August 6, 2008 in City

Diploma mill sentence 3 years

Judge rejects home detention for ailing Steven Randock
By The Spokesman-Review
 

Steven Karl Randock Sr., described by a prosecutor as the chief financial operator of a Spokane-based diploma mill, was sentenced Tuesday to three years in prison after his defense attorney made an impassioned plea for home detention.

Randock got the same sentence given to his wife, Dixie Ellen Randock, on July 2 after they both pleaded guilty earlier this year to conspiracy to commit wire and mail fraud.

For six years, the Randocks and a team of associates sold high school and college degrees from 121 fictitious online schools they created and counterfeit diplomas and transcripts from 66 legitimate universities.

From nondescript offices in Mead and later in Post Falls, they sold more than 10,000 of the degrees and related academic products to 9,612 buyers in 131 countries – pulling in $7,369,907.

If they hadn’t struck plea bargains and been convicted by a jury, they each faced 87 to 105 months in federal prison on the conspiracy charge alone. Companion money laundering charges were dismissed when the Randocks made their plea bargains.

Dixie Randock is appealing her three-year sentence.

Her husband’s attorney, Peter Schweda, said Steven Randock has suffered heart attacks, strokes and most recently “cluster headaches” and should be allowed to serve his sentence by being restricted to the couple’s home in Colbert.

Assistant U.S. Attorney George J.C. Jacobs argued that Randock, 69, will get adequate medical care in a federal prison. He was allowed to remain free and ordered to self-report to a prison once the facility is identified by the U.S. Bureau of Prisons.

“It is clear to me that his culpability is certainly in the same category” of his wife, U.S. District Court Judge Lonnie Suko said in sentencing Randock.

The judge said that under court rulings and federal sentencing guidelines, a defendant’s age and medical issues are not relevant in determining where a sentence is served unless the defense establishes that an “extraordinary physical condition” exists. Randock and his attorney failed to prove that, said the judge, who was limited to the 36-month term unless he rejected the written plea agreements that called for that sentence.

“There’s no constitutional right … to a particular kind of medical care” for federal felons, the judge said.

Schweda said his client had open-heart surgery in April after earlier heart attacks and strokes, and takes 11 prescription medications.

If sent to prison, Schweda said, Randock is “afraid he will end up dead or paralyzed. He’s afraid he will die in prison.”

In federal prison Randock may not be allowed to take the types of medicines prescribed by his doctors, Schweda said.

He also would be subjected to a “rigid routine, won’t have the right pillow, won’t be able to eat when he wants and will be in an environment where he could be victimized by younger inmates,” Schweda said.

But the prosecutor said it was the seriousness of the crime, not Randock’s health, that should dictate where he serves his prison term.

The Randocks were not only selling bogus and counterfeit degrees, the prosecutor told the court, they also were operating fraudulent accreditation and evaluations companies that Steven Randock helped set up.

“This was a very, very serious crime,” Jacobs told the court. “It presented a significant risk of danger to the public.”

If the U.S. Secret Service and other law enforcement agencies hadn’t begun Operation Gold Seal in early 2005 and obtained grand jury indictments against the Randocks and six others, the number of fraudulent degrees sold by the operation would now be double or triple the 10,000, Jacobs said.

The prosecutor said the federal prison system will do a thorough examination of Randock, as it does with the 180,000 other federal prisoners, and provide the appropriate level of medical care.

His attorney told the court that Randock wasn’t a leader or organizer and was only doing what his wife told him to do as part of the conspiracy.

Randock didn’t stand to address the court, as is routine, but read a prepared statement, telling the court he wanted to apologize to “my family and friends.” He didn’t mention the public or customers who bought degrees from the diploma mill.

Randock said he wanted to serve his prison term in home confinement, living with his mother-in-law if his wife eventually goes to prison.

“I don’t think I could take the rigorous routines of prison,” Randock told the judge. “I’m sorry this has ever happened, and I’ll never be in trouble again.”

Bill Morlin can be reached at (509) 459-5444 or e-mail billm@spokesman.com


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