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Goldstein Investigation: Public Employees Earning Top Dollar With Phony Degrees?

LOS ANGELES (CBSLA) — Public employees got a lesson on the value of a master's degree from a non-accredited university during a recent David Goldstein investigation.

One of the names from a database of thousands of people in California who allegedly got a degree from a non-accredited school was Verej Isanian, who works twice a week as a night school pharmacy technician instructor at West LA College. His school biography touts a Masters of Public Administration from PCU, San Diego – a non-accredited school that has been shut down.

"You wrote in that bio that you had a master's degree. So you told the college you had a master's degree, even though you know it's not a legitimate degree?" Goldstein asked.

"I know it's not a legitimate degree," Isanian said.

For thousands of dollars, Almeda University allows its students to use life experience to earn a master's or doctorate degree without ever taking classes. Many of its "graduates" happen to be public employees.

Scott Herring is the regional manager for the California Department of Social Services' Palmdale office. Herring's taxpayer-funded salary was almost $120,000 last year – and his LinkedIn page claims to have a master's degree in human services from Almeda University.

"Did you earn a master's degree from Almeda University?" Goldstein asked him.

"No, I don't. I don't have a master's degree," Herring said.

"So why is that on your LinkedIn Page?"

"I don't know, I'll have to take a look at that."

Herring says he doesn't know how that statement got on his LinkedIn profile, but that wasn't all he claimed to not know.

"OK, so when we check with Social Services to see what you're claiming in your education, it won't show that you have a master's degree?" Goldstein asked.

"It should not show," Herring said.

"OK, it should not show, but will it show that?"

"I do not recall. I'll have to take a look at it."

"You don't recall? I mean, do you have a master's degree or don't you?"

"I don't. I do not."

"OK, so how do you not recall? You say you don't recall."

"I do not. I'd have to check."

A check showed Herring's recent application for a promotion does indeed list studying human services at Almeda University, but instead of listing his degree or certificate, he put "other." Soon after speaking with Goldstein, Herring's LinkedIn profile disappeared.

Orange County Sheriff's investigator Daniel Fluke is another "graduate" of Almeda University. Fluke, a public employee who made more than $240,000 last year, claimed to have a master's of science from Almeda on his LinkedIn page.

"Mr. Fluke, you say that you graduated as a master's degree at Almeda University? Did you graduate with a master's degree from Almeda?" Goldstein asked.

"Sir, what does this have to do with?" Fluke said.

Fluke says he doesn't know how that got there because he never created a LinkedIn page.

"That's not you?" Goldstein asked. "Investigator, Orange County Sheriff's Department, Criminal Investigations Bureau. Lead Investigator responsible for evidence, custody, maintain records."

"No. Sir, excuse me. Have a great day," Fluke said as he left in his truck.

Retired FBI Agent Allen Ezell says he is also a graduate of Almeda, along with dozens of other diploma mills he "attended" while investigating phony schools for the feds.

"Generally speaking, I'm only gonna spend that money if I can get a return on my investment, and that's called a job or a promotion, and an increase in salary," Ezell said.

Earning one of these advanced degrees is so easy, a dog could do it – literally.

Goldstein's pup Millie, also known as Milky Way, now has a doctorate degree in philosophy, signed by the dean of Charter University, for the bargain price of $200.

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