SPOKANE, Wash. (AP) _ A leader of a Spokane-based diploma mill pleaded guilty Wednesday to a federal charge of conspiracy to commit wire and mail fraud.
Dixie Ellen Randock, 58, a high school dropout, sold fraudulent college degrees and transcripts from more than 125 bogus online universities she created.
She faces a maximum three years in prison and $250,000 fine when she is sentenced in several weeks in U.S. District Court.
Her husband, Steven K. Randock Sr., and Dixie Randock's daughter, Heidi Kae Lorhan, are also expected to enter pleas soon. The final defendant, Roberta Lynn Markishtrum, is also reportedly negotiating a deal with the U.S. attorney's office.
An indictment returned in 2005 said Dixie Randock and others used their string of fictional online universities to sell college degrees and transcripts to more than 8,200 customers, including foreigners and U.S. government employees around the world.
Authorities say the bogus degrees could be used to circumvent U.S. immigration laws and to help the degree holders win promotions and pay raises in government jobs.
The conspirators also manufactured and sold counterfeit copies of degrees and transcripts from legitimate universities, court documents showed.
The Randocks were accused of using a Spokane print shop and a rented basement office in Post Falls, Idaho, to sell counterfeit degrees from the University of Maryland, the University of Tennessee, Texas A&M and George Washington University.
The Randocks had faced a June trial. Investigators allege the operation took in $5 million.
Hundreds of government employees are among the people who paid thousands of dollars for phony diplomas, which used names such as St. Regis University, James Monroe University and Robertstown University, lawyers have said.
Investigators also have asserted that more than $43,000 in bribes were paid to three Liberian diplomats, including one payment that was videotaped by Secret Service agents at a hotel in Washington, D.C. Government lawyers have said diplomatic immunity precludes charges against the diplomats.
The Liberian "Board of Education" offered accreditation for the diploma mills in exchange for the bribes, according to court filings.
A task force of state and federal agents served search warrants in August 2005 after investigators found many of the phony degrees were sold in Saudi Arabia, raising national security concerns.
Copyright 2008 The Associated Press.