Associate 2009-10

George D Gollin


Hijacking Liberia: How American Criminals Seized the Ministry of Education

In 2002 University of Illinois computers were targeted with a barrage of spam offering “diplomas from prestigious non-accredited universities.” When Professor Gollin called a number in one of the ads to complain, he learned that the organization would sell him a degree in any subject he could name--even orthopedic surgery. Alarmed, he began collecting information about the products sold by diploma mills and posting it to a university website for the benefit of the larger public. Then the owners of St. Regis University threatened a lawsuit.

The ensuing brawl led to a multi-agency federal criminal investigation, felony convictions of eight individuals, and new higher education legislation at the state and federal levels. Professor Gollin played a role in all of this. The story involves villains and corrupt foreign diplomats, investigative reporters, undercover federal agents, offshore bank accounts, and collaborating hoodlums abroad. Now Professor Gollin is telling that story in a book manuscript.

The book’s primary axis is the nine-year trajectory and spectacular immolation of St. Regis University. Professor Gollin’s profile of the group describes the owners earning more than $2 million per year and selling approximately 10,800 degrees to 9,600 customers with a customer base spanning 131 countries and all 50 states.

But St. Regis was a family business, and its principal owners, Dixie and Steve Randock, and other family members are also part of the story. How is it that these people, largely lacking in education and coming from stressed families, were able to launch a criminal organization of such sophistication? Ultimately they controlled the Liberian embassy in Washington as well as Liberia’s Ministry of Education. They commissioned the Minister of Justice to negotiate a degree-laundering arrangement between St. Regis and the University of Liberia. How were these relationships established, and what does it teach us about the nature and organization of the diploma mill industry?

During his Center appointment Professor Gollin will interview as many of the story’s principals as possible and collaborate with his coauthor, Assistant Attorney General Jack Zurlini (Spokane), who launched the initial criminal investigation of St. Regis in September 2004.