TheStarcom - Canada - Phony degrees catch up to buyers by lonyoo

 - Canada - Phony degrees catch up to buyers                                       

              Phony degrees catch up to buyers
              December 13, 2008

              DALE BRAZAO
              STAFF REPORTER

              Marie Theriault-Sabourin is a
              manager in the registrar's office at
              Algonquin College in Ottawa. She
              has a master's degree in business

              Quami Frederick used her
              bachelor's degree to get into
              Toronto's Osgoode Hall law school
              and was offered a job articling with
              a Bay St. law firm.

              Armed with his Ph.D in political
              science, police tactical trainer                                                            DALE BRAZAO/TORONTO STAR

              Augustus Michalik counts various            Anthony Alsayed, who has MD from Russia, holds Ph.D. from bogus St. Regis
              Canadian and U.S. law enforcement
              agencies as his clients.
                                                                                                    OTHER PHONIES
              The problem is, their university degrees are fake.
                                                                                                    Laura Callaghan:
              They are among at least 220 Canadians with bogus academic
                                                                                                    Former senior director
              credentials uncovered in a recent probe. Worldwide, fake
                                                                                                    at the United States
              degrees are a billion dollar industry, even threatening
                                                                                                    Department of
              government security, investigators say.
                                                                                                    Homeland Security.
              Last week, an undercover Star investigation exposed Peng Sun,
                                                                                                    Stephen Kai Yiu
              a York University grad who forges university degrees from real
                                                                                                    Chung: Hamilton man
              Canadian universities for $4,000. Sun's client list was not
                                                                                                    practised medicine
              available, but the Star obtained a list of Canadians who bought
                                                                                                    without a licence for
              fake degrees from an American diploma mill busted three years
                                                                                                    15 years.
              ago by the U.S. Secret Service and Homeland Security.
                                                                                                    Dennis Roark:
              St. Regis University, which granted degrees under various
                                                                                                    Practised medicine for
              names, was a complete fake. Canadians on its "buyers list"
                                                                                                    10 years in Michigan,
              gave the Star one of three explanations: some admitted the
                                                                                                    Ohio and Ontario,
              degrees were bogus, some claimed they submitted course work
                                                                                                    although he never
              (but did not provide proof to the Star), and others thought they
                                                                                                    attended medical
              were awarded real degrees for life experiences.
              "I don't want my name in (the story)," said Theriault-Sabourin,
                                                                                                    Michael J. Greene:
              who is the manager of scheduling in the registrar's office at
                                                                                                    CEO operating officer
              Algonquin, a 16,000-student college in Ottawa. She said she
              now understands the master's degree she purchased in 2000

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              for $1,350 is bogus.                                               of UMass Memorial
                                                                                 Health Care Inc.
              Her husband, Leo, bought two, a bachelor's degree in business
              and an MBA in marketing. The couple have a turbulent financial     Luc St-Laurent:
              past and it's unclear what role the fake degrees played. Leo       Montreal man used
              was found guilty in an Ottawa court of tax evasion and fraud       bogus nursing
              last May for evading almost $5 million in income taxes he          credentials to treat
              prepared for dozens of clients, mainly chiropractors.              patients at clinic.

              Marie declared bankruptcy earlier this year with more than         Lana Nguyen: Regina
              $680,000 in debts and Leo declared bankruptcy in 2002, owing       woman used former
              $483,000 (Leo was discharged from bankruptcy, and Marie's          husband's credentials
              more recent bankruptcy is facing a court hearing).                 to get teaching job at
                                                                                 U. of Regina.
              "I never used it, and never will use it," Marie said of her
              degree, which she obtained just before she began her duties at     Robert Richard
              Algonquin. Her husband, who is awaiting sentencing, could not      Haines: Toronto man
              be reached for comment.                                            taught high school
                                                                                 three decades.
              Responsibilities of the registrar's office at Algonquin include
              authenticating degrees from other educational facilities. A        Ali Kordan: Iranian
              college spokesman would not comment.                               Interior Minister.

              The couple's degrees came from a Washington State diploma          Terrance Popowich:
              mill. Eight ringleaders pleaded guilty to mail and wire fraud      Was VP of Toronto
              charges. They set up 120 fake schools with names like St.          Stock Exchange.
              Regis University and James Monroe University. There were no
              courses or classes.

              The head provost of St. Regis University was a high school dropout.

              The gang raked in more than $7 million in sales to 131 countries. It sold everything from
              high school diplomas to PhDs and medical degrees. Dozens of U.S. government employees
              are on the list, including a White House staff member, National Security Agency
              employees, a senior State Department official, and a Department of Justice employee.

