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MADISON — Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen announced today that on Tuesday, June 26, 2012, Judge Scott C. Woldt of the Winnebago County Circuit Court found Kenneth M. Shong guilty of felony fraud, in violation of Wis. Stat. § 943.39(2). The conviction related to Shong's operation of the fictitious “Carlingford University” while an inmate in the Wisconsin Prison System. Judge Woldt presided at a two-day bench trial in the matter which had begun on June 25, 2012.
Shong was sentenced immediately and ordered to serve the maximum sentence consisting of seven years of confinement in prison and three years of extended community supervision upon his release.
The State presented evidence at trial that in 2006 Shong encouraged a fellow inmate to enroll in “Carlingford University” and personally informed the inmate that the university issued legitimate, recognized degrees through its main campus in London, England, that it was chartered by the government of the United Kingdom (UK) as a degree-granting institution and authorized to issue degrees recognized in the UK. The evidence was that Shong also told the inmate that Carlingford University was incorporated in the states of Delaware and Alabama and that those incorporations authorized the school to issue degrees recognized in the United States. Finally, Shong represented that the degrees earned through “Carlingford University” were recognized “international degrees.” The inmate relied on those representations, enrolled in Carlingford and arranged for his mother to obtain a money order for tuition and send it to the Carlingford's “External Studies” division at a post office box in Mobile, Alabama. The State presented other evidence to confirm that Shong made similar representations about the legitimacy of Carlingford to others and through an Internet site for the school. The State also presented evidence of letters from Shong in which he stated in 2008 that he was the “owner” or “Chairman of the Board” of Carlingford University, among other things, and that he was in control of the content of the Internet website for the school at least as of that time. The website at that time contained similar representations as noted earlier regarding the legitimacy of Carlingford University and its “degrees.”
The victim inmate testified that he did receive instructional materials and completed some assignments and tests before the materials and test results stopped being provided to him as he had been promised. That inmate filed a consumer complaint in 2008 with the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade, and Consumer Protection.
A UK government official testified that any entity operating in the UK and using the word “University” in its name must be approved by educational authorities and that legitimate universities operating in or from the UK must be approved and recognized by the government of the UK. He testified that “Carlingford University” was not approved to issue degrees through the UK and that there was no record that the university had ever applied for approval or even existed in the UK. The state presented witnesses from the governments of Alabama and Delaware who testified that any school operating in or through those states needed to be approved by the relevant approval agencies and that Carlingford University was not approved and had not applied for approval to operate and issue degrees. They also testified that “incorporation” did not permit institutions to offer educational programs without specific approval.
Mr. David Kaster testified that he was a former Wisconsin prison inmate and that he met Shong in prison. Kaster testified that he agreed to enroll in a Master's degree program with Carlingford University while still in prison and, through communications with Shong, agreed to act as a representative for Carlingford University after his prison release in 2007, believing Carlingford to be a legitimate distance learning school. Kaster operated what was referred to as a “Regional Training Center” for Carlingford through a post office box in Green Bay. Kaster and Shong corresponded heavily regarding the development of Carlingford in the United States and the rebuilding of the school's website. Kaster cooperated with the State's investigation and provided the State with dozens of Shong's letters to him regarding “Carlingford University.”
The Wisconsin Department of Corrections (DOC) became suspicious of Shong's activities related to Carlingford University in 2007. DOC staff conducted an investigation and forwarded information to the Wisconsin Educational Approval Board (EAB) in the fall of 2008 questioning whether Shong was operating an unauthorized and fraudulent “university” in Wisconsin. The EAB investigated, determined that “Carlingford” did appear to be operating within Wisconsin without necessary approval, and issued a “cease and desist” order to “Carlingford University.” The EAB also forwarded a request for investigation to the Wisconsin Department of Justice (DOJ).
The State was represented in this prosecution by Assistant Attorneys General Michael G. Schaefer and Phillip Ferris, at the request of the Winnebago County District Attorney's Office. The DOJ Office of Crime Victim Services assisted the victims and prosecutors.