must follow suit, at least for those whose degrees seem less than perfect. Only when fake degree holders are banned from teaching at universities can we see the reputations of such institutions being restored, while keeping our students from becoming victims.
Meanwhile, it is true that it can be rather difficult to assess the real ability of a person based solely on his or her degree. We must make it possible for talented people with years of experience in the arts, business and government to teach at universities even though they do not have PhDs. In that light, it is highly significant that Dongguk University hired as a professor of arts Lee Yun-taek, head of the Seoul Performing Arts Company, who has just a high school diploma but years of valuable experience.
It usually takes four years for students to graduate from a university and get bachelor's degree, and at least two to three additional years for master's or doctoral degrees. However, all of the degrees can be obtained in one week at unauthorized foreign colleges, often dubbed "diploma mills."
Many of Korea's high-profile figures who were found to have fabricated their academic records, obtained their degrees in the U.S., and most of those American schools are unaccredited by the U.S. educational authorities.
Rochville University is one of the 731 unaccredited colleges listed on Web sites of the educational offices in the U.S. as not being authorized by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation...
"You don't have to take lectures. We attach importance to 'life experience.' We offer doctorates to those who have more than three years of work career," the school's enrollment advisor was quoted as saying.
Asked about how the school copes with companies' demand to verify its accreditation, the advisor said that Rochville issues diploma certificates and provides 24-hour telephone service to cover companies' such request about degrees.
The diploma mill business is booming despite the U.S. Government Accountability Office's crackdown in 2004. It is said a growing number of Asians who have difficulty in promotion or job change is seeking those colleges.
Such universities dish out diplomas to students without proper education. Usually providing online lectures, some of them have similar names to those of prestigious universities.
Some of the diploma mills include: Pacific Western University, Pacific Yale University, Cohen University, Belford University, and Columbia Pacific University. In 2005, the Korea Research Foundation said it would not recognize diplomas from Pacific Western University and Pacific Yale University.
Laurie Gerald, who received a guilty verdict for fraud by co-operating Columbia State University, a diploma mill with similar name of Columbia University, said in his statement at the court, "Columbia State University had no faculty, qualified or otherwise, no curriculum, no classes, no courses, no tests, no one to grade tests, no educational facilities, no library, and no academic accreditation."
"If a student wanted a master's degree, he would have to do the book summary and a six-page paper; a doctorate meant a book summary and a 12-page paper. There was nothing that could pass for 'academic rigor' at Columbia State University," he said.
The American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers' ("AACRAO") trademark infringement lawsuit against Jean Noel-Prade and the American Universities Admission Program ("AUAP") has concluded with full vindication of AACRAO's trademarks and condemnation of the practices of AUAP and Prade. The U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia entered judgment holding, among other things, that AUAP and Prade violated AACRAO's trademarks, falsely designated AUAP's services as affiliated with AACRAO and unfairly competed with AACRAO. The Court permanently enjoined Prade and AUAP from claiming any type of affiliation with AACRAO, from making any use of AACRAO's trademarks, and it forced Prade and AUAP to destroy all of AUAP's records and materials related to its unlawful use of the AACRAO trademarks. Diploma mills and the credential evaluation services that perpetuate the fraud rely on the perception of legitimacy created by a false affiliation with reputable organizations like AACRAO.See also this World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) Arbitration and Mediation Center document regarding Louis Vuitton Malletier [Complainant] v.- J.N. Prade [Respondent] Case No. D2000-1115 and this archive of the domain under dispute in the WIPO action.
In the case of Prade and AUAP, AACRAO refused to tolerate their falsely asserted affiliation. In a process that began over twenty months ago when AACRAO filed the lawsuit against AUAP and Prade, the lawsuit has finally concluded after a nine month period during which the court supervised and ordered AUAP's and Prade's compliance with the Injunction. "While I appreciate the court's willingness to compel Prade's compliance with the Injunction, trademark owners should not have to undertake such a lengthy process to enforce their rights," says Barmak Nassirian, Associate Executive Director with AACRAO. "It shows that at least for now the courts have not fully grasped the harm to all of us in education caused by diploma mills.."..
