Case #5.10: "Diploma For Sale"

This episode addresses an issue that is even more prominent on college campuses these days thanks to the rise of the Internet: buying term papers. Just Google "academic ghost writer" and you'll find a number of good articles on the subject. Anyhow, the episode opens with a gun-carrying college guy in a ski mask robbing a store. "Don't look at me!" he orders the clerk, even though his face is covered. The clerk empties the register into a paper bag and discreetly hits the silent alarm.

The kid is barely a step outside the door when he decides now would be a good time to remove the ski mask. He doesn't even look like he's trying to hide the money in his coat. A police car appears. The kid tries to get away. The uniform orders him stop where he is. The kid nopes his way into the street, right in the path of an oncoming truck.

Cap'n Rufus shows the Jump Street team a picture of the dead college student, who's been identified as Steven Campbell. Steven was the valedictorian of his senior class and about to graduate college with honors. Not the kind of kid who usually holds up liquor stores. Judy asks if she's going back to college. Joey pipes up that he wants to see what college is like. "You want to see what high school is like," sasses his insensitive big brother. (Joey presumably dropped out when he ran away at 15).

Turns out, Joey is exactly who Cap'n Rufus had in mind. The Penhall Brothers will be moving into Steven's old off-campus house, more specifically, his old room. Judy and Mac will join the investigation if the boys find a lead.

Doug and Joey go to the rental house. Joey asks if Doug thinks it's creepy that they're taking a dead kid's room. (Rufus could tell him that someone actually has to have died in a room for it to be haunted). Doug agrees that it's creepy, but somebody has to take the case. Steven's roommate Dave lets them in.

Joey starts looking through a collection of cassette tapes. When he finds out they belonged to Steven, Joey looks like he wants to wash his hands. Dave reiterates that armed robbery was very out of character for Steven. He doesn't like moving somebody else in so soon, but he needs help with the rent, griping, "My parents can barely afford my half." Joey and Doug can move in today if they want.

On campus, Joey comes out of the administration building with a girl named Melinda. He gleefully tells his brother Melinda is his new informant. Doug isn't sure she knows anything. "You're wasting taxpayers' money," he says before asking what information Melinda had. Melinda let Joey know that if he takes English For Boneheads, he can sleep in and have his nights free, presumably to date Melinda. Doug will be taking the same classes that Steven took: chemical engineering, Renaissance Thought, and calculus. He's sure he'll never sleep again.

At the kitchen table that night, Doug gripes about being assigned a 15-page paper in his Renaissance class. He's sure it's impossible. Dave is in the same class and already has his paper finished. We learn that Dave is pre-law and his dad is a police officer: "We kid around, say we're gonna be a two-stop justice system." Steven was also pre-law. Doug wonders aloud what led Steven to rob the store. Dave doesn't know and hurriedly leaves for his study group.

When Doug's Renaissance class ends, the students turn in their papers and collect their graded essays from the previous week. Dave doesn't get his back; the professor wants to talk to him privately. Dave asks what's wrong with his paper. The professor doesn't believe that Dave actually wrote it. He challenges Dave to use the terms from his paper in a sentence. Dave can't, confirming the professor's suspicions. The professor is willing be lenient if Dave tells the truth. Dave tells the professor to prove he cheated.

Melinda is waiting outside the professor's office. "Does he know?" she asks Dave in a panicky voice. Dave cryptically responds: "He knows, but he doesn't know 'it.'" Doug appears and Dave lies that the professor wanted to tell him how brilliant his paper was.

Back at the off-campus house, Joey reads a textbook while listening to his Walkman. The phone is ringing off the hook, driving Dave crazy, so he answers it. He tells the caller, "Look, I told you I'd get it. No, don't. I'll get it, I'll get it." Joey eyes him curiously, then asks if he and Dave are still going out for pizza. Dave replies that he's not hungry and leaves the house.

Doug and Joey follow their roommate to a nearby ATM. After Dave gets cash from the machine, he pulls on a ski mask and retrieves a gun from his backpack. Doug and Joey run towards him; they restrain Dave, who protests that the gun isn't loaded. Doug wants an explanation. Dave sasses that Doug isn't his father. Joey advises Dave not to make another incredibly stupid decision.

Back at home, Dave admits to buying his Renaissance paper. Somebody's blackmailing him about it and demanded $500 by that night. Dave would be expelled if anyone knew about the plagiarism. Steven was the person who told Dave about Chadway Academic Research, a local place that sells everything from term papers to science projects.

Doug goes to Chadway the next morning; it's a legitimate enough looking storefront. He explains to the man at the counter that he's having trouble with his Renaissance Thought paper: "Every time I sit down to write, my mind goes blank." The man smirks: "Somehow, I believe that." Doug reads off the description of his assignment. The man checks the computer; there's a paper in stock that got an A.

