The Federal Bureau of Investigation’s ongoing probe of so-called diploma mills this month resulted in the indictment of the president of “United States University of America” on 15 counts of mail fraud.
The indictment by the U.S. District Court for the Western District of North Carolina charges the alleged diploma-mill operator, Frank George Pany, with scheming to defraud the public by offering degrees from United States University of America, “which he then and there well knew was not a bona-fide institution which could furnish valid diplomas, degrees, certificates, and credentials.”
This is the 15th indictment arising out of the F.B.I.'s “Dipscam” probe, according to Otho Allen Ezell Jr., special agent for the F.B.I. in Charlotte, N.C.
Information released during the criminal prosecution of previous cases has revealed that a number of educators have received fraudulent diplomas, which they then used to obtain positions or promotions in education-related fields. (See Education Week, May 29 and June 5, 1985.)
Although the indictment of Mr. Pany, president of U.S.U.A., makes references to “potential purchasers of fictitious educational ... degrees,” a list of holders of education-related degrees from the mail-order institution as not available last week.
“The F.B.I. will not release the names of U.S.U.A. graduates at this time,” said Mr. Ezell. That information will become available once it is introduced as evidence into open court, he said.
Mr. Pany has fled the country for an undisclosed location, according to Mr. Ezell, and officials are seeking to have him extradited to stand trial in the United States.
Although little information is available on the federal probe of U.S.U.A., information on file in the District of Columbia, which is where diplomas from U.S.U.A. are purportedly signed, indicates it has been investigated several times by the U.S. Postal Service and D.C. officials.
The most recent investigation, completed in November 1980 by the D.C. Department of Licenses, lnvestigations, and Inspections, found that “the school is not licensed as a proprietary school or educational institution in the District of Columbia, nor is it registered with the D.C. Office of the Recorder of Deeds.”
An investigation one year earlier by the same office found that “U.S.U.A. operated in Florida until 1972, when it was forced to leave the state for failing to meet educational standards.”
The District of Columbia investigations revealed that Mr. Pany resided in Florida and conducted the business of the diploma mill through the Sincerely Yours Answering Service in Washington.
Both jurisdictions require licensure and approval of any private postsecondary institution that operates within their borders. Thus, if U.S.U.A. was not recognized by either entity, as available public records indicate, it would have been operating in violation of the law at either location.
However, advertisements for U.S.U.A. that appeared in numerous foreign and domestic publications, including Psychology Today, claimed that it was fully licensed and accredited.
According to the indictment, U.S.U.A. charged fees ranging from $35 to $50 for an application for admission, from $35 to $65 for an application to graduate, and from $475--for graduation with an associate degree--to $l,250--for graduation with a doctorate.
The institution also offered correspondence courses in variety of subjects for fees ranging from $145 to $175.
The indictment also says that Mr. Pany represented to potential purchasers “that it is the policy of U.S.U.A. to grant honorary degrees to persons whose combination of education, work experience, life experience, and talents makes them worthy of such an honor.”
In a letter dated Nov. 12, 1980, in response to a query from the D.C. licensure commission, Mr. Pany wrote: “Please note that we are not a proprietary school. Nobody owns the United States University of America, which is an ideological organization of professors and students dedicated to an educational philosophy and to giving of recognition for learning.”
“In this country,” he continued, “ideology, educational philosophy, and freedom of speech need not be licensed. Have you a printed form to license ideology?”
“So, Mr. Inspector, what do you want us to do? Disconnect our phone? Move out of the City? Out of the Cradle of Western Civilization, Democracy, and Human Rights?”
In an earlier letter to the licensure commission, dated June 2, 1980, a woman named Rene A. Woods, who signed the letter as “director of admissions” for U.S.U.A., wrote: “We recognize that, despite the foreign policy blunders of government-educated experts, Washington, D.C., is still considered a symbol of freedom. As such, it is a prestige address, at least to impress some third-world people.”
Ms. Woods was not named in the indictment, and no information was available last week on who she is.
Although data on the current number of degree recipients from U.S.U.A. is not available, District of Columbia investigation records indicate that 90 percent of U.S.U.A.'s students were not from the United States.
However, inquiries concerning the validity of U.S.U.A. have been received by the D.C. licensure commission from several employers in the U.S., as well as from foreign countries, including West Germany and Nigeria.
The latest complaint about U.S.U.A. was received by the D.C. commission on Sept. 20, 1985, and it indicated that a Nigerian woman was enrolled in the school as recently as February 1985.
Other individual indicted recently as a result of the “dipscam” probe include:
- Thomas Morris Albright, who was indicted in October on six counts of mail fraud in connection with a business known as Pacific College, based in Beverly Hills, Calif.
- Don Lee Piccolo, who was indicted in November on eight counts of mail fraud in connection with his operation of a “novelty college diploma” service. The indictment says that Mr. Piccolo advertised diplomas from “universities” named Brownell, Carlton, Hamilton State, Atlantic Southeastern, Buckner, Benson, Kingsley, and Stamford through a service known as Associated Enterprises or Regency Novelty Enterprises, based in Jacksonville, Fla., Honolulu, Hawaii, St. Louis, Mo., and Anaheim, Calif., at various times.
Both of these defendants have signed an agreement that they intend to plead guilty in federal district court in southern California, according to Mr. Ezell.
The F.B.I. is continuing its investigation of diploma mills, said Mr. Ezell, who estimates that he has received about 50 “honorary” degrees during the course of the five-year probe.
A version of this article appeared in the February 19, 1986 edition of Education Week