February 29, 2008 in City

In brief: Diploma mill copycat’s plea deal rejected

The Spokesman-Review

A Spokane man charged this week in connection with a “copycat” diploma mill operation changed his mind Thursday and did not plead guilty as he previously indicated to federal wire and mail fraud charges.

Richard H. Cleigh, 55, was released after an initial appearance before U.S. Magistrate Judge Cynthia Imbrogno. No trial date has been set.

He was charged with one count of mail fraud and one count of wire fraud. If his case is presented to a federal grand jury, prosecutors could seek additional charges.

Through his attorney, Cleigh previously indicated he was willing to plead guilty Thursday and accept a plea bargain in the hopes of getting a lighter sentence for providing “substantial assistance” to a federal task force called “Operation Gold Seal.” Of eight defendants initially indicted, four have pleaded guilty and four others, including Dixie and Steve Randock, are awaiting trial in June.

Cleigh worked for the Randocks before leaving and starting his own online university, which he called “St. John University.”

Suspect found

Spokane police have found who they believe is responsible for stabbing an Alton’s Tire employee Thursday morning in north Spokane. Investigators still hadn’t named the suspect Thursday evening.

The victim, who worked at the Division Street and Wellesley Avenue location, was sent to Deaconess Medical Center with non-life-threatening wounds to his lower back.

The employee arrived at work about 6:30 a.m. and found smoke coming from the trash area, police said.

After telling a man to leave the area, the worker was hit in the back of the head and stabbed in the lower back, police said in a news release.

Crash ends chase

A police pursuit ended early Thursday with the suspect crashing into a downtown Spokane building.

Police arrested 25-year-old Brett C. Sears on warrants for felony possession of drugs and escape from community custody, Washington State Patrol Trooper Mark Baker said.

Baker said Sears crashed his red pickup into a building at Sprague and Madison about 3 a.m. while being pursued by police.

Sears was booked into the Spokane County Jail on charges of eluding police, possession of a stolen gun, unlawful imprisonment and a felon in possession of a firearm.

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