Ken Paxton

Tuesday, December 6, 2005

Attorney General Abbott Gets Felony Indictments Against Two In Diploma Mill Probe

HOUSTON - Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott has obtained two felony indictments each against a Spring couple who ran a widespread illegal forgery operation and Web site known as Diplomas For Less, which was shut down in August.

Randall Shane Dodson, 33, and Wendi Bailes Dodson, 35, turned themselves in to Harris County Sheriff’s officers late last week following the grand jury indictments and an investigation by Attorney General Abbott’s Special Investigations Unit.We have shut down a white-collar Internet fraud ring operated by a couple who sold forgeries at top dollar and were spending these illegal proceeds lavishly on themselves, said Attorney General Abbott. Those who purchased these forged diplomas and transcripts have been identified, and they now know they hold worthless paper because the secret is out. If they want an education in Texas, they will have to earn it.

The Texas probe, launched by Attorney General Abbott’s investigators after learning of forged documents surfacing in New York, found that the couple schemed to commit forgery by producing facsimiles of university diplomas and transcripts. They allegedly sold these via their Web site to almost 14,000 individuals nationwide, garnering about $873,000 in illegal profits. The two were indicted on charges of tampering with a government document, a second-degree felony.

More than 300 individuals in Texas purchased forged university diplomas and transcripts from the Web site. Of these, six used the forgeries as credentials to secure employment with the state of Texas and other government offices. Customers routinely paid from $300 to $1,000 for a full diploma and transcript package, depending on the quality, detail and presumed authenticity of the documents.

Texas Attorney General Abbott’s investigators were contacted by officials with the New York Attorney General’s Office in June. The officers had made undercover purchases of diplomas and transcripts in Buffalo, N.Y., after inquiring about them on the couple’s Web site. The Internet protocol address was traced to the Texas couple, and Attorney General Abbott’s investigators were immediately notified for assistance in locating the couple and their operation.

In August, a search warrant executed by Texas and New York attorneys general officers at the couple’s $400,000 residence and nearby office turned up computer files of transactions and physical evidence such as high-grade parchments, high-tech embossing tools, forged university seals and printers with specialized inks.

The Attorney General’s Special Investigations Unit is funded by a grant through the Governor’s Criminal Justice Division.

If convicted on the second-degree felony charges, the Dodsons could face from two to 10 years in prison and a maximum $10,000 fine.