Damaging Degree: The work of scam artist
By Steve Davidson
Intelligent, educated and experienced. These are the words one would use to describe Dr. Anthony Alsayed, a medical professional who was recently the victim of a wrongful, yet all too common, act of fraud. Dr. Alsayed is not the first, but is merely one name on a rather long list of individuals who received counterfeit educational degrees, doctorates and other accreditations.
Anthony’s case is unique from others in more than one respect. This is not a person who was lacking in intelligence, desperate for a degree – fake or real – to catapult his career in the right direction. Prior to immigrating to Canada in 1997, Anthony Alsayed completed his medical degree with honours in Moscow, Russia and lately was accredited as a medical doctor in Lebanon. Once in Canada, Anthony continued to advance his education in the subjects of microbiology, immunology and medical biology at Université Laval and Université du Québec, and acquired additional credits in clinical research. Taking into consideration his clinical research experience and acting on his belief that it helps to develop and protect humanity, Dr. Anthony Alsayed founded MegaMed Clinical Research in Canada and the USA, which covers all therapeutic areas of clinical research. Anthony also began to teach educational classes in the field of medicine at various private academic institutions. Since 2006, Dr. Anthony Alsayed has been preparing for his Doctorate in Internal Medicine with an Immunology and Allergy capacity at the Medical School of the Russian University in Moscow.
As his teaching career continued to advance, being the astute academic that he is, Anthony wanted to acquire some form of accreditation to prove his adept capacity as not only a doctor, but an educator in the field of medicine. Just as so many of us do, he needed that all-powerful, esteem-boosting, accomplishment-proving piece of paper. With numerous years of experience in the industry, he felt as though it would be fair to assume that such a piece of paper could be acquired according to all those degrees, credits and certifications he had earned in the past – without a need for additional schooling.
How it Happened
After much preliminary research to find a suitable institution, Dr. Anthony Alsayed contacted St. Regis University’s had office in the USA on November, 2003. Within just few days, Dr. Alsayed received a reply from ‘Advisor James’ who outlined quite an enticing list of medical education degrees for Anthony to choose from. Advisor James stated in his email reply:
“Most of our clients seek our services because they have knowledge and skills, but do not possess the degree. The purpose and mission of our organization is to help knowledgeable and deserving individuals obtain verifiable credentials.”
On November 27, 2003, Anthony sent his official credentials, resume and application to be evaluated by St. Regis University for a Doctoral Degree in Medical and Health Education.
In the meantime, somewhat skeptical and fearful of the situation, Anthony began performing his due diligence on the institution. He was by no means interested in receiving a false and worthless degree. For him, the validity of the paper was essential. Even though he felt he was more than worthy of obtaining the degree to which he applied, he still wanted to be sure that St. Regis was all that it claimed to be.
In the last week of November 2003, Anthony began his extensive research by contacting the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in France. He spoke with a delegate representative who informed him of the fact that UNESCO does not handle institution evaluations on behalf of individuals, and advised him to contact his local Embassy or the Ministry of Education for Liberia (a valid and current member of UNESCO with partnership status).
In the midst of his research, on December 2, 2003, Anthony received another email from Advisor James. His evaluation was complete and the email contained attached ‘proofs’ of the degree he was to receive, along with an Official Student Transcript outlining a full list of courses to which his credits from past universities had translated, according to St. Regis University course titles. What made this seem even more realistic to Anthony was the fact that several of his straight A grades from the past had turned into B’s! Being a straight A student all his life, Anthony tried to contest the B’s on his new transcript, but to no avail. Finally he gave in, confirmed the proofs, and awaited his receipt of the official degree, due via mail in January of 2004.
But it all seemed too easy. Regardless of the fact that St. Regis University seemed to have all their bases covered, a few days later, Anthony attempted to contact the Consulate General at the Embassy of Liberia in Canada to request an assessment for the proofs he had received. The answer was not a favourable one, as Consulate General, Edward A. Collins, claimed he could not assist Mr. Anthony Alsayed in this matter due to the fact that the Liberian Government was no longer sponsoring the Embassy and all representatives were awaiting a final decision in this regard. Mr. Collins, however, did refer Anthony to the Ministry of Education.
