Nine troopers under probe for using phony degrees

Nine troopers under probe for using phony degrees
SEATTLE -- The Washington State Patrol has placed nine of its troopers and sergeants on paid leave while they're investigated for using fake diplomas to get higher pay.

The troopers' jobs are on the line in what has turned into a criminal investigation.

"Well, it's very tough. This is something that we take very seriously when we have allegations like this come forward, even when we don't know all of the facts yet, because we take pride in following the rules, the laws and the regulations of the state of Washington," said State Patrol Capt. Jeff DeVere.

The accused men are Trooper Dennis Tardiff of Seattle, Sgt. Chris Sweet of Kelso, Trooper Spike Unruh, Trooper John McMillan of Wenatchee and Trooper Dan Mann of Spokane. Sgt. Robert Brusseau, Sgt. Jason Linn, Trooper Gabriel Olson and Trooper Brian Ensley - all of Vancouver - are also accused.

The crackdown grew out of an investigation of a Spokane diploma mill which awarded thousands of fake diplomas before the operators were shut down and sent to federal prison. However, the State Patrol refused to specify whether the nine in question obtained their diplomas from the former Spokane operation.

The State Patrol is not alone in its investigation at its headquarters. All state agencies are looking at possible fake diplomas, including the military, the state department and even the White House.

It is not a crime to have a fake diploma, but it is a crime to use the diploma to get higher pay or advancement in rank. A four-year degree boosts a trooper's pay by 4 percent, and a two-year degree earns a 2-percent hike.

"We take these kind of allegations very seriously in the patrol and we want to remove any perception that we have somebody who may have participated in fraud out protecting our public," said DeVere.

For now the troopers have been placed on paid leave without their badges or weapons. They are prohibited from performing any law enforcement duties until the investigation, which may take several weeks, is completed.

Trooper Brian Ensley, left, and Trooper Dan Mann

Trooper Gabriel Olson, left, and Trooper Dennis Tardiff

Trooper Spike Unruh, left, and Sgt. Robert Brusseau

Sgt. Jason Linn, left, and Sgt. Chris Sweet