SPOKANE, Wash. – At least 135 federal employees, including a White House staff member and National Security Agency employees, bought bogus online college degrees from a diploma mill, a lawyer in the case against the mill operators said.
Some of those who paid thousands of dollars for phony diplomas include a senior State Department employee in Kuwait and a Department of Justice employee in Spokane, defense lawyer Peter S. Schweda said Wednesday.
The bogus degree purchases by the federal workers were revealed Wednesday during a U.S. District Court status conference for five defendants in the case against the mill, The Spokesman-Review reported Thursday.
None of the federal officials was identified during the conference.
"We're not going to disclose who bought these degrees until after the trial is under way," U.S. Attorney James A. McDevitt told the newspaper.
The alleged ringleaders of the bogus diploma mill, Dixie E. and Stephen K. Randock Sr., were indicted in October 2005 on charges of conspiring to commit wire and mail fraud and laundering almost $2 million in diploma mill receipts from 2002 to 2005. The indictments were the result of an eight-month investigation into the mill.
Eight workers at the diploma operation have been charged, including the Randocks.
On Tuesday, Kenneth Wade Pearson, 31, webmaster for the diploma mill operation, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit wire and mail fraud and receipt of child pornography.
Pearson said he would provide evidence and testify against the Randocks.
Pearson, who likely faces three to five years in prison, remained free on a $10,000 bond. The judge postponed his sentencing until December 2007, two months after the Randocks and three others are scheduled to go on trial.
As webmaster, Pearson set up and maintained as many as 125 Web sites for sales of fraudulent college and high school degrees worldwide, investigators wrote in court filings.
More than 10,000 sexually explicit images of children were found in four computers used by the Spokane-based operation, government lawyers said, but only Pearson was named in pornography charges.
Material provided to the defense by the Justice Department shows at least 135 government employees bought college or university degrees to use in seeking promotions or pay raises, Schweda said. The phony diplomas came from such places as St. Regis University, James Monroe University and Robertstown University.