Dr. Alsayed took the Consulate General’s advice and contacted the Ministry of Education. The Ministry was compliant in his request and sent him certified documentation which proved the validity of the institution, St. Regis University.
Still, Anthony was not convinced. Something wasn’t quite right. He could feel it, and he was determined to get to the bottom of it. His next step: a private investigation agency. On December 10, 2003 Anthony sent an application form to a private credential evaluation service based in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. The evaluation process began and Anthony patiently waited for the results.
On January 29, 2004, Anthony Alsayed was officially presented his Doctor of Philosophy in Medical and Healthcare Education. The mailed package also included two letters of recommendation, one from a St. Regis career advisor and the other from the Dean of Studies himself. Additional documentation also stated that all academic records were filed at a third-party verification service by the name of the Official Transcript Archive Center. (Anthony checked this location, which by phone, appeared to be valid and in operation, but was later found to be nothing more than a post office box).
Evaluated on March 1, 2004, the US private investigation agency sent certification – stamped, dated and sealed – which claimed that:
“Anthony Alsayed Doctor of Philosophy Degree from Saint Regis University is Equivalent to a US Regionally Accredited Doctor of Philosophy Degree”
One would think that would be the end of it. UNESCO validated the membership of the Ministry of Education Republic of Liberia. The Ministry of Education of Liberia sent a certificate of recognition and accreditation for Saint Regis University. And finally, a private and non-governmental agency had conducted a thorough evaluation of the university and had not only certified its legitimacy, but had officially stated that Anthony Alsayed’s PhD from Saint Regis University was directly equivalent to a US Regionally Accredited Doctor of Philosophy Degree.
What was left to question? All appeared to be in good order. Anthony’s degree was valid. Or so he thought…
A few years passed. In August of 2005, Saint Regis University was closed down by U.S. government authorities and termed a fraudulent diploma mill operation – one which was linked to 18 other “institutions”. This group was deemed to be one of the largest in the bogus degree marketplace, selling more than $6 million dollars worth of false high school diplomas and university degrees to paying customers, just like Anthony Alsayed.
In October of 2005, the diploma mill’s main operators, Dixie E. Randock and Stephen K. Randock Sr. were indicted on charges of conspiring to commit fraud and laundering nearly $2 million dollars from 2002 to 2005 in diploma mill receipts. In his plea agreement, another operator of Saint Regis, Richard Novak, claimed he had paid Liberian officials $44,000 USD in exchange for allowance of the university to claim accreditation in Liberia. By the summer of 2008, a slew of Saint Regis degrees had surfaced. To be exact, 9600 people either inquired about or purchased degrees, according to the Washington Post as printed on July 31, 2008. Of this 9600, 20 appeared to be military members and 10 were US government employees or contractors.
The real question here is not, ‘How could St. Regis University get away with printing so many fake accreditations?’ but rather, ‘What else could Anthony Alsayed have done to protect himself?’ He went to UNESCO, The Ministry of Education, The Embassy of Liberia in Canada and a private investigation company. St. Regis University was deemed legitimate by all with whom he made contact.
It is evident that even for the shrewdest of academics, there are times when due diligence is simply not enough. We need more governing bodies controlling the fraudulent activity in the education sector. Although caught, those who spearheaded the St. Regis scam were frighteningly close to opening an office in Liberia which, had this happened, would have made the Randocks’ fake universities out of reach for US government officials to indict. This could have meant many more years of false degrees, laundered money, and victimized citizens.
What is most shocking is the fact that the private agency which certified and legitimized Anthony Alsayed’s St. Regis degree is still in operation to this day. Could they too be part of the scam? Or was this company simply another page in the St. Regis book of people, organizations and legal officials who were fooled by the clever operation? For a company which specializes solely in the validation of educational accreditations, you’d think they would have been able to identify at least one red flag during their investigation.
In the final analysis, although it is disturbing to arrive at the realization that these types of fraudulent organizations do indeed exist, we must face the facts. As consumers, we must prepare ourselves, teach ourselves and educate ourselves within the marketplace by adopting a buyer beware mentality. We must accept responsibility for our actions and when all else fails, listen to that instinctive voice inside our head that says, “if something seems too good to be true…it probably is”.