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Diploma mill webmaster gets 4 years for fraud, porn

The computer guru behind a Spokane-based diploma mill operation who was caught with 11,000 images of child pornography was sentenced Tuesday to four years in prison – the longest term given any of eight defendants in the case that spanned the globe.

Kenneth Wade Pearson was given six months for conspiracy to commit wire and mail fraud – the diploma mill operation – and a concurrent 48-month sentence for receipt of child pornography.

The 33-year-old Spokane father of three could have faced 108 to 135 months in prison for the pornography, but he began immediately cooperating with federal investigators in Operation Gold Seal in August 2005 – even before he was appointed an attorney.

Pearson served as the webmaster for dozens of online, fictional universities and high schools set up by Dixie and Steve Randock but was only paid an hourly wage of $9 while the masterminds racked in an estimated $8 million. He also set up a false Liberian embassy Web site used by the Randocks as part of their operation.

“He provided crucial details about the scheme,” Assistant U.S. Attorney George J.C. Jacobs said, helping investigators build their case against seven other defendants.

In newly filed court documents, the federal prosecutor disclosed that Pearson told investigators the diploma mill operation also counterfeited and sold “Microsoft Certified System Engineer” certificates. Court records don’t say exactly how many of those bogus Microsoft certificates were sold. A Microsoft spokeswoman had no immediate comment.

After agreeing to talk to investigators in August 2005 during their search of a Post Falls office used by the Randocks, Pearson voluntarily agreed to a search of his home in Spokane and turned over computers he used to support the diploma mill sites.

On one of those computers, investigators found 11,000 images of child pornography. Some of the pictures were of children younger than 12 and portrayed “sadistic and masochistic conduct,” according to court documents.

Pearson told investigators he downloaded the images “in an effort to create a legal adult pornography Web site” at the request of his employer, Dixie Randock, court documents say.

Pearson pleaded guilty in October 2006. He became the third member of the diploma mill ring to strike a plea bargain and agree to testify against ringleaders Dixie and Steve Randock, of Colbert. The Randocks and six other defendants pleaded guilty, and there was no trial.

Dixie Randock was not charged with possession or receipt of child porn. She and her husband are serving three-year federal prison sentences for conspiracy to commit wire and mail fraud.



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