The rise of the Internet has been a bonanza for those who peddle phony college degrees. Governments at all levels have been slow to respond, even though they are among the primary victims. ...Around the country, scores of political candidates have withdrawn from local political races after their opponents or the news media, or both, have revealed bogus the candidates' bogus academic credentials. In other cases, "expert" consultants with phony degrees have obtained lucrative government contracts.
In Pennsylvania diploma skill scams sometimes are pursued under standard consumer protection laws, but there is no specific statute to deal with what should be a serious crime.
Only two states, Michigan and Oregon, have specific laws defining what constitutes a legitimate degree-granting institution, and defining diploma mills. Michigan lists more than 600 diploma mills and Oregon names nearly 300.
Recently U.S. Rep. Betty McCollum, a Minnesota Democrat, introduced a bill that would define diploma mills. She cited not only known cases, but the danger that diploma mills also could be used to secure visas for foreign applicants who obviously are not interested in course work.
McCollum's bill is very broad. It would only begin the process of appropriate penalties.
The state Legislature, which has the added incentive of protecting the value of legitimate credentials from universities in Pennsylvania, should develop a bill to identify diploma mills and outlaw them, rather than leaving the matter to individuals to sort out as a consumer issue.
When Pittsburgh City Councilwoman Twanda Carlisle came under scrutiny last year for authorizing $27,000 for a controversial study written by her mother's boyfriend, she defended the study and its author saying, "He's a Ph.D. He's qualified." Lee Otto Johnson, who submitted the 85-page report on city health issues that consisted of reports written by other agencies and an essay on race and religion, does list a doctorate on his resume from Columbia State University. But it's a school that never existed except as a company that sold phony degrees to people willing to buy them.
Columbia State University, which had no campus, no faculty and no class work, has been shut down by federal authorities who declared the wildly profitable Internet company a "diploma mill." Its owner pleaded guilty in 2004 to fraud charges.
"The only thing the buyer is doing is sending in a check or money order. They know what they are buying," said Allen Ezell, former head of the FBI diploma-mill-busting task force. "The diploma mill knows what they are selling. The third party is in the dark."
With the advent of the Internet and escalating demand for academic credentials in a competitive job market, the popularity of diploma mills has soared and many states, including Pennsylvania, have been slow to pass legislation to outlaw them.
Hundreds of nonexistent schools are selling degrees on the Internet and dozens more sell exact replicas of degrees granted by real colleges and universities.
U.S. Rep. Betty McCollum, D-Minn., has introduced a bill in the U.S. House that would "reduce and prevent the sale and use of fraudulent degrees in order to protect the integrity of valid higher education degrees that are used for federal purposes."
The bill, which is still in committee, was written in response to an investigation that found thousands of bogus degrees were sold to federal employees on congressional staffs and with NASA, U.S. Customs and the Pentagon.
If it becomes law, the likelihood of imprisonment could increase for federal employees who resort to desperate means to impress their colleagues or gain an unfair advantage in the workplace.
So far, only a small number of states have passed laws addressing the problem...
Anyone can buy unearned credentials for any and every profession, as well as fake transcripts and recommendations.
"I bought a Harvard medical degree for $40 and it was a perfect replica," said John Bear, an author who tracks diploma mills and served as an expert witness for the FBI on the subject.
The companies selling these degrees have thrived because many employers don't bother to check employees' educational credentials, and many of the diploma mills use legitimate sounding names like Columbia State or University of Berkley, which could be confused with the actual University of California, Berkeley.
Using broad consumer protection laws, the Pennsylvania attorney general early this year cracked down on the University of Berkley, a notorious diploma mill operating out of an industrial park in Erie. Its owner, Dennis Globosky, was fined $75,000 and ordered to shut down the diploma mill Web site...
In another case that made headlines, the Pennsylvania attorney general sued the owners of a diploma mill called Trinity Southern University in 2004 after state employees paid $398 to obtain a master's of business administration for a cat named Colby Nolan...
