The former owner and operator of an Orange County-based correspondence school
called Columbia State University has agreed to plead guilty to all nine counts of
mail fraud that were alleged against him by a federal grand jury last year.
Ronald Pellar, 75, is scheduled to plead guilty to the nine felony counts at 2:30
this afternoon in United States District Court in Santa Ana. Pellar is expected to
plead guilty pursuant to a plea agreement, which was filed Friday afternoon and
which outlines a scheme in which Pellar ran a “diploma mill” that offered academic
degrees from the non-existent Columbia State University (CSU).
After establishing a “mail drop” for CSU in the early 1990s, Pellar started running
the diploma mill in earnest in 1996 when he opened a business office in San
Clemente. CSU falsely represented itself to be a government-approved university in
Louisiana, and it falsely claimed to have faculty and accreditation sufficient to
confer bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees by correspondence in as little as
one month. Pellar created promotional materials, including a university catalog,
that falsely told prospective students that CSU had an administration composed of
Ph.Ds and medical doctors, and that it had received full accreditation from
legitimate accreditation agencies. The catalog cover featured a photograph of a
building that bore no relation to the fictitious CSU or its San Clemente office.
The mailing address was in Metairie, Louisiana, but in reality that was only a mail
forwarding service that simply resent all correspondence to CSU’s addresses in
CSU took in millions of dollars from students around the country in tuition fees
during the scheme. Students around the country were defrauded because CSU gave
them the impression that it was a legitimate academic institution, but in reality
it was nothing more than a diploma mill.
Pellar, who has been in custody since 1998 on federal contempt charges related to
Federal Trade Commission violations, is scheduled to plead guilty before United
States DistrictJudge Alicemarie H. Stotler.
As a result of his guilty pleas, Pellar faces a statutory maximum sentence of 45
years in federal prison, although the plea agreement contemplates a sentence in the
range of 51 to 63 months. The plea agreement also contemplates restitution of at
least $2 million. Furthermore, Pellar is required to forfeit his ownership of a
luxury yacht, purchased with proceeds from the fraudulent scheme, that may be
valued in excess of $1.5 million.
This case was investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation.