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Judge OKs trip to Liberia for lawyers

U.S. District Court Judge Lonny Suko on Friday authorized a team of defense attorneys and investigators to travel from Spokane to Africa at taxpayer expense to take sworn statements from Liberian officials in preparation for a forthcoming diploma mill trial.

The ruling means Justice Department prosecutors and their investigators also will travel to Liberia to be present for the depositions, probably sometime this spring.

“I do authorize these depositions with some reluctance,” the judge said in granting the motion for foreign travel filed by defense attorney Phillip “Dutch” Wetzel, of Spokane.

Details of the trip are yet to be worked out. If the parties agree, the depositions could be taken inside the U.S. Embassy compound in Monrovia, Liberia.

The judge granted the motion over the objection of Assistant U.S. Attorney George Jacobs, who said the trip to Africa will pose significant safety issues for U.S. Justice Department personnel. He also unsuccessfully argued that the testimony to be taken in Liberia will be irrelevant and inadmissible at trial in Spokane.

The defense team wants to take sworn testimony of Liberia’s former ambassador to the United States, another former high-ranking diplomat and three other Liberians who have held top-level positions. One currently is a member of the Liberian Supreme Court.

The Liberian officials will be questioned about the “National Board of Education” in Liberia granting accreditation to 125 online universities operated by Dixie Randock and seven other defendants, including her husband, Steve Randock, and daughter Heidi Lorhan.

They were indicted in 2005 on charges of conspiracy, wire fraud and money laundering. The defendants will waive their rights to travel to Liberia to be present when the depositions are taken.

In granting the request, the judge made it clear he wasn’t ruling whether any of the sworn testimony taken in Liberia will be admissible at trial. The cost of the trip wasn’t mentioned in court or related public records.

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