More recently, a Pennsylvania Gaming Board agent was arrested in May last year after officials learned his college degree came from an online diploma mill.
Michael Ray Rosenberry was charged with two counts of false swearing and three counts of unsworn falsification. He told investigators during his background check that he earned a bachelor's degree in criminal justice administration from Stanton University. The truth was he never attended a class, bought a book, met any instructors or prepared one paper for his degree...
The Distance Education and Training Council in Washington, D.C., is a federally recognized accrediting agency for online colleges and universities. Michael Lambert, executive director of the council, said diploma mills will even fabricate their own accrediting agencies to create a smoke screen. Two diploma mills tried to steal his council's name in the past.
"Diploma mills have the slickest, most inviting and most convincing Web sites in cyberspace today," Mr. Lambert said. "They are marvels of design and viewer interactivity. They use all the high-sounding phrases one associates with a university education, but they are hollow idols 'tarted up' to look like real colleges."
Mr. Lambert suggests that employers and consumers verify that distance learning schools are accredited by a federally recognized accrediting agency because no diploma mill has ever been accredited by any of them.
The easiest way to check for accreditation is the Web site of the Council For Higher Education Accreditation at www.chea.org. DETC's Web site, www.detc.org, also has a comprehensive list of accredited online degree institutions...
Action News 36 recently uncovered the fact that the man in charge of homeland security in Franklin County doesn't meet the educational requirements for the job. Our findings prompted KY State Rep. Susan Westrom to draft legislation making forgery of an academic degree a Class D felony.
"You talk about dumbing down of our country offering on-line degrees without any academic achievement whatsoever is a real easy choice for some people to make," says Westrom, who did manage to successfully pass the bill two years in a row in the House. Both times the bill made it to the Senate but it never got any further than that.
So why the opposition?
"I'm sure there are stretches all over and I'm sure they even really hate to open the envelope and start digging in resumes because it could be kind of scary at this point," Westrom speculates.
She says she's discovered employees with diploma mill degrees everywhere from the Transportation Department...
"Now stop and think about people building our roads and our bridges with fake diplomas. There's a huge danger factor there."
To the Department Child and Family Services.
"I'm hearing about therapists who are doing court-ordered child custody evaluations that do not have degrees with accredited universities and there's a real danger there," Westrom continues.
It's estimated that more than $500 million a year is being spent on diploma mill degrees -- more than 300 of which are federal employees managing the war on terror...
Greg Fitch, executive director of the Alabama Commission on Higher Education, is determined to rid the state of fraudulent diploma mills. He calls himself a "gunslinger" when it comes to his management style. And he is an unlikely top-ranking higher education official, having started his academic career by flunking out of college. After a few years in the Army, he returned to college with a whole, new attitude about hitting the books.
Fitch laughed when he said that his office actually received Internet messages about how to obtain fake degrees.
"We get spam from colleges here in the office, which is kind of fun," he said, recalling language from one of the emails. "With little study -- you can get master's degree."
Such "universities," are a multi-billion dollar industry nationwide. And while Alabama officials are always looking for new industries, this is one the state doesn't want, Fitch said.
In an effort to make sure Alabama doesn't become a hotbed for hot degrees, Fitch offered legislation during the last legislative session that would have given his office more control over awarding official school licenses. The measure didn't pass, but Fitch said he'll be back.
"We'll try to revive it in the next legislative session," he said. "It got caught in the logjam, and lobbying against it."
Currently, the private, for-profit entities can incorporate through local authorities without having to go through his office, Fitch said. Because of that, Alabama is beginning to be recognized across the nation as a starting point for such diploma mills, he said...
In 1977, he earned a master's degree in English literature from Emporia State University in Emporia, Kan. He also holds a Ph.D. in administration, curriculum and instruction from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln in 1989.
Those degrees and a knack for solving problems led Fitch to hold top positions in education administration in several states in the West.
Those jobs, coupled with his upbringing in that region, is what makes Fitch think of himself as a "gunslinger" out of the Old West mold. Now he's solving problems in the suit-and-tie world of higher education.
