Elected Officials Caught With Phony Degrees and Certifications
From Our Archives
Identity deception can take many forms. A diploma mill degree, for example, may cause employers and voters to assume a candidates credentials are genuine. Unless the deception is discovered, diploma mill customers adorn their identities with unearned titles before and after their name.
News for Public Officials has learned that one well-known Texas County Clerk serving on the Supreme Court’s "Judicial Committee on Information Technology" Task Force claims a PhD. from a Wyoming school the United States General Accounting Office defines as a diploma mill.
The United States General Accounting Office: Office of Special Investigations ended a three-year investigation in 2004 that identified seven “unaccredited schools” and “diploma mills” providing “bogus degrees” over the Internet to government officials; sometimes at the taxpayer’s expense.
GAO investigators found 28 high-ranking officials at eight federal agencies hold diploma mill degrees. In addition, data from just two unaccredited schools—Kennedy-Western University (now known as Warren National University) and California Coast University—revealed nearly $170,000 in tuition payments from the federal government.
Before she obtained her degree from Kennedy-Western and began calling herself Dr. Dianne Wilson, PhD, a Grand Jury indicted the Fort Bend County Clerk in 1990 on charges she used taxpayer money to partially finance a Bachelor Degree from St. Edwards University and Certificates from the National Center for State Courts’ Institute for Court Management. (St. Edwards and the NCSC are accredited)
Wilson eventually beat the charges after reimbursing the taxpayers $7600.00 and campaigning for Jack Stern, the Democratic opponent of Sam Dick, the District Attorney who indicted her. Once elected, Stern dismissed the charges against Wilson. Stern didn’t last two years before he was booted out of office for playing politics with Grand Jury Testimony.
Exactly how much the Fort Bend County Clerk may have paid for her credentials from the Kennedy-Western is difficult to determine. The G.A.O. investigators found Pacific Western University, California Coast University and Kennedy-Western University each charge a flat fee for a degree. Pacific Western, for example, charges domestic students $2,295 for a Bachelor’s Degree, $2,395 for a Master’s and $2,950 for PhD.’s. “Dr.” Wilson may have paid much more for her degree from Kennedy-Western.
Kennedy-Western apparently accepted Wilson’s Certificates from the NCSC: Institute for Court Management as the equivalent of a Master’s Degree. The NCSC does not offer Master's degrees .
In a letter to the Fort Bend County Herald Coaster “Dr.” Wilson wrote, “I worked hard for two years earning my doctorate degree . . .” Undercover investigators and former Kennedy-Western admissions staff don’t call a degree from Kennedy-Western much of an accomplishment . In Bogus Degrees and Unmet Expectations: The GAO testified before the Senate, “Kennedy-Western University, an unaccredited school and a diploma mill, earned short of $25 million in 2003 and currently has almost 10, 000 students enrolled.” Under the heading Public Safety the report continued, "They (diploma mills) are a danger to society as a whole when the job in question is critical to public safety, or involves significant responsibility and the person in that position holds a bogus degree and is not qualified to do the job."
GAO investigator Lt. Claudia Gelzer was nearly halfway to a Masters Degree with Kennedy-Western after only sixteen hours of study before deciding she had seen enough. Andrew Coulombe should know the value of a Kennedy-Western Degree. He was one of the Admissions Counselors involved in telemarketing the degree programs in 2002 and 2003.
Testifying before the Senate Committee on Governmental Affairs, Coulombe wrote, “No real school I had ever heard of operated like Kennedy-Western. At Kennedy-Western, everything was about the pursuit of cash. I can tell you that there is no value to a Kennedy-Western education. Anything you learn there can be learned by buying a book and reading it on your own.”
Lt. Commander Claudia Gelzer, U.S. Coast guard testified, “As part of the Committee's team investigating diploma mills, I enrolled at a non-accredited school and took classes. Kennedy-Western courses are not what most of us have experienced at the University level. Instead of structured interaction between professors and fellow students in a classroom B including homework, papers and a series of exams B Kennedy-Western requires students to pass one open-book, multiple-choice test for each class. With just 16 hours of study, I had completed 40 percent of the course requirements for a master=s degree.”
“As for my first-hand experience with Kennedy-Western courses and passing the tests, I found that basic familiarity with the textbook was all I needed. I was able to find exam answers without having read a single chapter of the text. As for what I learned, the answer is very little. “
While the use of these “doctor” titles from unaccredited schools would not be allowed at a school districts or federal agencies, Wilson uses the title "PhD" in her online resume and the title "Dr." as a non-council member to the Texas Judicial Council Committee on Public Access to Case Records and other Texas Committees and Associations.
In a letter written to the Fort Bend County Commissioners dated September 22nd 2003, Wilson urged the commissioners to accept her judgment on a software issue because she had all kinds of “credentials” which she put in list form. The list included credentials from the bachelor’s degree and certificates that were part of the Grand Jury investigation from 1990 that resulted in her indictment on two felony and five misdemeanor charges. Topping the list of credentials was the new doctorate she “earned” from Kennedy-Western.
