Jerry Moore: Officers, mayor get low grades for diploma scam

Jerry Moore

It sounds like Berwyn Mayor Michael O’Connor isn’t giving some of his police officers much credit as either law-enforcement agents or college students.

Three current and two former members of the Berwyn Police Department obtained bogus academic degrees from so-called diploma mills. This scam involves paying a specified fee and receiving a degree based not on pursuing a course of study but on “life experience.”

In a recent interview with Suburban Life Publications, O’Connor said the three current officers tried to earn promotion to sergeant in 2005 by listing their phony degrees. Officials caught on to the scheme, denied their promotions and notified the FBI.

In turn, the FBI said it was conducting its own investigation, which recently made headlines, and that the city should see if other personnel had tried to pass off bogus degrees. Two officers who had already left the police force had used the sham diplomas to earn higher salaries while they were still officers.

Despite all five officers using the fake credentials in an attempt to benefit themselves financially, none of them has yet been disciplined. O’Connor previously said this was because he believed the officers were unaware of the fraud, thus making them victims.

Let’s see. You don’t have to crack open one book and then pay a lump sum — and presto, you have a bachelor’s or master’s degree, or perhaps even a doctorate. This didn’t raise a single red flag with any of these officers?

College students are naturally curious, and police officers have a healthy sense of skepticism. This is what allows them to probe deeper into the issues that interest them most, be they academic or public safety in nature.

O’Connor has now changed his tune. When contacted Aug. 19, he said that city officials are conducting an investigation and will turn over any information to the Cook County state’s attorney’s office for possible charges. He said any city employee who tried to benefit by using bogus credentials at a time when it was illegal to do so could face disciplinary measures, including dismissal.

The three officers still in the department should be disciplined — or possibly fired — for attempting to defraud the city. The two former officers should be forced to make restitution for the money they received improperly.

O’Connor must make sure the city aggressively pursues this investigation. Taxpayer money is involved, and the city’s credibility is at stake. There’s not much of either to spare these days just to hide dirty laundry.

Jerry Moore is a news editor with Suburban Life Publications and can be contacted at jmoore@mysuburbanlife.com. His blog, Suburban Shoutout, can be found at www.mysuburbanlife.com.