He has been executive director of the Alabama Commission on Higher Education since July of 2006 and was confirmed by the state Senate for the post in May...
Frankfort Fire and EMS Chief Wallace Possich said he intends to find a way to piece back together what he termed a "fractured" department at odds over personnel policies. International Association of Fire Fighters Local 1017 President John Haden agreed the department is divided, but he said it will take more than just listening by Possich to mend " he says firefighters need to see action from their chief to assuage the department's differences...
But the most divisive issue on Haden's list, he said, concerns Deron Rambo, the city director of emergency management and homeland security.
Rambo was at the center of a storm recently when it came to light that he doesn't hold a legitimate college degree, while his job description calls for one. He has a master's degree from an unaccredited school "the online LaSalle University based in Louisiana" yet no bachelor's degree.
Rambo has said he believed his master's degree was valid because he received tuition assistance from state government, for which he was working when he took the online classes. Possich and city staff said they had no reason to doubt it when he was hired and they have repeatedly stood behind the quality of Rambo's work.
Haden said the city's decision not to fire Rambo and to reimburse him for his schooling is hypocritical. He said the city is overlooking its own rules.
The city has decided to reimburse Rambo for classes he needs to obtain a bachelor's degree. And Possich said this resolution to the controversy is what the City Commission agreed upon. Haden said he's not so sure it's over...
...From a nondescript office in Grandview, Stephen Barnhart grants college degrees in subjects as varied as computer technology and philosophy. Though he never earned a bachelor's degree from an accredited college, Barnhart serves as chancellor of the International University of Ministry and Education. He founded the online school in 1994 and said he had issued about 200 degrees, mostly to students in foreign countries.Missouri criticized over its religious exemption to degree-granting schools, Steve Rock, The Kansas City Star, July 14, 2007.
His university is not accredited by any agency recognized by the U.S. Department of Education or the Council for Higher Education Accreditation. It's not certified by the state of Missouri because the state has deemed its application deficient.
Higher education experts marvel that schools such as Barnhart's, which has wrestled with state officials for years over whether it meets certification criteria, are allowed to continue operation. They said Missouri's paper-thin regulatory staff and lax laws made the state an inviting home for such unaccredited schools.
In addition to Barnhart's, nine other Missouri schools appear on a list of unaccredited degree suppliers compiled by Alan Contreras of the Oregon Office of Degree Authorization.
"The whole idea that a place can operate when they haven't met the standards is a bad, bad policy," Contreras said. "What you need is the state government to take these entities seriously. There are lots and lots of bogus (online) operations out there issuing degrees out of somebody's basement."
Barnhart said most of his coursework was at least as rigorous as any traditional college's. He offers bachelor's, master's and doctoral degrees in various programs, with the average student earning a bachelor's degree in about a year for roughly $2,500.
The school's lack of certification, he said, reflects a "personal vendetta" against him by Leroy Wade, who heads the proprietary schools certification program for the Missouri Department of Higher Education.
Wade countered that Barnhart's application was inadequate because of questionable course content and faculty qualifications, among other things.
Asked why Barnhart should be allowed to issue degrees for years despite an inadequate application, Wade said his office attempted to work cooperatively with schools toward certification rather than adopt an "adversarial" stance.
Every year, Wade's staff receives about 35 applications for schools seeking certification or a religious exemption from state oversight. With the equivalent of only two full-time employees in the office, the review process can sometimes stretch out for years...
Two other unaccredited schools in Missouri illustrate problems with the state's proprietary schools certification program, according to higher education experts. The International University in Independence secured a religious exemption in 1986 and has operated with virtually no state oversight. Western States University for Professional Studies in Doniphan, Mo., first applied for state licensure in 1985. Its application was never accepted or rejected, but the school was allowed to grant degrees for more than 20 years.
George Brown — an Australian expert whose paper "Degrees of Doubt: Legitimate, Real and Fake Qualifications in a Global Market" appeared in the Journal of Higher Education Policy and Management — called Missouri "a laughingstock of the international community."
