(CN) – An El Paso judge on Thursday issued a temporary restraining order closing three online “diploma mills” that the attorney general accused of advertising and selling fraudulent high school diplomas.
Tarrant County-based defendants Teri Tout-Dennis and Mike Martin ran Sunrise Private High School, Longhorn Private High School and Bluebonnet Private High School through their Advent Harvest Academy Corp.
The state says that Tout-Dennis of North Richland Hills, and Martin of Benbrook pushed their fake diplomas to people who paid $225 to enroll in their unaccredited program and take a test that had no education requirements.
“The schools required no age verification or identification; likewise, no instruction program or compulsory student ‘attendance’ is mandated,” the Attorney General’s Office said in a statement. “Students are instructed to fax the test to the defendants who then ‘grade’ it and respond with fraudulent academic diplomas through the mail, including ‘transcripts’ containing credit hours based on the test results.
“This is a grave disservice to youngsters who later in life will come to realize they were exploited for their money and gained nothing in return,” said Attorney General Greg Abbott.
The state says the defendants’ “schools” are registered with the Texas Secretary of State as domestic for-profit corporations and use the corporate number issued by the agency as their “school ID number” on diplomas, in a bogus claim to legitimacy.
“The schools further attempt to make their fraudulent diplomas look legitimate by unlawfully superimposing a State of Texas seal onto the document,” the Attorney General said. “The defendants falsely told customers that they are not required to meet state licensing standards because they meet the ‘home school’ exemption.”
The state seeks penalties for numerous violations of the Texas Education Code, the Texas Business and Commerce Code and the Texas Deceptive Trade Practices Act. It also seeks restitution for students who bought the defendants’ worthless services.
The judge in El Paso County Court set a hearing for Nov. 4.