In the News: When the Parent Facilitates Contract Cheating

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California parent charged with “one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud” because she paid a firm $9,000 to take “an individual online class” for her son.

I’ve previously written about the actions that Australia, England, New Zealand and Ireland have taken (or are currently taking) to make contract cheating illegal, and I’ve also previously commented that the United States and Canada seem to be lagging behind in the fight against the corruption of higher education.

So, I was surprised last week to read that the U.S. Department of Justice has actually charged a person with a crime because she facilitated contract cheating for her son. Yes, her son. Karen Littlefair’s crime was discovered in the infamous “Varsity Blues” operation and while she was charged with the same count as some of the parents who cheated to get their children into college, Littlefair’s offense is different. This time, it was not about admissions – because her child was already enrolled at Georgetown – but about a more typical Contract Cheating offense: paying someone else to do academic work for another person.

This is a big deal. To be sure, the California Education Code 66400 clearly states that “No person shall…cause to be prepared…any…other written material for another person, for a fee or other compensation, with the knowledge, or under circumstances in which he should reasonably have known, that such…other written material is to be submitted by any other person for academic credit at any public or private college, university, or other institution of higher learning in this state. (Enacted by Stats. 1976, Ch. 1010.)”. However, there doesn’t seem to be a time when this legislation has actually been applied.

The application of “wire fraud” suggests a path forward within the United States – we may not need new laws if the act of Contract Cheating can be treated as an illegal act of fraud. Of course, the problem seems always to be jurisdiction. In this case, all of the people committing the fraud are based in the U.S., however the majority of the Contract Cheating providers seem to normally operate outside of the United States.

So, here is my question to all of the attorneys out there – could the Department of Justice tackle the international syndicate of Contract Cheating under existing laws as long as one of the involved parties (i.e., the purchaser or the college, as the entity being defrauded) is based in the United States? Please provide answers in the comments section.

About the Author
Tricia Bertram Gallant, Ph.D. is the author of Academic Integrity in the Twenty-First Century: A Teaching and Learning Imperative (Jossey-Bass, 2008), co-author of Cheating in School: What We Know and What We Can Do (Wiley-Blackwell, 2009), editor of Creating the Ethical Academy: A Systems Approach to Understanding Misconduct & Empowering Change in Higher Education (Routledge, 2011), and section editor for the Handbook of Academic Integrity (Springer, 2016). She is the Director of the UC San Diego Academic Integrity Office and Board Member of the International Center for Academic Integrity, and has been an ethics lecturer with the Rady School of Management. When Tricia blogs, the content is hers and should not be attributed to her employer or ICAI.
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