Justice Department pursues diploma mills with fraud charges

Federal law does not specifically outlaw diploma mills, but institutions that issue fake educational certificates can be charged with violating fraud or conspiracy laws, the Justice Department said in a letter sent to senior lawmakers early this month.

In a March 2 letter, Assistant U.S. Attorney General William Moschella told Sens. Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn., of cases involving two diploma mills that had been successfully prosecuted for violating fraud and conspiracy statutes.

On January 12, 2004, Ronald Pellar pled guilty to nine counts of fraud for operating Columbia State University, a nonexistent correspondence school. In a "CSU" catalog, the school was said to be located in Metairie, La., but mail was actually forwarded to Pellar in California. The operation took in "millions of dollars in tuition fees" while Pellar dispensed bachelor's, master's and doctoral degrees for as little as one month's worth of correspondence work, according to Moschella.

Pellar is scheduled to be sentenced on April 17, and he is likely to face about five years in federal prison and $2 million in restitution.

Moschella also described a diploma mill that was actually located in Louisiana, called LaSalle University. The organization was run by the "World Christian Church" and was not associated with La Salle University in Pennsylvania.

The World Christian Church actually built a campus and had an enrollment of several thousand students around the world, but the correspondence "coursework" was graded by secretaries, and the school falsely claimed that it was accredited. Thomas Kirk, the president of the World Christian Church, pled guilty to conspiracy in the late 1990s and was sentenced to five years in prison.

The issue of fraudulent diplomas in the federal workforce came up last year when Homeland Security Department officials placed Laura Callahan, a senior technology official, on administrative leave and launched an investigation into her educational credentials. DHS officials told Government Executive Thursday that they are not prepared to release an update on Callahan's status.

Some officials are concerned that fake credentials are allowing unqualified employees to enter the civil service or advance rapidly through it. Several senior lawmakers have pushed for a probe of the federal government and the General Accounting Office is due to release a report on diploma mills this month.

Collins, the chairwoman of the Governmental Reform Committee, has asked the Education Department to create a list of accredited schools to combat the diploma mill situation. Education Secretary Rodney Paige said last month that his department is developing such a list.

Moschella told Collins and Lieberman that the Justice Department is taking the diploma mill situation seriously.

"Such criminal conduct can substantially undermine public confidence in our educational system and the qualifications of employees in private enterprise and government alike," Moschella wrote. He told the senators, however, that federal prosecutors typically use mail fraud, wire fraud, money laundering or conspiracy laws to charge diploma mill suspects.

"There are no federal criminal statues expressly concerning diploma mills," Moschella said.

Stay up-to-date with federal news alerts and analysis — Sign up for GovExec's email newsletters.
Close [ x ] More from GovExec

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from GovExec.com.
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Forecasting Cloud's Future

    Conversations with Federal, State, and Local Technology Leaders on Cloud-Driven Digital Transformation

  • The Big Data Campaign Trail

    With everyone so focused on security following recent breaches at federal, state and local government and education institutions, there has been little emphasis on the need for better operations. This report breaks down some of the biggest operational challenges in IT management and provides insight into how agencies and leaders can successfully solve some of the biggest lingering government IT issues.

  • Communicating Innovation in Federal Government

    Federal Government spending on ‘obsolete technology’ continues to increase. Supporting the twin pillars of improved digital service delivery for citizens on the one hand, and the increasingly optimized and flexible working practices for federal employees on the other, are neither easy nor inexpensive tasks. This whitepaper explores how federal agencies can leverage the value of existing agency technology assets while offering IT leaders the ability to implement the kind of employee productivity, citizen service improvements and security demanded by federal oversight.

  • IT Transformation Trends: Flash Storage as a Strategic IT Asset

    MIT Technology Review: Flash Storage As a Strategic IT Asset For the first time in decades, IT leaders now consider all-flash storage as a strategic IT asset. IT has become a new operating model that enables self-service with high performance, density and resiliency. It also offers the self-service agility of the public cloud combined with the security, performance, and cost-effectiveness of a private cloud. Download this MIT Technology Review paper to learn more about how all-flash storage is transforming the data center.

  • Ongoing Efforts in Veterans Health Care Modernization

    This report discusses the current state of veterans health care


When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.