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'Thousands' of Educators Bought False Diplomas

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The Federal Bureau of Investigation (fbi) is planning to turn over to state education departments the names of "thousands" of elementary- and secondary-school educators nationwide who have "bought" degrees from nonexistent "universities."

The names were obtained from documents seized under search warrants and grand-jury subpoenas from the offices of dozens of so-called "diploma mills." The concerns had sold and later verified to prospective employers--including school systems--false diplomas and transcripts purchased by federal agents during a two-and-a-half year undercover investigation.

Agents of the fbi's Charlotte, N.C., office conducted the investigation--named "Dipscam" (for diploma scam)--by responding to the advertisements placed by the "universities" in magazines and tabloids that were available at local newsstands, according to an fbi spokesman. The investigation was announced by the fbi at a press conference in Charlotte earlier this month.

Some 29 "institutions" have been searched under warrants and "many more" than that have been searched under grand-jury subpoenas, according to an fbi spokesman, who said that documents seized by the Bureau include the names of "thousands and thousands" of people who have obtained degrees with little or no work in fields ranging from medicine to accounting and law.

"Education was one of the more popular fields," he said. "[Teachers and administrators] bought a lot of bogus master's and doctorates because they get paid for it. They lay down $400 or $500 bucks for a piece of paper, turn it over to the school board, which turns around and gives them a raise." Most school systems offer salary increases to professional employees who earn graduate degrees, and a growing number of states are requiring that teachers do graduate work.

The fbi said it will not indict the individuals who bought the bogus degrees, a number of which were purchased by the bureau's agents for between $200 and $2,000, although the misrepresentation of credentials could constitute the crimes of fraud or theft by deceit, the fbi spokesman said. Indictments against each of those who purchased degrees would overburden the federal courts in North Carolina, he added. Instead, the bureau will pass the names along to local and state authorities for appropriate action.

In the coming months, however, the bureau will attempt to prosecute for mail and wire fraud the operators of the diploma mills, many of whom operated out of post-office boxes in different parts of the country or through legal mail-forwarding services, the spokesman said. Convictions for those crimes carry a maximum penalty of five years in jail and/or a $1,000 fine for each fraudulent telephone call or letter.

Among the bogus institutions that offered education degrees were Florida State Christian College, American Western University, National College of Arts and Science, National Research Institute, and the South Union Graduate School. None of these institutions is accredited either regionally or nationally, according to the fbi

"We are going to embarrass an awful lot of people by the time we're through," the spokesman said. "There are 'graduates' of these mills in every state in the union."

After being tipped off about the bogus degrees in 1980, the fbi spokesman said, an agent began writing for information about degree programs advertised in periodicals at Charlotte newsstands. Next, the agent would negotiate a price for a diploma and/or transcript and then send a check and receive his "credentials" by mail, he explained.

The agent then presented the phony credentials in a job application; the operator of the diploma mill generally would verify the agent's "attendance" to the prospective employer, a fraudulent act, the spokesman said, adding that the fbi's agents were also offered kickbacks for cultivating additional students.

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