AG charges Houston-based 'diploma mill' with fraud
HOUSTON – A Harris County district court issued a temporary restraining order and asset freeze against a Houston-based learning center charged with unlawfully marketing and selling fraudulent high school diplomas.
The court’s order stemmed from an enforcement action filed by the Texas Attorney General’s Office, which charged Houston-based Marque Learning Center Partnership and its operators and owners as defendants. The court scheduled a temporary injunction hearing for Dec. 19.
Court documents filed by the state explain that since 2003, Marque has offered an “adult high school diploma program.” Marque uses online advertisements to market its alleged educational services with false claims that the learning center is a legitimate, nationally accredited home school – and that its graduates are “guaranteed” acceptance into any Texas higher education institution. Under state law, however, Marque does not qualify as a home school.
The state’s investigation found that the learning center’s purported accreditor – National Private Schools Accreditation Group Inc. – is not an accrediting institution at all but merely a website and accreditation mill owned by an individual in Florida. The individual’s accreditation mill is not recognized by any legitimate accrediting organization in Texas or even in its home state of Florida.
The state’s legal action also explained that by encouraging students to indicate “home school” status on their federal financial aid forms, Marque is subjecting its students to criminal and administrative penalties referred to on the federal financial aid application. Higher education institutions also face the risk of having to reimburse financial aid payments that have been received based upon students’ falsified applications.
The state’s investigation revealed that Marque employs no teachers or tutors and imposes no coursework or educational requirements on their students. Customers simply pay fees between $99 and $1000 or more and then take an unaccredited, 80-page exam at home that does not require a high school level of education to pass.
In fact, investigators noted that some test book questions are simply nonsensical – and the answers for the most part are provided on the same page or in the same section of the test book.
Upon completion of the so-called test, students receive their purported diploma. Given the nonexistent education provided, Marque’s degrees generally are not accepted by community colleges, four-year universities, trade schools, the military, law enforcement academies, or employers – despite the defendants’ misleading online claims.
The Attorney General’s Office is seeking court-ordered penalties from the defendants for numerous violations of the Texas Deceptive Trade Practices Act and the Texas Business and Commerce Code.
The state also seeks restitution for students who purchased the defendants’ worthless services.
List of defendants named in State’s enforcement action:
- Marque Learning Center Partnership;
- Guerra Management Group, LLC;
- Guerra International (a corporation);
- Guerra Products Company, LLC;
- Marque Learning Center (a corporation);
- Henry Guerra Jr.;
- Henry Guerra Sr.;
- Michael Guerra;
- Rebecca Gomez Guerra;
- Esther Gomez Tristan;
- Alfonso Mendoza;
- Bianca Estella Guajardo;
- Linda Ruth Garza; and
- Lauro Garza