Alleged diploma mill program traced to Pakistan

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by Jeremy Rogalski / Investigative Reporter

khou.com

Posted on February 8, 2012 at 11:16 PM

Updated Thursday, Feb 9 at 10:42 AM

HOUSTON—Stay in school.

It’s the one thing Sherese Gilbert always told her kids. But the irony? She herself was a dropout.

“I didn’t think it was fair that I was preaching it to them and I didn’t honor it myself,” Gilbert said.

But then the time-strapped mom found a solution online—Belford High School—which promised to provide “your gateway to success” with a high school diploma.

“It really looked legit,” Gilbert said.

All it took was a $300 fee and a quick online test, which she passed.

“And I get a call 15 minutes later, it was from Belford High School (saying) congratulations,” Gilbert said.

“I’m ecstatic, I’m excited, I accomplished something in my life,” she said.

But Gilbert soon learned her achievement was an illusion. First, a local college, then a potential employer told her, her diploma was worthless.

“It’s false, it’s not real,” Gilbert recalled.

“My head dropped and I immediately started crying,” she said.

Nichole Jackson also took Belford’s bait.

“That was a big mistake,” she said.

And the school took her money--$500.

I-Team: “What did you do with the diploma?”

Jackson: “I tore it up. I was so mad that’s the only thing I could think of.”

The next thing, she said, was to give Belford’s owners a piece of her mind.

“I mean if I knew where to go at that time to find this school I probably would have went, and raised a lot of hell,” Jackson said.

So the I-Team tried to track the school down, along with its owners. But we had one heck of a time. The first address listed with the Better Business Bureau, in the 8800 block of Blakenship in northwest Houston, is a building long abandoned, and up for lease.
 
Another listing for the school, in the 5700 block of Will Clayton Parkway by Bush Intercontinental Airport, turned out to be a closed-down commercial mailbox store.

Turns out, the I-Team discovered you’d have to fly half way around the world to find Belford’s owner. All the way to Karachi, Pakistan, where a 30-year-old named Salem Kureshi runs it out of his home.

That’s what Kureshi said in a class-action lawsuit filed on behalf of consumers in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan.
   
It claims the school actually only exists online, and its so-called principal and faculty are all made up—a lie.

Here’s an excerpt from Kureshi’s deposition in the case:

Plantiff’s attorney: “Have you ever spoken to any of the honorary faculty of Belford High School?”

Kureshi (via interpreter): “I never felt the need to and I never did.”

“If I may be blunt, this kind of scam pisses me off,” said Dan Parsons, President of the Houston Better Business Bureau.

“It’s classic con-artistry,” Parsons said.

The BBB gave Belford an “F” grade for its 135 consumer complaints over the past three years.

“It’s a make-believe, it has just been shrouded in enough believability, that people think they can buy it,” Parsons said.

And Belford will apparently sell it to just about anyone, like my son Nicholas Roglaski, 5, who we signed up online. After a short test, a $399 package arrived with his high school diploma, an official transcript with hours of credits, a certificate of distinctions in “world religions” and an award of excellence.

All of that is for a kindergartner who is just beginning to read.

“It’s wrong,” said Sherese Gilbert.

It’s a slap in the face to those who really thought it was the real thing.

“It’s wrong to take advantage of people, it’s wrong to take people’s money,” Gilbert said.

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