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Diploma Mill Operators Bribed Officials

Operators of a Spokane-based diploma mill bribed or tried to bribe people in Russia, India and Italy in an effort to get their bogus online universities accredited, according to federal court documents.

The documents were filed as part of the sentencing of Amy Hensley, Blake Alan Carlson and Richard J. “Rick” Novak. They were indicted in 2005, along with Dixie and Steven Randock, the masterminds of the mill, The Spokesman-Review newspaper reported Wednesday.

Hensley, Carlson and Novak cooperated with state and federal investigators involved in “Operation Gold Seal” in the hopes of getting lighter sentences, Assistant U.S. Attorney George Jacobs said. The Randocks and others pleaded guilty earlier this year, so there was no trial.

But some of the evidence has been attached to sentencing memorandums filed by the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

Those documents reveal the Randocks paid $100,000 to an unidentified official in India, hoping to get that country to provide “accreditation” for their online schools.

They were also working with people in the Russian Education Ministry and had made a connection in Seborga, Italy, the documents said.

Hensley, Carlson and Novak on Tuesday were placed on three years of probation by U.S. District Judge Lonny Suko for conspiracy to commit wire and mail fraud. The judge also ordered Hensley and Carlson to perform 240 hours of community service and Novak to perform 300 hours of service.

The three provided prosecutors with information about the inner workings of the diploma mill, which hauled in almost $8 million over several years.

Novak, 58, took thousands of dollars from the Randocks and used it to pay cash bribes to senior Liberian officials who used their country’s board of education to provide accreditation to more than 100 online high schools and universities set up by the Spokane diploma mill.

He was paid $60,000 for being the Randocks’ “emissary” with foreign government officials, Jacobs told the court.

Carlson pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit wire and mail fraud and violating the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act by bribing foreign officials. Hensley and Carlson pleaded guilty to conspiracy counts.

Carlson, 61, who owns a printing shop, sold bogus degree stamps and diploma seals to the Randocks. Hensley, 41, worked as an adviser, shipper and bookkeeper for the diploma mill.

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