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Originally published Monday, October 20, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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Nine State Patrol troopers put on leave in diploma-mill probe

Nine State Patrol troopers have been placed on administrative leave while the agency investigates whether they purchased falsified diplomas in order to get increased pay.

Seattle Times staff reporter

Nine State Patrol troopers have been placed on administrative leave while the agency investigates whether they purchased falsified diplomas in order to get increased pay. The State Patrol audited its rank-and-file this summer after hearing several accounts of law enforcement and government officials across the country being caught with fake diplomas, said State Patrol Capt. Jeff DeVere.

The nine troopers, including three sergeants, were put on paid leave Oct. 13 after agency officials couldn't determine whether the schools from which they obtained their diplomas actually existed, DeVere said.

"It appears these may be fraudulent institutions," DeVere said today. "These nine [schools] were not readily apparent institutions of higher education and they weren't easily determined institutions of education by looking at a Web site or [making] a phone call."

DeVere said the case is still at the investigative stage and that no trooper has been fired for possessing a fake college degree.

Having a university diploma can bring a steep pay increase for troopers, DeVere said. Troopers who have a four-year degree can earn a 4-percent boost in pay and a master's degree will bring an additional 2-percent raise. The State Patrol rewards troopers with a two-year degree with a 2-percent pay increase, DeVere said.

Those placed on leave include sergeants Christopher Sweet, who has been with the agency 17 years and is stationed in Kelso; Robert Brusseau, who has been a trooper for 12 years and works in Vancouver; Jason Linn, who has been with the agency 15 years and also works in Vancouver.

The patrol troopers on leave include Gabriel Olson, a 9-year veteran who is stationed in Vancouver; Bryan Ensley, an 8-year veteran who works in Vancouver; Spike Unruh, a 10-year veteran who works in Wenatchee; John McMillan, a 14-year veteran who works in Wenatchee; Dennis Tardiff, an eight-year veteran who works in Seattle; and Daniel Mann, an 18-year veteran who works in Spokane.

"It's very concerning. Everybody in the agency, if this is proven true, would be very disappointed," DeVere said.

DeVere said the State Patrol hopes to complete an internal investigation within 30 days and if the diplomas prove to be fraudulent, the agency will turn the case over to the Thurston County Prosecutor's Office, since the State Patrol's headquarters are in Olympia.

Washington has been the center of several high-profile diploma fraud incidents in recent years.

In October 2005, a Spokane-based group was charged in federal court with running a million-dollar diploma business that churned out thousands of bogus degrees.

St. Regis University purported to run accredited colleges in Liberia. About half of the diplomas issued by the group went to foreigners, leading authorities to worry that some may use their phony degrees to qualify for U.S. work visas.

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According to The Spokesman-Review newspaper, at least 300 of the buyers worked for the federal government, including positions in the Justice Department, the State Department, various military branches and even the White House, it has been disclosed in previous court hearings.

The case finally wrapped up earlier this year with a string of plea agreements

Jennifer Sullivan: 206-464-8294 or jensullivan@seattletimes.com

Information from Seattle Times archives is included in this report.

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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