Belford University: another diploma mill case from our files

So why did the applicant for a professional level position with one of our clients choose Belford University in Humble, Texas to get a Bachelor of Science degree in accounting? Maybe because Belford grants original degrees printed on traditional degree paper with a gold-plated seal which identifies it as a degree from a reputed and reliable institution. Or perhaps because the university offers free three-day shipping on a complete $249 degree package (a 4.0 GPA is $75 extra), consisting of one original accredited degree, two  original transcripts, one award for excellence, one certificate of distinction, one certificate of membership and four education verification letters. We will never know for sure. But we do know that the university’s claims on its two Web sites (www.belforduniversity.net and www.belforduniversity.org) of being “an accredited institution recognized by two renowned accreditation agencies for on-line education, namely the International Accreditation Agency for Online Universities (IAAOU) and Universal Council for Online Education Accreditation (UCOEA) are meaningless as the accreditations are not approved by the U.S. Department of Education. It is a bit suspicious too that on its “.org” site, the links to “University Briefs” are inactive, and thus we cannot find out the details of Belford’s “Clair’s Award for Excellence” and why Clair (spelled without an “e”) is giving out awards.

The Houston Press got on Belford’s haft in 2006 when it exposed the institution as a degree mill, operating from Humble, Texas with an indeed humble office (so humble that it’s non-existent as someone closed its account at the USA 2ME mailbox drop.) An entry in the Wikipedia stated that the degrees are actually mailed from the United Arab Emirates. The Houston Press checked out some of the names of Belford’s professors and its distinguished alums, which include Michael Fonseca, who was “promoted to the post of Divisional Head for Romuna Securities, a subsidiary of Romuna Group.” But the impressive-sounding Romuna appears to have its empire only in the mirage of Belford University.

David Linkletter of the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board said that the board reported Belford to the state Attorney General’s office in March 2006, noting that “this is not a legitimate institute of higher education, as no legitimate university offers a complete degree on the basis of one’s life experience…To the extent that Belford University is in Texas, it is operating in violation of the Texas Education Code.” Since September 2005, the code makes it illegal to use a fraudulent or substandard degree for purposes of employment, business promotion or to seek admission to a university.

Despite Belford’s history of bamboozlement, as many as 500 resumes in LinkedIn, including  those of a New York-based director of human resources and  a CEO in the pharmaceutical industry, boast degrees  from this university, according to a February 2010 post on a  “consumer ally” Web site.

A career in fraud

A prospective client investigation was ordered on a company and its president, but the preliminary information on the president was enough to reject the subject or any company under his direction from the possible business engagement. Initial court searches uncovered a 2001 criminal misdemeanor conviction for possession of a false identification to be used to defraud. The index did not provide much information and the file was destroyed by the court, so SI’s analyst turned to media sources to dig deeper. Sure enough, one article referenced guilty pleas entered in 2002 by the subject and his business partner for hiring imposters to take the Series 7 securities brokers’ examination for them. Each was sentenced to a year of probation and fined $5,000. Other articles from 2002 reported three civil cases for fraud in locations where the subject appeared to have no residential history, and further disclosed that the subject and his partner had been statutorily disqualified from working for a broker licensed by the National Association of Securities Dealers, ordered to disgorge profits and interest totaling $4,649,125 and each were fined $15,000 in civil penalties in 2006. Articles also linked the subject to a con artist who had admitted to defrauding Jewish organizations and individuals of $80 million during the 1990s. Most recently, the FDIC had executed a written agreement with the subject and (the same) business partner after they allegedly failed to seek FDIC approval before making an investment in an unregistered bank holding company. On the whole, this company president had been engaged in fraudulent behavior for nearly a decade and no amount of legal or regulatory action appeared to change his mode of operation.

March 26th, 2010|Fraud|
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