Police officials accused of using bogus degrees

SRPD lieutenant takes boro to court over promotion process


Staff Writer

A South River police lieutenant is suing the borough after getting passed over for a promotion due to the use of what he says are bogus college degrees.

Lt. John Kolakowski, a South River officer for 23 years, applied for a promotion when the borough was looking to fill the newly created role of deputy chief. The borough selected Lt. John Bouthillette for deputy chief last summer, also promoting Sgt. John Casey to lieutenant, following an interrupted hiring process that began in 2003.

Kolakowski charges in a lawsuit that Bouthillette and Casey used college degrees from a fraudulent Internet “diploma mill,” where degrees can be purchased without ever actually taking courses or exams, and that the borough counted those degrees as legitimate when considering the men for the promotions.

Kolakowski, who holds a bachelor of science degree from Thomas Edison State College and a master’s degree in administrative sciences from Fairleigh Dickinson University, first applied for the deputy chief position when it was posted in September 2003, according to the lawsuit, filed in state Superior Court. Bouthillette and Casey also applied for the promotion.

The lawsuit states that Police Chief Wesley Bomba decided to halt the promotional process at one point to make what Kolakowski said the chief described as a “clarification.” It is not explained what that clarification might have been.

The hiring process began again in April 2004, according to the lawsuit, and on June 12 Bomba announced the promotions of Bouthillette and Casey.

After the promotions, it came to Kolakowski’s attention that Bouthillette and Casey had claimed they had received degrees from Rochville University, and that those degrees were acknowledged as legitimate by the borough and “relied upon by the defendants in the promotion process,” according to the lawsuit.

Kolakowski, who, the lawsuit states, has worked with Bouthillette and Casey in the South River Police Department for 20 years, contends that the two men never earned a legitimate college degree by attending college or classes.

Rochville University, according to the lawsuit, “is a fraudulent ‘Internet degree mill’ where you can purchase a so-called ‘degree’ without going to classes, without taking correspondence courses, without taking exams or without reading a book.”

To obtain a degree from Rochville University, the lawsuit states, “a $249 fee is charged and the applicant chooses the degree, the major, whatever grade point average they wish, and the date of achievement of the degree.” For an additional fee, the applicant can purchase a higher grade point average, the lawsuit notes.

The Rochville University Web site states that it is fully accredited by both the Board of Online Universities Accreditation (BOUA) and Universal Council for Online Education Accreditation (UCOEA). Along with Rochville University, the BOUA lists on its Web site only one other university it presently accredits, with several organizations “currently under BOUA review.” Greater Media Newspapers was unable to access the Web sites for any of the organizations “currently under review” or were redirected to a random search engine during attempts this week.

Both accreditation associations,

along with the Rochville University Web site, list only an e-mail address as a way of contacting them. No phone numbers or locations are listed on the Web sites, and Kolakowski’s lawsuit states that both the BOUA and UCOEA are “bogus.”

“You cannot use a false degree to enhance your position in New Jersey,” said George Hendricks, of Hendricks & Hendricks, New Brunswick, the attorney representing Kolakowski. He said the state Legislature has dealt with the issue of false degrees under New Jersey Statute 18-A.

Asked about the lawsuit, Bomba deferred most comment to the borough labor attorney.

“Anybody can make any allegations they want. They have to prove it,” Bomba said.

Casey and Bouthillette did not return a phone call for this story, but Bomba said the two men had no comment.

In the promotional process, the borough awards points for an officer’s number of years on the police force as well as for college degrees, according to the lawsuit. Interviews for potential promotions are conducted by South River’s Public Safety Committee, comprised of Borough Council President David Sliker and council members Richard Reichenbach and Joanne Dembinski, as well as by the police chief and a peer group of three police officers from outside the South River Police Department.

Although Sliker would not comment on the case because it is in litigation, he said of the promotion process that “education is totally separate from the interviews” and that it represents only a small part of what is taken into account.

Whether a Rochville University degree is legitimate, he added, “that’s [Kolakowski’s] opinion. It’s up to the courts to decide.”

Mayor Robert Szegeti said he was not directly involved in the promotion process and could not say whether fictitious degrees were used.

“There are many universities now that are considered universities without walls,” he said. “Their components of a degree are made up of life experiences.”

“[Rochville is] a university, it’s a college, and they portray themselves as such,” Szegeti added. “Those are [Kolakowski’s] allegations that they’re a diploma mill.”

Hendricks, Kolakowski’s attorney, said his lawsuit was not maligning legitimate online universities, which have become increasingly popular over the last few years.

“When it’s really a degree mill where you don’t have classes, textbooks, tests, then it’s a fraud,” he said. “It’s our position that Rochville University is not a legitimate university.”

Hendricks said the authenticity of Rochville and its accreditation may be at the center of the court case. He said he believes a hearing date will soon be set.

Named as defendants in the lawsuit are the borough of South River, Bomba, Bouthillette, Casey and Borough Business Administrator Joseph Kunz.

Borough Labor Attorney Mark Tabenkin, of Scarinci & Hollenbach, declined comment for this story. Arthur Lash, the attorney representing Bouthillette and Casey, could not be reached for comment.