I’ve written in some detail about Damon Wallace’s financial troubles. Not only does this candidate for House District 96 have thousands in IRS debts, but he also failed to disclose some of the debts he owed to local governments in northwest Arkansas. (The worst-case scenario under Arkansas law is that this kind of error in disclosure could lead to fines and jail time.) Stunningly, Wallace explained some of his financial problems to Larry Henry of 5News by saying “I wasn’t trying to hide it. Everything is out, is part of public record.” Wallace also said that “nothing was hidden.” Maybe the IRS debt wasn’t hidden — Wallace did disclose it on his Statement of Financial Interest — but the local government debt was certainly not disclosed and now I’ve uncovered yet another thing that Wallace has hidden from voters.
On his personal Facebook page, Damon Wallace claims to have a degree in Business Administration from “LaSalle Extension University” in Chicago, IL, Class of 1996. One problem: LaSalle Extension University in Chicago closed in 1982. Another problem: in 1982, Damon Wallace was only 12 years old. On his campaign website, Wallace says he “earned his Bachelor of Science degree in Business Administration” but fails to say when or where.
However, according to a news report from 2010, during his brief stint as a congressional candidate Wallace revealed that he had “earned” a business degree from LaSalle University in Louisiana in 1998. Maybe Wallace simply put the wrong information on his Facebook profile. Mistakes happen. The problem for Wallace is that getting a degree from LaSalle-Louisiana is just about as incredible getting as a degree from LaSalle-Chicago at the age of 12 — because LaSalle University in Louisiana was a diploma mill.
In 1996 — the same year that Wallace’s Facebook page says he obtained a degree — LaSalle-Louisiana was raided by the FBI. Investigators discovered the “school” had issued in excess of 40,000 fake diplomas, the bulk of them to government employees. LaSalle was temporarily shut down in July of 1996 before it later reopened under new ownership. It closed its doors for good in 2002.
Alan Ezell formerly served as head of the FBI’s anti-diploma mill task force. He has also testified before Congress and written a book on the subject. I spoke with him briefly to gain a better understanding of how the diploma-mill process works. Ezell told me it is common practice for diploma-mill founders to choose school names that correlate with legitimate universities:
There are several LaSalle Universities in the U.S.; that’s probably why [James] Kirk began his LaSalle in Louisiana in about 1989. In its early years, the diplomas did not indicate the city/state where they were issued. Thus, ‘graduates’ could say they graduated from whichever LaSalle best fit their needs. LaSalle in Louisiana, for all intents and purposes, had a fake faculty (5 for 15,000 students).
Ezell even enrolled in LaSalle himself to get an inside-look at the workings of this diploma chop shop:
At one point, I completed my enrollment application in order to get a copy of their “The LaSalle University Difference” video. Think about this carefully: LaSalle’s own literature indicated their programs were designed to be completed in one school year (which was 9 months). This means I could obtain my Bachelor’s, Master’s or Ph.D. degree within 9 months. We know of one student who obtained his Bachelor’s, Master’s and Ph.D. in 16 months, all while married and full time employed. I believe the prices ranged from about $2,000 to $3,500.
Ezell also confirmed various online reports that, after the FBI raid, students were informed that their degrees were fraudulent:
Keep in mind, they had about 70 employees with about 80% employed in their call center and mail rooms. [The federal government] did send a letter to all known graduates, indicating Kirk and others had defrauded the students due to false statements [regarding] LaSalle faculty, accreditation, acceptance of their degrees in the business world, thus they could complete the enclosed questionnaire and support the monies they indicated they paid, and they could follow the restitution process.
To sum all of this up, it looks to me like Wallace obtained a fake degree from a diploma mill. It’s possible that Wallace did not know going in to the process that the degree was fraudulent, but the prospect of obtaining a college degree in 9 months should raise a reasonable person’s eyebrows, to say the least. To make matters worse, Wallace should have received a letter from the federal government indicating that the degree was fraudulent and offering him a refund on his “diploma.” According to Ezell, many LaSalle “alumni” opted to ignore the FBI’s refund offer and instead move forward, peddling false degrees as qualifications for employment — or public office. Based on what we know at this point, it looks like Wallace has also chosen that path.
If Wallace would call me back, maybe we could clear some of this up. I hate to think that a political candidate would see a phony degree as a good credential for public office. But based on what we know about LaSalle University and Wallace’s own claims, it’s difficult to draw any other conclusion.