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Tuesday, March 21, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Diploma mill linked to Liberian diplomats

By The Associated Press

SPOKANE – Three Liberian diplomats were paid more than $43,000 to provide bogus accreditation for an online diploma mill, according to documents filed in federal court.

The diplomats were given cash payments in Liberia, Ghana and Washington, D.C., according to documents filed Monday in U.S. District Court as Richard John Novak pleaded guilty to conspiracy and violating the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.

He could face up to 10 years in prison and millions of dollars in fines.

The money came from the Spokane bank accounts of Dixie E. and Stephen K. Randock Sr. of Colbert, described by federal investigators as the principal operators of the diploma mill, according to Novak, who remained free pending sentencing in December.

Novak said that in exchange, the diplomats, who were not named in the publicly available court filings, arranged for Liberia's Board of Education to provide "accreditation" for Saint Regis University, described by investigators as a worldwide fraud scheme and one of several diploma mills operated by the Randocks and six others.

One diplomat was secretly filmed accepting a bribe from Novak in a hotel room in Washington, D.C., after the Secret Service opened an investigation, partly because of an article in The Spokesman-Review in November 2003, the newspaper reported Tuesday.

Using the Liberian accreditation, the operation received $4.7 million from sales of an estimated 6,000 phony college degrees, about 40 percent of them to foreign residents seeking entry into the United States, investigators have written in court filings.

The Randocks, who have been released on bail, were indicted Oct. 5 on charges of conspiracy to commit wire and mail fraud and money laundering.

Assistant U.S. Attorney George J.C. Jacobs said the case features what apparently are the first foreign bribery charges to be filed in the Eastern Washington. He said he did not know whether any of the diplomats are still in the United States.

Because they have diplomatic immunity, the State Department would have to approve criminal charges against them.

Novak, who formerly lived in Spokane and now lives in Peoria, Ariz., is the second person to reach a plea agreement with the Justice Department in the case with a promise to testify for the government in a trial set for this fall.

Blake Alan Carlson, owner of a rubber stamp shop who provided embossed seals for bogus college and high school degrees, pleaded guilty earlier this month and also promised to testify.

Novak attended one year of Spokane Community College, left without earning a degree and went to work selling cars. After joining the Randocks' operation in 2002, however, he was identified on the Saint Regis Web site as holding doctorates in international business, educational administration and psychology.

Dixie Randock, according to court filings, sent him to Washington that year to "obtain documents from the U.S. State Department and foreign embassies for Saint Regis University and other diploma mill universities she set up."

"The Liberian consul subsequently informed Novak that if he paid $4,000 in U.S. currency, the Liberian consul would get him accreditation documents signed by the commissioner of higher education for the Republic of Liberia, stating that Saint Regis University was accredited in Liberia," government lawyers wrote.

When Novak told Dixie Randock that the Liberians were demanding cash, she "instructed him to pay the Liberian Consul and do whatever was necessary to obtain accreditation from the Liberian government official," according to court filings.

Once the Web site claimed Saint Regis was accredited in Liberia as a distance-learning operation, however, the Liberian embassy in Washington complained about a flood of inquiries from potential buyers of online degrees.

Dixie Randock then agreed to pay $400 a month to the Liberian consul to "validate inquiries from the public about the legitimacy of Saint Regis University," money that was wired from a bank in Spokane County to the consul's personal bank account in Maryland., according to court documents.

Between October 2002 and September 2004 those payments amounted to about $19,200, investigators wrote.

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company

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