A local pastor is apparently promising people a quick and easy way to earn their high school diplomas, all while charging them hundreds of dollars. But unsatisfied customers say the diplomas aren't worth the paper they are printed on.
Terebia Lanus had two diplomas hanging on her living room wall - that is, until she realized they're not what she thought they were.
"So now me and my daughter and back to square one," Lanus said.
Last summer, Lanus says she contacted Pastor Roberta Jackson. Jackson runs Metro Outreach Christian Academy.
Lanus explains, "I was trying to get a diploma for my daughter, Tyria."
Having behavioral issues at Riverdale High School, Lanus wanted another way for her daughter to earn a high school education.
"Once she turned 18, I wanted to make sure that she has the right qualifications to go to school or whatever," Lanus said.
The mother of three also wanted to get her own diploma. According to Lanus, who heard about Jackson from friends, the pastor had them meet her at the Jefferson Parish library on West Napoleon.
Lanus recalls, "She told us what all we were gonna do, Tyria was going to take a diagnostic test that day and if she passed the test, she was going to take the test to get her diploma."
Jackson also had Lanus sign a contract. It required $40 for the test and an additional $350 for the program.
"Like about two, three hours later, Tyria called and said she was ready. As I walked in, she was like, 'She passed, she has a diploma.' And I'm like, 'A diploma?' And she's like, 'Yeah.'"
A picture shows Jackson handing over the framed diploma to Tyria Lanus.
A few months later, Terebia Lanus decided to go back for her own diploma. So she shelled out another $390, took a diagnostics test, and received a diploma. The mother and daughter say they had no idea anything was amiss until they tried to enroll Tyria at a cosmetology school. Upon request, Lanus says Jackson sent a piece of paper to the school when they asked for a transcript.
But the school responded, "He was like, 'Hey look, this is not real' or whatever," Lanus said.
At the same time Lanus and her daughter were trying to figure out what was going on, Delice Alexander also wanted answers for her husband, currently serving time at Angola.
"Cedric calls me back again, on my lunch, and he's like, 'This isn't real.' And I was like, 'What do you mean?' And he was like, 'Ms. Jackson's whole school is a fake,'" Alexander stated.
Alexander provided FOX 8 with a picture of her husband, standing alongside Roberta Jackson in September of last year after he attended a graduation ceremony and received a diploma from Metro Outreach. As part of a plea deal following his conviction on drug charges, Alexander says Cedric was accepted into Angola's re-entry program. The only catch? He had to obtain his GED, which is the equivalent of an accredited high school diploma. Alexander thought by going to Jackson and paying her nearly $400, he was achieving that. But Angola didn't accept the paperwork from Metro Outreach. Now Alexander has to take extra classes while at the state penitentiary, possibly extending his time there.
His wife, Delice, says, "Yeah its hurtful, as far as the kids. It still delays his process, so his time and I mean, we have a family, four kids."
A spokesperson with the Louisiana Department of Education says Metro Outreach Christian Academy is not approved by the state.
"The ones that are approved by the state are regulated by the state," said Sydni Dunn.
That means the state has no say in what Jackson is doing.
Taking a closer look at the diplomas issued by Jackson versus a diploma from Riverdale High School, Lanus explains, "It says State of Louisiana, and on this one it doesn't say anything about the state."
For Lanus and Alexander, this entire ordeal is a lesson learned.
"She would've never gotten $400 from me and Tyria would've still been at Riverdale, which is an excellent school," Lanus said.
Alexander adds, "It's like you're using Christianity, you're lying, you're scamming people…for nothing. I paid you for nothing, for a piece of paper."
While they know they should've researched Metro Outreach Christian Academy further, the women feel Jackson is misrepresenting herself and her services.
After we began our inquiry into Jackson, she sent updated contracts to Lanus and Alexander. It offered them refunds if they refrained from speaking to the media about her and posting negative comments on social media.
Lanus says this proves, in her eyes, that what Jackson is doing is wrong.
We reached out to Roberta Jackson numerous times and she even said she would come to the FOX 8 studios for an interview, but never showed up. Over the phone, she told us she stopped running her business last May.
But documents provided to us by Terebia Lanus show contracts signed for diplomas, in September.
A spokesperson for the Louisiana Community College System says you don't even need a diploma or GED in order to enroll at any of the state's community colleges. A placement test is given before students are provided courses, to get them up to college level.