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L.A. Psych School Lied, Class Claims

LOS ANGELES (CN) - Students claim in a class action that the Los Angeles campus of the Chicago School of Professional Psychology recruited them by lying that it was accredited by the American Psychological Association.

Miranda Jo Truitt and three other named plaintiffs sued the Chicago School of Professional Psychology and its subsidiaries, including TCS Global, in Superior Court. They allege fraud, conspiracy, false advertising and consumer law violations.

Also named as defendants are the California Graduate Institute and the school's national president Michelle Nealon-Woods and "lead faculty" member of the Los Angeles campus, David Sitzer.

The students claim the Chicago School of Professional Psychology, or TCS, was "ostensibly formed, organized and operated exclusively for exempt purposes under section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code for the 'advancement of education and science,' but in fact is being operated by its management team for the benefit of private interests for financial profit and personal gain through a network of interrelated companies and entities owned and controlled by TCS. TCS's profit motive is best evidenced by the fact that substantial funds totaling millions of dollars were exchanged between TCS and a number of these interrelated companies and entities from sources that included tuition payments from TCS students, including plaintiffs and other 2008 cohorts and the members of the class herein. Moreover, the misconduct of defendants complained of herein was done for the purpose of padding the roles to ensure the profitability of TCS's fledgling Los Angeles campus."

The students say they enrolled at the L.A. campus during the fall 2008 semester, based on oral and written promises that the school was accredited by the American Psychological Association.

At some point - and continuing through June 2012 - the defendants changed their promises, and said that the campus would be accredited before the 2008 class graduated, according to the complaint.

The students say that attending an APA-accredited school is essential to landing a job in the psychology field, and in California, candidates who did not attend an accredited school cannot sit for board certification. The process begins when a school submits a "self-study" which is reviewed by the APA's commission on accreditation and - if accepted - takes an average of 18 months to complete the other steps.

TCS's Chicago campus has been accredited since 1987. But the students claim that in the four years since the L.A. school opened, the defendants have failed to take even the first steps necessary for accreditation.

"At all times herein mentioned, TCS's Los Angeles Campus was in fact a 'degree mill,' a dubious provider of educational offerings or operations whose degrees and certificates may not even be acknowledged by other institutions when students seek to transfer. Similarly, prospective employers may not acknowledge degrees and certificates from the Los Angeles Campus due to its lack of APA accreditation, just like other Southern California professional schools that are owned and operated by TCS-related entities that are also 'degree mills,' such as the Santa Barbara and Ventura Colleges of Law, where the California Bar passage rates for graduates from these 'degree mills' is typically less than 10 percent," the students say in their complaint.

The students claim they were swayed from their original intentions to attend the Chicago campus - an accredited school - by defendant Nealon-Woods, who directed them to enroll in the newly opened L.A. campus which was "'just like the Chicago Campus program, only warmer.'"

The students say Nealon-Woods told them that the L.A. campus was also APA-accredited.

They say they discovered that the Los Angeles school was not accredited during orientation sessions with Woods-Nealon and defendant Sitzer in 2008 and early 2009.

Both defendants repeatedly assured the students that the accreditation process was "'well underway'" and would be finished by the time they graduated, according to the complaint. The students say instructors gave them the same story during monthly meetings through June 27, 2012.

On that day, the students say, Sitzer and Woods-Nealon sent them a letter admitting the truth.

"[T]hey disclosed, for the first time, that the Los Angeles Campus had not even applied for APA accreditation, that the APA accreditation process was not underway and more importantly, that the Los Angeles Campus had no intention of even submitting its self-study to the APA for at least several more semesters. ... Accordingly, plaintiffs and the members of the class learned for the first time that defendants' prior representations and assurances about the Los Angeles Campus's APA accreditation efforts and progress were in fact false, known to be false by defendants and that the Los Angeles Campus would never be APA accredited by the time plaintiffs and the other 2008 Cohorts and the members of the class graduated," the students say in their complaint.

The students say they have incurred at least $30 million in damages, including tuition, moving costs, impairment of their professional careers and lost future earnings.

They are represented by Michael Reznick and Jennifer Del Toro of Oak Parks, Calif.

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