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Fees for degrees scheme is alleged

Two Touro College officials are charged with altering transcripts.

July 17, 2007|From Times Wire Services

NEW YORK — Administrators at Touro College took money to change grades and fabricate degrees -- including degrees for physician assistants -- prosecutors charged Monday.

Ten people were indicted, including the former director of admissions in Manhattan, Andrique Baron, 34; the former director of the Brooklyn campus' computer center, Michael Cherner, 50; three students whose transcripts were allegedly altered; and three teachers at New York City public schools who allegedly bought master's degrees but never attended Touro.

Baron and Cherner collected fees of $3,000 to $25,000 for altered grades, and faked bachelor's or master's degrees, by tampering with the private college's computer system, prosecutors said.

The two found a transcript from a legitimate Touro student on the server and used it as a template to create the forged documents, prosecutors said.

Since January, records were created or altered for at least 50 people, Dist. Atty. Robert Morgenthau said. "One dangerous thing they did was give degrees to physician's assistants," he said.

Records found in Baron's home showed that he was running the scheme as early as 2003 and possibly earlier, the district attorney said.

"We don't know how many hundreds, maybe thousands, were involved," he said.

Touro, a Jewish-sponsored college founded in 1970 and based in Manhattan, has 23,300 students in 29 locations, mostly in New York, its website says.

A middleman dubbed "Jimmy Bag" in Baron's cellphone collected money from the teachers, Morgenthau said.

Baron spent the cash on two luxury cars, high-end audio equipment and huge flat-screen TVs in almost every room in his home, Morgenthau said.

Touro told the district attorney's office of the wrongdoing and cooperated fully in the investigation, school spokeswoman Barbara Franklin said.

Lawyers for Baron and Cherner did not immediately return telephone calls seeking comment Monday.

Baron was arrested March 20, and Cherner, the three teachers and a former Touro student who had worked in the registrar's office were arrested this month, prosecutors said.

The remaining four defendants are at large. All are charged with falsifying business records.

Cherner and Baron are also charged with computer trespass, computer tampering and bribe receiving. The alleged bagman is also charged with bribe receiving.

All the charges are punishable by up to four years in prison.

The investigation is continuing, Morgenthau said.

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