Doug inquires, "How do I know you didn't sell that paper to everyone in my class?" According to the computer, nobody has ever used that paper at the college Doug is attending. Doug asks if there's a lower quality paper available; he only has a 2.0 GPA and doesn't want his professor to get suspicious. "You're not as dumb as you look," says the worker.

At the Chapel, Doug shows Cap'n Rufus a receipt; he can't believe Chadway let him pay for a stolen paper with a credit card. Rufus says they can't do anything because selling term papers isn't illegal. Doug tells Rufus that Steven was connected to the term paper operation and someone might have been blackmailing him. It might be the same someone who's blackmailing Dave. Doug asks who's writing a term paper to help them get in good with Chadway. Judy arrives. All eyes immediately are on her.

Judy goes to Chadway to sell her paper. She starts to explain the topic, but Mr. Pax the worker cuts her off: "I don't care what it's on anymore than the students who'll buy it do." He gives the paper to Mac to copy. Judy heard you can make more money writing papers on order. Mr. Pax has a customer who wants a project done for a statistics class.

Mac whispers to Judy that he can't find a list of students who bought papers, just files of credit card numbers. Mr. Pax reveals that he used to be a professor.

Dave meets with his Renaissance professor again, swearing his paper was an original work. The professor found a paper identical to Dave's in his mailbox, except it was written by a girl who went to University of California in 1987. Dave says he needs this class to keep up his GPA and better his chances of going to law school. He offers to retake the class and sink or swim on his own. He begs the professor not to expel him, but the professor has already talked to the dean. Dave will have to go before the academic standards commission on Friday.

Cap'n Rufus gives Mac a printout; he managed to trace the credit card numbers to their owners. He's sure someone on the list must be a victim of the same blackmailer. Joey looks over Mac's shoulder at the list and sees Melinda's name. Mac calls the registrar's office to see if he can get Melinda's schedule.

Mac finds Melinda on campus and makes up a story about how he needs a tutor. Melinda is on the dean's list, so she seems like a good candidate. Mac wants tutoring for 5 hours a week and offers to pay her. Melinda agrees.

At the off-campus house, Dave packs up his things in case he's expelled. Doug tells Dave to fight like a lawyer, pretend it's his first case in the courtroom. The phone rings. Doug picks up the extension. A breathy voice on the other end threatens to tell Dave's professor if Dave doesn't leave $500 in a bag on the south quad by the next day.

Cap'n Rufus gives the Penhall brothers the blackmail money. Judy and Mac will watch people leaving Chadway to see if any of them pick up the money. Rufus cautions them that blackmail is hard to prove.

On campus, Doug hides the money bag under a bench. Mr. Pax and the other clerk leave Chadway, presumably on lunch break. Melinda arrives at Chadway just as Mac is leaving. Mr. Pax and the other man get in separate cars. Judy doesn't know which one to follow, so she stays put.

A bald man sits down on the bench to tie his shoe and finds the money bag. Before either of the Penhalls can do anything, Dave tackles Baldy. Joey arrests Baldy.

At the Chapel, Cap'n Rufus exposits that Baldy was released; he's a local drunk who just stumbled into their sting operation. Doug and Joey talk to Dave. The kid is sorry about assaulting a random stranger. Dave asks the Penhalls to come to his academic standards hearing. They won't be going, but they wish Dave luck.

At the hearing, Doug and Joey sit in the back. It doesn't go well. Dave is expelled from school and it will be on his record why that happened. Melinda looks sad. Afterward, Melinda tells Joey that what happened to Dave isn't fair. Dave wants to tell Steven's parents why they son was killed. Doug suggests that Dave involve his father.

Doug's Renaissance professor confronts him about plagiarizing his paper. Doug flashes his badge and tells the professor he's investigating a blackmail case involving students. The Renaissance professor talked to the same mystery caller, but couldn't even tell if the caller was a man or woman.

Mac goes to Melinda's apartment for their study session. Once he walks in, Melinda starts unbuttoning her blouse. "I hope you don't think I'm gonna enjoy this," she says tearfully. Mac assures her that he really just wants to study. Melinda is embarrassed and covers herself. Mac reveals that he's a cop.

Melinda is working two part-time jobs and taking 18 credit hours. She couldn't handle the workload, so she bought some term papers. Melinda didn't have the $500 hush money, so the blackmailer said she could pay him off with sex. The blackmailer is due at the apartment any second. Mac calls Fuller to request backup.

Someone knocks on Melinda's door. The blackmailer is Austin, the previously unnamed clerk at Chadway. Austin pushes his way in. Mac grabs him, but Austin breaks free. Mac chases him through the halls of the apartment building. Mac catches up and arrests him.
Doug and Joey are waiting outside. "Blackmailing out of your own company, you must be dumber than you look" is Doug's parting jab.

Mac catches up with Melinda. She turned herself in and is retaking the psychology class she cheated in. She thanks Mac for encouraging her to admit the truth and kisses his cheek. Judy goes to Chadway to buy her paper back. End of episode.

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