              Tens of thousands of people are walking around with "ticking time bombs in their
              resumes," says Allen Ezell, a former FBI agent who has spent a big chunk of his career
              investigating diploma mills.

              This week Quami Frederick's blew up on her.

              A third-year Osgoode Hall Law School student, Frederick, 28, is on the list as having paid
              $1,109 for a "B.A." in Business Administration, plus a transcript of marks. Using the
              degree transcript, Frederick got into Osgoode as one of 290 students selected from 2,500
              applicants in 2006.

              Contacted by the Star several weeks ago, Frederick initially denied everything, suggesting
              she might be the victim of identity fraud.

              "I'm not worried because I never bought any degree from any university," said Frederick,
              who expected to graduate next year and has a job lined up with Wildeboer and Dellelce,
              LLP. The law firm noted her degree on its website, welcoming her aboard as an articling

              This week, after much soul searching, Frederick changed her story.

              "I'm sorry. I shouldn't have lied to you," Frederick said. "I should've levelled with you. I
              figured you'd call the university and they wouldn't tell you anything and that would be the
              end of it."

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              The change of heart came after the Star found she never attended St. George's University
              in Grenada, from where she claimed to have an undergraduate degree. Frederick's case is
              different from others. St. George's is a real university and it appears the degree mill
              forged documents from there.

              Frederick now says "the truth" is she spent $8,000 for a six-month, "fast-track" online
              business degree in 2004. School spokesperson Lisa O'Connor said St. George's does not
              offer this type of online course.

              "Her degree is completely bogus," said O'Connor, noting the fake transcript shows
              Frederick spent four years at the school and made the Dean's honour list with a near
              perfect 3.93 grade point average. "No one by the name of Quami Frederick has ever been
              a student at our school."

              Frederick told the Star this week that the associate dean of Osgoode Hall Law School at
              York University has launched an investigation into "a potential breach of academic
              honesty" and she may be expelled. A York spokesperson said they have a department that
              verifies applicant's credentials, but would not comment on Frederick's case. The law firm
              removed her name from its website yesterday and is investigating.

              The St. Regis degree mill was shut down in August 2005 after a Secret Service agent,
              posing as a retired Syrian army weapons specialist, applied for three degrees, saying he
              needed them urgently to stay in the United States.

              The only requirement St. Regis made of this potential terrorist was whether he would be
              paying with Visa, MasterCard or American Express. Two weeks and $1,277 later, the
              fictional Mohammed Syed got his degrees in chemistry and environmental engineering,
              based on his "life experience."

              Seeing St. Regis as a threat to national security, a task force comprised of eight federal
              agencies moved quickly. In six years of operation, St. Regis had spread its tentacles
              around the globe ensnaring clients across Europe, Russia, the Middle East and Asia.

              Operators used email to spam potential customers with tempting offers that included,
              "buy one degree at full price, get a second free."

              Wayne Victor Cook bought two.

              A former provincial and municipal candidate in Ontario, Cook claims his public affairs
              company Wayne Cook Public Affairs Consulting confers with the president of the United
              States at the White House. He also claims on his website that he played a key role in
              getting John Tory elected as leader of the Ontario Conservative Party.

              Listing numerous blue chip companies and Ontario universities as employers and clients
              on his curriculum vitae, Cook also claimed to have an Executive MBA from the very real
              Heriot-Watts University in Edinburgh, Scotland.

              He does not.

              What he does have is two bogus degrees, an MBA and a Ph.D., purchased from the St.
              Regis diploma mill in 2004.

              Cook, who ran for the Ontario Liberals in Beaches-Woodbine in 1981 and Toronto City
              Council in 1997, losing both times, paid $1,133 for a Ph.D. and an MBA in Human
              Resources Management.

              Just hours after being contacted by the Star, Cook's online bios underwent radical
              changes. His Executive MBA from Heriot-Watts is now "expected" in 2010. All references
              to his MBA and PhD were deleted.

              "I don't have an interest, and really don't have any comments for you," Cook replied when

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              asked to explain the vanishing degrees.

              A spokesperson for John Tory denied Cook played any role in his election as leader.

              Design engineer Terry A. Hrushka is so proud of his three degrees from St. Regis that he's
              posted them on his website – a Bachelor of Science in Natural Physics in 1992, a Master of
              Applied Science in 1994, and a Doctorate in Process Physics in 1996.

              The problem is St. Regis University, which falsely claimed it was accredited by the
              government of Liberia, didn't issue any degrees, bogus as they were, until 1999. What
              they did do was graduate any student with a credit card on any date they wanted.