Wilson is not the only government official to claim advanced degrees from diploma mills or to put the title “Dr.” in front of their name after buying a degree from an unaccredited school. Fort Bend County Judge Robert Hebert sports the title of Doctor of Philosophy as a result of a PhD he obtained from California Coast University, also named in the GAO report.
In 1999, World Net Daily reported that federal investigators say there are thousands of offenders at the federal level, and an untold number at local government levels who use phony degrees to get their jobs and to qualify for higher salaries. Diplomas from bogus colleges and universities can be found on the walls and resumes of employees in the Department of Justice, congressional staff, U.S. Customs, the Department of Defense, NASA, and even the Department of Education. The list includes virtually every government agency.
statement to the U.S. Senate Committee on Government affairs,
Ayoko Vias, Administrative Assistant, NASULGC
(National Association of State Universities and Land Grant Colleges) wrote,
“Many consumers of diploma mills are unsuspecting victims,
but not all. Some consumers are fully aware that they are simply purchasing a
degree (and a fake one for that matter) that they have not earned.”
In Phony Degrees a Hot Net Scam, Wired News quoted John Bear, founder of Degree.net, “Some say that although people who sign up for diploma mills may be defrauded, the real victims are unknowing employers and the public.”
"The majority of people know what they're doing,” Bear said. "Diploma mills may also victimize the people who put their trust in physicians, psychologists, lawyers, and others with fake credentials. There are people out there with fake degrees doing terrible things. The human damage can be considerable."
Whether the Fort Bend County Clerk knew Kennedy-Western was unaccredited or not, it is unlikely she has broken Texas laws. Using a bogus degree to get a job or promotion is illegal only in Oregon, New Jersey, Indiana, Illinois, North Dakota and Nevada, where it is a misdemeanor mainly punishable by fines ranging from $350 to $2,500. But, violators rarely face prosecution.
Texans might be protected from this type of identity deception if a law dating from 1975 is enforced, The thirty-year old law was supported in 2001 by the 3rd District Texas Court of Appeals in Austin.
In an article dated July 21st, 2003, Christianity Today Magazine reported, “Concerned about diploma mills, the Texas Legislature in 1975 passed a law barring unaccredited schools from using the word "bachelor, master, and doctor" in their degree titles.” . . "In 2001, a judge supported the diploma-related fine, but threw out the "seminary" fine. Yesterday, however, the 3rd District Texas Court of Appeals in Austin supported both fines, and ordered Tyndale to pay all $173,000." It isn’t clear if this law prevents purchasers of the degrees using the academic titles.
Kennedy-Western may also be free to continue selling degrees to Texans, at least for now. “Their degrees are illegal for use in Oregon and a few other states” noted Alan Contreras, administrator of the Oregon Office of Degree Authorization; in The Chronicle On Higher Education live chat forum – Fighting Fakery. “We think most people who get bogus degrees know what they are getting and hope to get away with it. Most are not victims, they are partners in falsehood.”
When questioned by The Chronicle of Higher Education in States Struggle to Regulate Online Colleges That Lack Accreditation Kennedy-Western officials declined to reveal how many students are enrolled at the university or what percentage are from foreign countries. They say it also has offices in Jakarta, Indonesia; Moscow; and Singapore.
Kennedy-Western is based in sparsely populated Wyoming where they maintain a stark basement office in Cheyenne’s sleepy downtown area. Last month, three of Wyoming’s top education officials asked lawmakers to crack down on unaccredited colleges. Superintendent of Public Instruction Jim McBride, interim University of Wyoming President Tom Buchanan and Jim Rose, executive director of the Wyoming Community College Commission stated in a joint letter this month. They wrote to state Senator Tex Boggs, chairman of the Private School Licensing Task Force.
In an interview with the Associated Press McBride said he believes the schools exist mainly to provide foreign students with a diploma that looks as though it originates in the United States. Speaking of the 14,000 students state records show to be enrolled in Wyoming's 10 non-accredited private schools, Superintendent McBride said, “"Of those 14,000, I bet there's not even 200 who are Wyoming residents Most of them are not even in this country, they're in Pakistan, and in different places outside the United States. And, I think a lot of those students think that they're real degrees, and they're not. And, I think a lot of the students think that they're trained to be employed, and they're not.”
"I'd say that because of the existence of these schools in Wyoming, we're often a laughingstock because they're not eligible to operate in other states,"
Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott is taking action against unaccredited post-graduate schools operating in Texas. March of this year Abbott obtained judgments against two brothers who operated Trinity Southern University, a "university" that issued fraudulent degrees. The case was the result of an investigation spurred by a consumer fraud lawsuit filed by the Pennsylvania Attorney General's Office. The Dallas-based school issued an MBA degree to a Pennsylvania deputy attorney general's six-year-old cat.