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Attorney: Feds knew about fake degree

The U.S. Marshals Service promoted David F. Brodhagen to a supervisory position in Spokane even after learning he had bought a bogus college degree from a fake online university, a court document says.

The deputy marshal’s phony college degree came to light, the document discloses, because an accompanying fraudulent course transcript showed the career lawman had taken a self-defense for women course.

Brodhagen pleaded guilty Wednesday in U.S. District Court to a federal law pertaining to “official writing” – lying on a federal job promotion form that led him to get a supervisor’s job paying almost $16,000 a year more than his $80,975 job as a deputy marshal.

Brodhagen bought his degree after filling out an application in November 2002 that said, “At this time in my career, I feel it is important to obtain a (bachelor’s) degree. Without it, I will not be able to go further up in my career ladder,” the court document says.

Brodhagen paid $731 by credit card to obtain the degree from the fictitious St. Regis University, the court document says. St. Regis officials asked him “which classes he wanted on his transcript and what grades he wanted reflected,” it says. The transcript showed he completed 29 college courses and received A’s and B’s, giving him a grade point average of 3.65.

Because the U.S. Marshals Service knew of the bogus degree and promoted Brodhagen anyway, Assistant U.S. Attorney Carl Rostad said in court documents he couldn’t ask the court to order the defendant to pay back the salary increase he got and the corresponding retirement bump.

“As the Marshals Service was aware of the false information prior to Deputy Brodhagen’s selection for the position, the United States does not believe that there is any loss to the government directly attributable to the submission of (the) false information,” Rostad said.

Michael Kline, the U.S. marshal for the Eastern District of Washington, said he selected Brodhagen for the supervisory position in 2003 because “he was the only one of three finalists I knew” after an applicant screening process handled by the human resources department at the Marshals Service headquarters.

Kline said he didn’t want to comment on who within the Marshals Service knew about Brodhagen’s bogus degree “because of the agency’s complex hiring and advancement policies that are almost totally within the boundaries of Washington, D.C.”

Kline said when he learned about the bogus degree, he referred the matter to the agency’s internal affairs unit for investigation.

When the case was referred to the Office of Inspector General for criminal prosecution, the Marshals Service couldn’t find Brodhagen’s job-advancement application listing St. Regis, according to two sources familiar with the case.

Investigators ultimately got a copy of the application from Brodhagen, enabling the criminal case against him to go forward.

He resigned from the Marshals Service on Dec. 23 and was charged with the crime four days later by Rostad, a special prosecutor from Montana.

Judges and prosecutors in the U.S. attorney’s office in Spokane recused themselves from the criminal investigation because they have worked with Brodhagen.

The 48-year-old confessed in one of the very courtrooms where he once worked as a deputy marshal. He was then taken down one floor so his photograph and fingerprints could be taken in the marshals office where he once worked.

An estimated 300 federal employees, including members of the armed forces, reportedly bought college diplomas from a Spokane-based diploma mill that used Web sites to sell degrees around the world. To date, Brodhagen is the only federal employee to be prosecuted.

“How far did you go in school?” visiting Senior U.S. District Court Judge John C. Coughenour from Seattle asked the defendant before accepting his guilty plea.

Brodhagen told the court he was “18 credits short” of earning a bona fide college degree.

The former deputy marshal, who lives in Lincoln County, and his attorney, Richard Bechtolt, declined to comment as they left the court hearing that lasted just five minutes. The judge ordered a pre-sentence background report and set sentencing for June 10.

Under terms of a plea bargain, the special prosecutor will recommend that Brodhagen be given a $500 fine, two years of probation and 80 hours of community service.

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