Federal authorities in Philadelphia charged a Connecticut man on Wednesday with allegedly operating an online diploma mill that churned out $5 million worth of bogus degrees.
Prosecutors said 48-year-old James Enowitch, of Cromwell, launched the scheme in 2003 with an unnamed accomplice.
The two allegedly sold associates, bachelors, masters and doctoral-level degree packages ranging from $475 to $550, even offering a "multi-degree" discount to those buying more than one.
Enowitch and the co-conspirator allowed customers to create their own transcripts and provided them with fake verification services to back up the fake degrees, according to officials. For an additional fee, purchasers could also allegedly select their own grades.
Prosecutors said the "colleges" that supposedly provided the degrees had neither brick-and-mortar outposts nor faculty members, offered no academic curricula and required no coursework. The entities were not recognized by the U.S. Department of Education.
Enowitch and the co-conspirator eventually operated the diploma mill through at least seven websites purporting to be associated with numerous phony schools, including Redding University, Glendale University, Suffield University, Greenwood University and Bryson University, investigators said.
Enowitch and his accomplice "went so far as to create a fraudulent accrediting body, called the 'National Distance Learning Accreditation Council,' in order to claim that their diploma mills were accredited," according to a news release issued by the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.
To make the NDLAC appear credible, the two allegedly posted a list of schools, including legitimate institutions and their own "diploma mills," that supposedly met the organization's accreditation standards.
Prosecutors said Enowitch hoped that those viewing the credentials "would rely on an air of legitimacy created by the fake accreditation council," according to the indictment.
After Enowitch and his associate received a cease-and-desist order from the state of Connecticut in 2004, officials said they hired someone in New Jersey to process fake-degree orders and mail the documents out.
Prosecutors said the fraudulent diplomas were sold throughout every U.S. state, as well as overseas.
Enowitch is charged with mail fraud and aiding and abetting mail fraud. If convicted, he faces a maximum possible sentence of 20 years in prison, three years of supervised release, a $250,000 fine and a $100 special assessment.