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LAHORE: The Axact degree scandal is turning out to be the biggest fraud of its kind in the world in terms of magnitude and the amount of money involved, conveniently over-shadowing the infamous “University Degree Programme” scam surfacing in the United States of America a few years ago, a study conducted by the Jang Group and Geo Television Network reveals.
The “University Degree Programme” operation was estimated to have sold more than 30,000 fake online degrees and had reportedly received proceeds totaling $50 million to $100 million or even more, an amount which might appear to be peanuts once the complete details of Axact’s degree scandal surface in a few days time.
The New York-based “University Degree Programme” was an unaccredited consortium of diploma mills run by two Americans, Jason and Caroline Abraham, during the 1990s.In 2004, the globally acknowledged Washington DC-based newspaper and website “Chronicle of Higher Education” had dubbed the University Degree Programme “the grand-daddy” of all diploma mills operations ever.
The “Chronicle of Higher Education” had reported that the “University Degree Programme” used to recruit “interested students” or “fake degree seekers” over telephone though call centres in Romania.These call centres also used to sell fake international driving licences.
The telephone salespeople, who were paid commission and received performance-based bonuses, would offer degrees in any field requested and would take into account the life experience of the “interested applicant.” The Abrahams, or the men running the “University Degree Programme,” had created numerous websites for a variety of bogus institutions whose names were printed on diplomas, quite similar to the modus operandi of Shoaib Sheikh’s Axact Private Limited.
Customers were not told which of these “universities” would issue their degrees. The “Chronicle of Higher Education” had further reported
that men at the helm of affairs at the “University Degree Programme” would then write letters to its customers stating: “The policy of not disclosing the name of the University protects you against unscrupulous individuals who do not approve of self study and life style improvement.”
The “BBC News” had then interviewed two victims of the “University Degree Programme” rip-off. The victims had revealed that between 1996 and 2002, this diploma mill had claimed to be running the subsidiaries of reputable British universities such as the Glasgow Caledonian University and even the City University of London.
Interestingly, it used to run an actual distant-learning programme online or by mail.The correspondence addresses of the bogus institutions were in the immediate vicinity of these universities in order to create a genuine background along with the websites.
The study material was prepared in accordance with the syllabus on the website and was regularly sent to the students, who previously had agreed to pay a yearly tuition fee. But towards the end of 2002, the “University Degree Programme” owners had commercialized the operations and had opted to merely sell their bogus diplomas.
Early in 2003 the United States Federal Trade Commission, the Israeli and the British governments had initiated action against this diploma mill, shutting many of its call centres.
Consequently, the Abrahams (owners of the “University Degree Programme”) had promptly returned over $100,000 in profits or the money they had hoodwinked, and had promised to stop selling fake online degrees.
The institutions connected to the “University Degree Programme”) had included: The Ashford University London (not to be confused with Iowa State’s Ashford School), Brentwick University, Harrington University, Hartford University (not to be confused with the University of Hartford in Connecticut), Hartley University, Kingsfield University, Landford University, Northfield University, Oaklands University, Parkhurst University, Parkwood University, Shaftesbury University, Shelbourne University, Shepperton University, Stafford University, Summerset University, Thornewood University, University of Bedford, University of Devonshire, University of Dorchester, University of Dunham, University of Hampshire, University of Palmers Green, University of San Moritz, University of Wexford, Westbourne University and Westhampton University etc.
Numerous prominent people worldwide were later found possessing the bogus “University Degree Programme” diplomas.
These personalities included the known Greek politician Kostas Margaritis, a Liberian footballer-turned-politician George Weah, a distinguished female Lebanese politician Antonie Zahra and Jim Mann, who was appointed by the Governor of Arkansas as the Chief Information Technology Officer of the American State of Kansas, but had to resign from his post on November 7, 2011 after questions about his credentials were published in the US media.
In 2004, Laura Callahan of the United States Department of Homeland Security had to resign after it was learnt that she had received her doctorate from the unaccredited Hamilton University (not to be confused with the fully accredited Hamilton College in New York).She had also served at the White House during President Bill Clinton’s tenure.
The Laura Callahan scandal had raised serious doubts about the American government’s ability to vet, verify and crosscheck the qualifications of public employees on whom the world superpower’s security depended so much.
Charles Abell, the principal Deputy Undersecretary of US Defense for Personnel and Readiness, was also identified by the American Press as having obtained his master’s degree from an unaccredited distance learning school.
