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Slain man may have sold fake diplomas

Associated Press Published: December 14, 1997 12:00 AM

The student, Michael N. Vego, 17, was charged with delinquency by reason of aggravated murder for the death of Robert M. Rhodes, 49, of Barberton. He also was charged with delinquency by reason of motor vehicle theft.

Rhodes' body was found Dec. 5 hanging from a set of hand manacles and foot manacles attached to the basement wall of his home, Barberton Police Lt. Greg Macko said Friday.

Rhodes worked at South High School on Cleveland's east side. Vego is a student at the school.

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"It appears that Mr. Rhodes was selling diplomas out of South High School," Macko said. "It appears he had promised a diploma to our suspect for either $150 or $200 and then reneged on the deal."

Macko said investigators believe Rhodes was killed after he upped the price for the diploma, although he didn't say what the new price might have been.

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Police recovered blank diplomas at Rhodes' home, Macko said. Police also believe Rhodes was selling grades for $20 each, he said.

Rhodes' body was found in a basement room that he called the dungeon, police said. Macko said the room's contents suggested Rhodes was "a man with very extreme and bizarre sexual practices."

Rhodes had taken off his clothes and was in a homemade harness suspended from the ceiling, police said.

The victim died from a crushed larynx. Police say he was severely beaten on the head, face and neck, probably with a hammer.

Macko said the two had had sexual relations before, but did not on the day of Rhodes' death.

Macko said a second suspect, also a 17-year-old South High student who helped Vego clean up blood he had tracked from the basement to a car, was being held by Cuyahoga County juvenile authorities and had not officially been charged. His name was not released.

Cleveland Schools spokesman Rick Ellis declined to comment Friday on the possibility of phony diplomas or improper increases in grades. He said Barberton police had not formally notified administrators of evidence of fake diplomas.

A hearing for Vego, who was being held in the Summit County Juvenile Detention Center, was scheduled for Thursday before Akron Juvenile Court Judge Judith L. Hunter.

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