A Connecticut man admitted Thursday to operating an elaborate online diploma mill that churned out $5 million worth of bogus degrees and sold them to customers around the world.
James Enowitch, 48, of Cromwell, pleaded guilty in federal court in Philadelphia to mail fraud and aiding and abetting mail fraud.
Prosecutors said Enowitch and an unnamed accomplice, who has not been charged, launched the scheme in 2003. The fraudulent degrees were eventually sold through at least seven different websites purporting to be associated with numerous phony schools, including Redding University, Glendale University, Suffield University, Greenwood University and Bryson University.
The "universities" had neither brick-and-mortar outposts nor faculty members. Prosecutors said they offered no academic curricula, required no coursework and were not recognized by the U.S. Department of Education.
Enowitch sold associates, bachelors, masters and doctoral-level degree packages ranging from $475 to $550, even offering a 50 percent discount to those buying multiple degrees. He admitted to allowing customers to create their own transcripts and backdate degrees. For an additional fee, customers could select their own grades, officials said.
To back up the bogus degrees, Enowitch and his alleged co-schemer provided purchasers with fake verification services and created websites designed to make it appear as though the institutions were legitimate, according to authorities. Prosecutors said they advertised the "schools" through spam emails and mass marketing.
"Since 1997, Suffield University has been helping busy professionals prepare themselves for a better future by offering online degree programs," reads one such press release issued in 2007. The release bills the so-called school as a nontraditional institution that awards credit for community work, job training and "life experiences."
Enowitch and his alleged co-schemer also created false personas and used them in connection with the bogus colleges "to make it appear that different people were working at each one of the fake schools," court documents claim.
Prosecutors said the duo even created a fraudulent accrediting body, the National Distance Learning Accreditation Council, so they could falsely claim that the diploma mills were nationally accredited.
Between 2003 and 2012, Enowitch made more than $700,000 from the fake-degree scheme.
Enowitch was released Thursday on $25,000 bail pending his sentencing Oct. 15. He faces a maximum possible penalty of 20 years in prison, three years of supervised release, a $250,000 fine and a $100 special assessment.
Enowitch has further been ordered to forfeit more than $400,000 in profits he made from the diploma mill, along with any other property or proceeds traceable to the commission of the offense.