WASHINGTON – Immigration officials are looking through a list of more than 9,000 names to see how many federal employees may have bought a phony high school or college degree from a Spokane, Wash.-based diploma mill.
The Spokesman-Review newspaper obtained the list and published the names on its Web site Monday. The Justice Department has refused to release the list, which grew out of a lengthy investigation by the U.S. attorney for the Eastern district of Washington.
The list included some people who apparently work for government, educational institutions and the military, according to their e-mail addresses that ended in .gov, .edu or .mil., according to the newspaper report.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement, one of the federal agencies that investigates document fraud, is going through the list of 9,612 names and searching for federal employees, agency spokesman Brandon Alvarez-Montgomery said.
It is not known how many Homeland Security Department employees are on this list, he said. But the department's inspector general is investigating what ICE finds. ICE is part of the 208,000-strong department.
Authorities contended the bogus degrees could be used to circumvent U.S. immigration laws and to help the degree holders win promotions and pay raises in government jobs. A task force of state and federal agents served search warrants in August 2005 after investigators found many of the phony degrees were sold in Saudi Arabia, raising national security concerns.
As ICE officials go through the list and identify the federal employees, their names will be sent to their respective agencies for inspector general review, Alvarez-Montgomery said. If a federal employee used a fake degree for personal gain or to get a job with the government, it would be up to the individual agency to take action.
There is no Justice Department investigation into people on the list, Alvarez-Montgomery said.
The newspaper reported that at least nine people with .gov domains worked for federal agencies, including the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, the Health and Human Services Department, the National Security Agency and the CIA.
Indictments in the case were returned in 2005, contending that operators of the diploma mill sold fake high school or college degrees to more than 9,000 people in 131 countries, generating more than $1 million in sales.
The conspirators also made and sold counterfeit copies of degrees and transcripts from legitimate universities, court documents claimed.
The phony diplomas used names such as St. Regis University, James Monroe University and Robertstown University, lawyers said. Counterfeit degrees also were sold in the names of the University of Maryland, the University of Tennessee, Texas A&M and George Washington University.
Investigators also said more than $43,000 in bribes were paid to three Liberian diplomats, including one payment that was videotaped by Secret Service agents at a hotel in Washington, D.C. Government lawyers have said diplomatic immunity precludes charges against the diplomats.
The Liberian "Board of Education" offered accreditation for the diploma mills in exchange for the bribes, according to court filings.
The leader of a diploma mill, Dixie Ellen Randock, 58, earlier this month was sentenced to three years in prison for conspiracy to commit wire and mail fraud. Randock's daughter, Heidi Kae Lorhan, was sentenced to a year in prison.
Dixie's husband, Steven K. Randock Sr., 68, who is recovering from open-heart surgery, will be sentenced Aug. 5.
The Randocks and Lorhan were indicted in October 2005 and pleaded guilty March 26, the eve of their trial, to conspiracy to commit wire and mail fraud. In the plea agreement, the U.S. attorney's office dropped charges of money laundering, which carried longer sentences.
The Randocks also agreed to forfeit $535,000 in cash and their late-model Jaguar.
Defendants Blake Alan Carlson, Richard John Novak, Kenneth Wade Pearson and Amy Leann Hensley await sentencing after pleading guilty and agreeing to cooperate with authorities in exchange for lighter sentences.