Regina Mayor Michael Fougere has asked officials to review city hall hiring practices after a CBC investigation revealed the deputy clerk had a fake degree on her resumé.

Erna Hall said she was "embarrassed" to learn that her master's degree in business administration comes from a school that is part of the world's largest diploma mill.

She said she did wonder about an MBA that took less than a year to complete and cost about $1,500 US, but she also feels duped by Almeda University, which granted her the fake degree.

"Yes," she said, when asked if she feels deceived by the institution. "And I'm taking some ownership."

"When it quacks like a duck and walks like a duck — it should have been a duck," she said.

Hall is one of hundreds of people across Canada who could have fake degrees from schools affiliated with a Pakistan-based IT firm called Axact, according to an investigation by CBC's Marketplace.

Mayor wants review of hiring practices

The mayor was asked about the revelations on Wednesday afternoon on his way into a meeting at Regina City Hall. 

Fougere would not talk about the deputy clerk specifically, citing personnel reasons, but he said he had asked officials "to make sure that we don't have this happen again."

"We've asked the city manager to review the process we do for vetting people who have employment with the city," Fougere said.

An international diploma mill

With the help of former Axact employees and court documents and by piecing together digital clues online, Marketplace determined Almeda University is part of Axact's vast international diploma mill scheme. Like all the schools Marketplace uncovered, there is no brick-and-mortar campus, just websites where customers can often trade in "life experience" to purchase a degree.

Marketplace producers were also able to purchase two PhDs from Almeda University after a series of phone calls. All Marketplace had to do was provide a backstory over the phone with a "school" representative, detailing work history and education.

For $1,550 US, Marketplace actually received three PhDs — two from Almeda and one from Axact-affiliated Gatesville University. One of the degrees was sent for free. No course work was ever done for any of them.

Almeda University

Almeda University went offline during the summer, but this screen capture shows how its site appeared. (CBC)

Almeda University's website went offline this summer.

A lawyer for Axact told Marketplace it does not condone any of the alleged actions done by its "clients" and denied any claims that it owns these websites.

"Axact does not own or operate any online education websites or schools, and there has never been any evidence produced to show that Axact owns or operates any such websites or schools," said Axact's U.S. lawyer Todd A. Holleman in a written response.

Degree took more than money, Hall says

Hall said she did more than just pay money for her degree.

While the program did provide credit for life experience, as well as classes she had taken at the University of Regina, Hall said she also did online course work and was required to write a paper at the end of the program, though she could not remember which online courses she took or the subject of the final paper.

Hall said it took her a little less than a year to finish the online course sometime after 2000, but said she could not remember the precise year she obtained the Almeda MBA.

She said she would need to check her records, but when CBC News called back to arrange an on-camera interview Hall declined a followup interview or to clarify her responses further via email.

Hall said her job of deputy clerk did not require an MBA. She said she got the job after working her way up through various positions at city hall for two decades.

Regina city hall

J.P. Cullen, executive director of human resources for the City of Regina, says he sympathizes with an employee who thought she was obtaining a legitimate degree. (Kevin O'Connor/CBC)

"My performance at this position and with this organization speaks for itself," she said.

After being contacted by CBC News, Hall removed her online resume from LinkedIn and said she will no longer say she has an MBA.

City official 'sympathizes' with Hall

Officials with the City of Regina refused an interview, but sent a written statement from its executive director of human resources J.P. Cullen.

It says it does robust background checks on employees who work in positions of public safety. "Do we validate that our firefighters have graduated from fire college? You bet," reads the written statement.

"We also validate the credentials of our engineers through the Association of Professional Engineers and Geoscientists of Saskatchewan (APEGS)."

As for Hall, Cullen confirms she did not require an MBA to become deputy clerk. In his statement he says the city sympathizes with an employee who believed she was getting a legitimate degree on her own time and with her own money.

With files from Kristin Annabelle and Eric Szeto