Courts & Crime

Florida court shuts down diploma mill business at request of federal regulators

A U.S. District Court in Florida on Friday shut down a diploma mill business that federal regulators say earned more than $11 million selling fake high school diplomas online.

The court’s order, which came in response to a lawsuit filed by the Federal Trade Commission, puts a temporary stop to business operations of Diversified Educational Resources LLC, based in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., and Motivational Management & Development Services Ltd., based in Nogales, Ariz. Owners of both companies _ Maria T. Garcia and Alexander Wolfram _ also are named as defendants in the lawsuit.

Using the names “Jefferson High School Online” and “Enterprise High School Online,” the alleged diploma mill charged consumers $200 to $300 for “official” and accredited high school diplomas, according to the lawsuit.

But students who try to use the diplomas to apply to college, get a job or join the military discover that the documents “are virtually worthless,” the FTC’s lawsuit states.

When students seek refunds, they’re often turned down, the suit alleges.

Messages left at a corporate number listed on websites for both Diversified Educational Resources and Motivational Management & Development Services were not immediately returned on Friday.

“These defendants took students’ money but only provided a worthless credential that won’t help their future plans,” Jessica Rich, director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection, said in a statement.

The FTC’s suit asks the court to shut down the business permanently and requests compensation for consumers.

Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi also announced Friday that her office was suing Diversified Educational Resources in Broward County circuit court for violations of state law after receiving more than 100 consumer complaints about the phony diplomas.

Jefferson High School and Enterprise High School are registered with the Florida Department of State but operate from Arizona with a virtual office in Broward County, Fla., in an alleged attempt to make it appear the schools are located in Florida, the attorney general’s lawsuit states.

Both online programs involve “no coursework, instruction, textbooks or reference materials,” the lawsuit alleges.

The only requirements are that students complete a one-minute experience survey, an essay and a 100-question multiple choice test in order to obtain a diploma, which is shipped within five days, according to the suit.

The lawsuit charges that the test is rigged: The 100 online questions are structured so that students “are essentially guaranteed” to answer at least 61 percent of the questions correctly.

With four possible answers to each question, the test gives students four chances to answer correctly, so that “students can select every answer choice until they choose the correct response,” according to the lawsuit.

If a student answers incorrectly, the suit alleges, the test will “provide customers hints to assist them choose the correct answer.”