              "What you have written to me has devastated my life," Hrushka said in an email to the
              Star, responding to written questions. Hrushka said he thought his degrees were real. "I
              have now wasted six years of my life and just over $50,000 U.S."

              "I wish I had the records to prove all this," Hrushka wrote, claiming he took
              correspondence courses from St. Regis. "But unfortunately they were lost over time as I
              moved around a great deal."

              Martial arts expert Augustus Robert Michalik counts the Royal Canadian Mounted Police,
              the U.S. Navy Seals, CIA agents and police officers from across Ontario as students of his
              Police Tactical Training and Black Arts courses he has taught for years.

              Proudly posted on his website are certificates of achievement including one issued to "Dr.
              Augustus Michalik, PhD", by the United Nations Institute for Training and Research for
              courses in Global Terrorism.

              Author of several books, including The Knife Fighting Anti-terrorist Handbook, Michalik
              purchased his degree in "Political Science" for $1,340 in 2003, and paid for it with a credit
              card, according to the information compiled by the U.S Justice Department.

              "You've got the wrong guy," Michalik said when reached on his cell phone at his base in
              London, Ont., saying he had just returned from a consulting job in the Philippines. "That's
              not me."

              His Ph.D. is in " political philosophy dealing with terrorism," Michalik said, but refused to
              name the university. "If you want, you can talk to my lawyer," Michalik said, then hung

              Days later, all references to his Ph.D. disappeared from the website of Homeland Security
              Inc. where Michalik is the CEO. The Star was unable to determine which officers from the
              RCMP or other forces Michalik has trained.

              One degree recipient, Dr. Anthony Alsayed, says he has instructed his lawyer to sue the
              people behind St. Regis in an attempt to clear his name.

              A Lebanese-born Canadian with a medical degree from People's Friendship University in
              Moscow, Alsayed admits he made a mistake in trying to piggyback a PhD from St. Regis
              on to his medical degree from Russia.

              "I'm a victim in this. It's not as if I'm a plumber who was looking for a PhD in education,"
              Alsayed, said in an interview at his Mississauga home. "I have my MD. I'm a real doctor."

              His medical degree is recognized in Canada, Alsayed said, but he is not licensed to
              practice as a physician. Until recently he ran a company that prepped students to take
              their medical exams.

              Alsayed showed the Star a receipt for $1,659 for his PhD in "Medical and Health Care
              Education." He also paid $650 to a U.S. degree certification company that checked out St.
              Regis and told Alsayed his degree was issued by a bona fide university accredited by

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              Liberia. What Alsayed did not know was that the St. Regis scam artists had fooled
              everyone, creating a website purporting to be that of the Liberian government, which
              heaped praise on St. Regis as a great university.

              To add insult to injury, St. Regis took the marks Alsayed got from his medical courses in
              Russia, and lowered them in the transcripts they sold to him. When he protested, they
              sent him an email saying a PhD in "Medical Management" from St. Regis was a very tough
              degree to earn.

              "My wife says I'm naïve," Alsayed said of how he fell for the scam. "I thought this was the
              way they did things in North America."

              Teacher Kin-Yau "Kenny" Wong has a real master's in business from the University of
              Toronto, then went and endangered his career by adding a bogus Ph.D. from Belford
              University to his academic record.

              "I tried to use it at my school, but later on I found out that was wrong," Wong said. "I can
              frankly say I did not use it for any financial gain," said Wong, who paid $1,540 for the
              bogus Ph.D. in education.

              "I admit I did something wrong," Wong said. "I just tried to satisfy my own ego."

              Bogus degrees are a billion-dollar-a-year industry, says former FBI agent Ezell, who has
              spent most of his career investigating the sale of counterfeit and bogus college credentials
              and is now vice-president for corporate fraud investigation for Wachovia Bank.

              Ezell, who headed the massive FBI investigation in the late 1980s, estimates there are
              400 Internet diploma mills spewing out 200,000 bogus diplomas a year. More than 85 per
              cent are located in the U.S.

              The fallout from the St. Regis bust is just now being felt across America.

              Fourteen New York firefighters were fined more than $135,000 after they submitted bogus
              degrees from St. Regis in attempts to gain promotions. Six Chicago-area police officers
              also purchased bogus degrees. One cop even submitted his "tuition" from St. Regis for
              reimbursement from the department.

              His superior, who signed off on the expense, had also obtained a bogus degree from the
              same diploma mill.

              Dale Brazao can be reached at (416) 869-4433 or

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