Eric Nelson, the Aurora Public Schools board member with a knack for self-invention, is at it again.
Nelson, who lost a Democratic primary for an Aurora House seat last summer when it came to light that he’d fabricated nearly everything on his resume, including numerous advanced academic degrees and a career as a decorated Air Force officer, went quiet for months after the school board erased his once-lengthy biography from its website, took away the district’s credit card and publicly censured him for lying about his background.
But, while claims Nelson made over the years to have earned as many as seven advanced degrees have vanished from the school board site and his public profile, Nelson appears to have discovered additional academic achievements in the last month, posting an updated biography that includes three previously undisclosed degrees, along with photographs of two of the diplomas, to social media accounts. He’s also taken to referring to himself as “Dr. Nelson” again.
House Democrats, including then-Speaker Dickey Lee Hullinghorst, called on Nelson to withdraw from the House District 42 primary last year after a series of investigative reports by The Colorado Statesman raised questions about his background and then blanketed the district with mailers and fliers — “Eric Nelson is a liar!” read one — when he refused. After what officials called an unprecedented intervention in a primary by the House Majority Project, the Democrats’ campaign arm, Dominique “Nikki” Jackson defeated Nelson in a landslide and went on to win the heavily Democratic seat.
“Dr. Nelson holds a B.S. in Theology from Union Bible Theological Seminary, a Master of Divinity in Theology from United Theological Seminary, and a Doctorate degree in Theology and Apologetics from Christian Bible Institute & Seminary, Houston, TX,” reads a portion of his biography, posted on March 17 to the “Eric Nelson Inspirations & Motivations” page, one of numerous Facebook accounts Nelson maintains.
Earlier this month, Nelson posted photographs of two diplomas — the bachelor’s and master’s degrees he references in his new biography — to his “Nelson for Colorado” Facebook account, a page devoted to last year’s unsuccessful run for the Democratic nomination in House District 42.
Officials at the three academic institutions told The Statesman this week that Nelson hasn’t received the degrees he’s claiming — the registrars at two of the schools say they’ve never heard of him — although it appears Nelson is enrolled in the doctoral program at the Houston school.
Nelson didn’t respond to phone calls and emails from The Statesman seeking comment.
One of the photographs Nelson posted purports to depict a Bachelor of Science in Theology degree conferred upon an Eric Durane Nelson on May 21, 2010, by Union Bible Theological Seminary in New Albany, Indiana.
Other than Nelson’s name, the degree and the date, the document appears to be identical to a sample Doctor of Ministry degree granted to a John Q. Public on May 8, 2012, posted by the school on its website and social media, down to the particulars of the signatures of the school’s president, its academic dean and the chairman of the board of regents.
An official with the Union Bible Theological Seminary’s administration said the school couldn’t find Nelson’s name among students or graduates and also pointed out that the school offers a number of undergraduate degrees — an Associate of Arts in Ministry, a Bachelor of Ministry and a Bachelor of Theology — but it doesn’t offer a Bachelor of Science degree in anything, much less Theology.
The other photograph of a diploma — for a Master of Divinity in Theology granted on June 7, 2012, by United Theological Seminary — appears nearly identical to the sample diploma UTS posts on its website but also includes a misspelled word and some additional lines that a school official said didn’t make any sense.
“He’s not one of our students, and we don’t have a record of him ever attending United,” said Courtney Ward, the registrar at United Theological Seminary, who examined the school’s records at The Statesman’s request.
She sounded very serious for a moment but then burst out laughing.
She’d also examined the photograph of Nelson’s supposed diploma furnished by The Statesman, and she said there were some problems with it.
“First, the diploma date is off,” she said. “That diploma date is not the date we conferred degrees in 2012.”
She wondered why Nelson’s diploma said the school was in “Jeffersonville – Indiana” in one place and “Morris Plaines, New Jersey,” in another, when it’s actually located in Dayton, Ohio.
“At one time we had a satellite location in West Virginia, very briefly, but nothing in Indiana or New Jersey,” Ward said.
As for the misspelled name of the town in New Jersey — it’s Morris Plains, not Morris Plaines, and it’s known as the Community of Caring — Ward said she didn’t have an explanation, except to note that the school takes great pains to spell things correctly on its diplomas.
A city staffer in Jeffersonville, Indiana — best known as the birthplace of Papa John’s Pizza — said no one in the office could recall a United Theological Seminary or anything like that in town.
It isn’t the first time Nelson appears to have forged diplomas to back up false claims of academic credentials. In response to reports published by The Statesman last summer, Nelson furnished images of two diplomas that were riddled with mistakes, including misspelled words, incorrect degrees, signatures that didn’t match the names of school officials and references to multiple, unrelated colleges scattered throughout the diplomas.
It turns out Nelson’s reference to a doctorate from Houston’s Christian Bible Institute and Seminary, however, wasn’t fabricated out of thin air. The school’s president, Dr. Tony V. Lewis, confirmed to The Statesman that Nelson is enrolled in the program but said he hasn’t completed a doctorate.
“He’s in our doctorate degree program but he still has some courses and a dissertation that he has to complete,” Lewis said.
He added that he would look into Nelson’s history of falsifying his academic history, lying about his military service and making up his professional and volunteer experience with organizations and businesses, as a professional investigator hired by the APS board reported last summer.
APS Board President Amber Drevon and Vice President Dan Jorgensen declined through a spokeswoman for the district to comment on Nelson’s latest endeavors, instead pointing to the censure resolution the board adopted last summer.
Nelson refused the school board’s request to resign his seat — he was elected to a four-year term in 2013 — and officials acknowledge they can’t force him to step down so long as he meets the legal requirements for holding the office, including being at least 18 years old, a U.S. citizen and a resident of the district.
A handful of Aurora residents started to organize recall campaigns last year, but those appear to have fizzled. Nelson’s seat is up for election in November.
While he’s stayed mostly under the radar since last summer, Nelson sent an email to supporters at the end of last year that also raised a few eyebrows.
“I want you to know that I am thinking very seriously about how I can best serve Colorado as an effective school board member, law maker and public servant, not just as a politician,” he wrote. “Co-governing with the new incoming District 42 representative is important to me and I am committed to providing our district with opportunities for conversation, feedback, and community building.”
Reached at the Capitol, state Rep. Dominique Jackson had a curt reaction to Nelson’s suggestion that he’ll be “co-governing” with her this year.
“I don’t consult Mr. Nelson, and I have no intention of doing so,” she told The Statesman.