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When Elected Officials Aren't What They Seem

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Identity deception can take many forms. A diploma mill degree, for example, may cause employers and taxpayers to assume candidates credentials are genuine. Unless the deception is discovered, diploma mill customers adorn their identities with unearned titles before and after their name. Last year, Dallas based Trinity Southern University awarded a Masters degree to a Pennsylvania cat.

News for Public Officials has learned that one well-known Texas County Clerk serving on the Supreme Court's "Judicial Committee on Information Technology" Task Force claims a Ph.D. from a Wyoming school the United States General Accounting Office defines as a diploma mill.

The United States General Accounting Office: Office of Special Investigations ended a three-year investigation in 2004 that identified seven "unaccredited schools" and "diploma mills" providing "bogus degrees" over the Internet to government officials; sometimes at the taxpayer's expense.

GAO investigators found that 28 high-ranking officials at eight federal agencies hold diploma mill degrees. In addition, data from just two unaccredited schools-Comment: Kennedy Western University and California Coast University-revealed nearly $170,000 in tuition payments from the federal government.

Before she obtained her degree from Kennedy-Western and began calling herself Dr. Dianne Wilson, PhD, a Grand Jury indicted the Fort Bend County Clerk on charges she used taxpayer money to partially finance a Bachelor Degree from St. Edwards University and Certificates from the National Center for State Courts' Institute for Court Management. (St. Edwards and the NCSC are accredited)

Wilson eventually beat the charges after reimbursing the taxpayers $7600.00 and campaigning for Jack Stern, the Democratic opponent of Sam Dick, the District Attorney who indicted her. Once elected, Stern dismissed the charges against Wilson. Stern didn't last two years before he was booted out of office for playing politics with Grand Jury Testimony.

Exactly how much the Fort Bend County Clerk may have paid for her credentials from the Kennedy-Western is difficult to determine. The G.A.O. investigators found Pacific Western University, California Coast University and Kennedy-Western University each charge a flat fee for a degree. Pacific Western, for example, charges domestic students $2,295 for a Bachelor's Degree, $2,395 for a Master's and $2,950 for Ph.D.'s. "Dr." Wilson may have paid much more for her degree from Kennedy-Western.

Kennedy-Western apparently accepted Wilson's Certificates from the NCSC: Institute for Court Management as the equivalent of a Master's Degree. The NCSC does not offer Master's degrees.

In a letter to the Fort Bend County Herald Coaster "Dr." Wilson wrote, "I worked hard for two years earning my doctorate degree . . ." Undercover investigators and former Kennedy-Western admissions staff don't call a degree from Kennedy-Western much of an accomplishment . In Bogus Degrees and Unmet Expectations: The GAO testified before the Senate, "Kennedy-Western University, an unaccredited school and a diploma mill, earned short of $25 million in 2003 and currently has almost 10, 000 students enrolled." Under the heading Public Safety the report continued, "They (diploma mills) are a danger to society as a whole when the job in question is critical to public safety, or involves significant responsibility and the person in that position holds a bogus degree and is not qualified to do the job."

GAO investigator Lt. Claudia Gelzer was nearly halfway to a Masters Degree with Kennedy-Western after only sixteen hours of study before deciding she had seen enough. Andrew Coulombe should know the value of a Kennedy-Western Degree. He was one of the Admissions Counselors involved in telemarketing the degree programs in 2002 and 2003.

Testifying before the Senate Committee on Governmental Affairs, Coulombe wrote, "No real school I had ever heard of operated like Kennedy-Western. At Kennedy-Western, everything was about the pursuit of cash. I can tell you that there is no value to a Kennedy-Western education. Anything you learn there can be learned by buying a book and reading it on your own."

Lt. Commander Claudia Gelzer, U.S. Coast guard testified, "As part of the Committee=s team investigating diploma mills, I enrolled at a non-accredited school and took classes. Kennedy-Western courses are not what most of us have experienced at the University level. Instead of structured interaction between professors and fellow students in a classroom B including homework, papers and a series of exams B Kennedy-Western requires students to pass one open-book, multiple-choice test for each class. With just 16 hours of study, I had completed 40 percent of the course requirements for a master=s degree."

"As for my first-hand experience with Kennedy-Western courses and passing the tests, I found that basic familiarity with the textbook was all I needed. I was able to find exam answers without having read a single chapter of the text. As for what I learned, the answer is very little. "

While the use of these "doctor" titles from unaccredited schools would not be allowed at a school districts or federal agencies, Wilson uses the title in her online resume and as a non-council member to the Texas Judicial Council Committee on Public Access to Case Records and other Texas Committees and Associations.

In a letter written to the Fort Bend County Commissioners dated September 22nd 2003, Wilson urged the commissioners to accept her judgment on a software issue because she had all kinds of "credentials" which she put in list form. The list included credentials from the bachelor's degree and certificates that were part of the Grand Jury investigation from 1990 that resulted in her indictment on two felony and five misdemeanor charges. Topping the list of credentials was the new doctorate she "earned" from Kennedy-Western.

Wilson is not the only government official to claim advanced degrees from diploma mills or to put the title "Dr." in front of their name after buying a degree from an unaccredited school. Fort Bend County Judge Robert Hebert sports the title of Doctor of Philosophy as a result of a PhD he obtained from California Coast University, also named in the GAO report.

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Called a "Patriot" by some and "One Angry Texan" by others, Mr. Bloys publishes News for Public Officials (and the people they serve).

A leading public records security expert, his research and comments have appeared in The New York (more...)
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