Daniel Matthews, Chief Information Officer for the US Department of Transportation, was also found guilty on this count and so were Rene Drouin (who sat on an advisory committee at the US Department of Education) and Jennifer Carroll (who served on the National Commission on Presidential Scholars).
It is imperative to note that during the 1980-1991 Operation Diploma Scam (Operation Dipscam), the American FBI had conducted a series of investigations throughout the United States and abroad.
During Operation Dipscam, 40 diplomas with transcripts were purchased; 16 federal search warrants were executed; 19 Federal Grand Jury indictments were returned, 40 schools were dismantled, and FBI had obtained over 20 convictions.
The FBI had also identified over 12,500 “graduates” of these institutions from school records.
These “fake graduates” had included federal, state and county employees, who were employed in business, education, law enforcement spheres and medical field etc.
No fewer than 463 US federal employees were discovered to have been enrolled in the three schools at the time of the inquiry.
The US Department of Defence had 257 employees registered in these diploma mills.
US Congressional hearings were also held in this context.
The June 7, 2004 edition of the New York Post (the 13th-oldest and seventh-most-widely circulated newspaper in the United States) had stated: “The embarrassing love affair with these academically suspect pieces of parchment also puts the spotlight on an American Stock Exchange-listed company called “Cenuco Inc.,” which sells the degrees to the public through a subsidiary called “Barrington University.”
Having a daily circulation of 500,521, the 214-year old New York Post had uncovered 15 different chairmen and CEOs, 29 corporate board members and 40 other top officials of public companies who had burnished their resumes with diplomas and degrees from the “Barrington University” and 17 similar institutions like the “Columbia State University” and the “Kensington University” etc.
Tracing the roots and history of this menace, the “Jang Group and Geo Television Network” research shows that this business of selling and buying fake educational degrees has been going on since 1872, when the prestigious New York Times had first shed light on sale of fake medical degrees in the United States for a fee by Dr. John Buchanan’s Philadelphia-based diploma mill.
The luck, pluck and criminal guile of Dr. John Buchanan has been described in an article appearing in the spring 2015 Bulletin of the history of Medicine, Volume 89. This research article has been written by David Alan Johnson, the senior vice president for assessment at the Federation of State Medical Boards.
David Alan Johnson writes that Buchanan, the Dean of the Eclectic Medical College of Pennsylvania and a prolific writer with the esteemed “Journal of medical progress” and the “Encyclopedia on the practice of medicine based on Bacteriology,” was convicted on November 25, 1880 for conspiracy to defraud the government. He was fined US$500 and the costs of his prosecution and had also received a 10-month sentence, which he had served subsequently at a Pennsylvania prison.
At the time of his arrest, the US authorities had uncovered evidence for the sale of 3,000 bogus diplomas, though a journal had published a list of nearly 9,000 phony graduates from the Eclectic Medical College!
Earlier, on August 18, 1880, the New York Times had published a report that Dr. Buchanan had committed suicide by jumping into the Delaware River, but the body was not found.
Within 48 hours, the local police said it believed the suicide to be a hoax and that Buchanan was on the run.While all this was going on, various journals and newspapers had published a letter from Andrew White, the American Ambassador to Germany.
Addressed to the then US Secretary of the Interior, the American diplomat had described the German authorities’ frustration with the dubious diplomas originating from America. In October 1881, Dr. Buchanan had completed his first sentence, only to be immediately transported back to the district court to face the long-delayed mail fraud charges. In the mail fraud case, the notorious diploma mill owner was fined US$1,000 and sentenced to a year in jail.
He was forced to use his home as security to obtain funds for his US $15,000 bail.
Researcher David Alan Johnson says: “He was actually hand-cuffed four times between 1872 and 1876 for medical malpractice, printing “obscene” circulars and for obtaining money under false pretences, but a combination of good fortune, connections and perhaps “connivance” by those who should have moved these cases forward had saved Buchanan in each instance. Indeed, none of the cases ever came to trial but were quietly dropped.” Surprisingly, Buchanan had resumed his diploma selling business with a new business partner named Rebecca Russell, as evidenced by his arrest and conviction in early 1885. He had died in 1905.
Basically, John Buchanan’s story is that of a criminal enterprise launched within the confines of a legitimate medical school where it flourished discreetly before it grew so large that it corrupted that institution and spread into a public spotlight.