Brown is particularly critical of Missouri's exemption from state regulation for schools "owned, controlled and operated by a bona fide religious or denominational organization." Fewer than half the states in the United States offer a similar exemption, according to the Oregon Office of Degree Authorization. Kansas doesn't grant religious exemptions.
The International University in Independence offers many degree programs, such as a Ph.D. in philosophy and a "fast track" MBA. One of its Web sites quotes a price of $7,800 for a bachelor's degree and claims more than 260,000 graduates since 1973. It doesn't mention a religious affiliation.
For years, people from across the globe have queried Missouri's Department of Higher Education about the legitimacy of the school. Recent responses from Leroy Wade, who heads the state's proprietary certification program, note that the university "is not regarded by this department as being a part of the recognized academic community in Missouri."
The school's small, stone house headquarters — without identifying signs — is sandwiched between a gas station and a store called the Chop Shop on Noland Road. A school Web site, however, shows students walking near a large, white building.
The school's founder and chancellor, John W. Johnston of Independence, didn't return several phone calls from The Kansas City Star. Nobody answered the door when a reporter went to the school on two recent occasions.
When the school received its religious exemption, state law did not restrict the degrees that exempted schools could issue. The law was changed in 1991, limiting degrees to those that are religious or theological in nature.
Asked whether the school complies with state law because it appears to offer nonreligious degrees, Wade said: "That's something we'll need to review.."..
The State Council of Higher Education for Virginia will push for a law defining and banning "diploma mills" - businesses that sell fraudulent academic degrees - before they become a problem in the state, officials said Tuesday. The council is responding to calls from the U.S. Department of Education and the Council for Higher Education Accreditation to crack down on such outfits, said Linda Woodley, who oversees private and out-of-state colleges and proprietary schools.
She said Tuesday that she has begun receiving calls from people wondering about schools.
In addition, there have been "warning signs" in Virginia, such as schools' offering degrees based entirely on "life experience" and not requiring classes or schoolwork, said Kirsten Nelson, director of communications and government relations...
13 Investigates has found two cases at IUPUI [Indiana University - Purdue University Indianapolis] that have prompted Indiana University to investigate possible ethics violations over alleged "Degrees of Deception." "It's essential that people maintain academic integrity," said Dean Greg Lindsey from the School of Public and Environmental Affairs. "This is an important situation, and we're committed to investigating it and resolving it appropriately."
The first probe of the investigation is centered on Dr. Natalia Rekhter, a lecturer in the IU School of Public and Environmental Affairs. Hired in 2003 with a Masters from the University of Michigan, she teaches undergrad classes and ethics seminars. Rekhter also claims work with the US State Department.
On her website she declares a Ph.D. in Health Sciences from the "World Information Distributed University" in Belgium. The school touts a "royal decree" from its government, but national accrediting officials say it only means WIDU operators have set up a business, not a school. They have alerted IU officials to the fraud after receiving an overseas tip.
"WIDU, in my opinion, is a diploma mill. It does not have appropriate authority to issue secondary degrees from any jurisdiction," said Alan Contreras from the Office of Degree Authorization.
Rekhter reported the Ph.D. a year after she was hired at IU, but no one checked its validity. The dean says the degree wasn't necessary for her job.
"Clearly this person has to stop using that fake degree, or she will have no credibility, and the institution's reputation will be laughed at around the country," Contreras said.
"Our inclination is to try to clarify these matters as rapidly as possible, and we're committed to doing that because these things are serious," IU's Dean Lindsey said...
Letters from the Belgium government and the US Department of Education are in agreement. The dean has removed the credentials from the website for now...
New and Developing Offshore Medical Schools Applications for initial provisional accreditation have been received from the following:
Site visits were made to these institutions in February 2007.
- The St. James School of Medicine (SJSM) for a new school to be established on the island of Anguilla,
- The British International University (BIU) for a new school to be established on the island of Montserrat, and
- The University of Science, Arts and Technology (USAT) which is located on the island of Montserrat.