25 people in Florida are charged with a scheme to obtain fake nursing diplomas

MIAMI — Federal authorities in Florida have charged 25 people with participating in a wire fraud scheme that created an illegal shortcut for aspiring nurses to obtain a license and find employment.

Newly unsealed federal grand jury indictments allege the defendants participated in a scam that sold more than 7,600 fraudulent nursing degree diplomas from three Florida-based nursing schools, federal officials said during a news conference in Miami on Wednesday evening. Prosecutors said the scheme also involved transcripts from nursing schools for people seeking licenses and jobs as registered nurses and licensed practical/vocational nurses. Each of the defendants faces up to 20 years in prison.

“Not only is this a public safety concern, but it also tarnishes the reputation of nurses who actually complete the demanding coursework and clinical work required to obtain their professional licenses and employment,” said the United States Attorney for the Southern District of Florida. , Markenzy Lapointe.

Lapointe added that “a fraud scheme like this erodes public confidence in our health care system.”

The fake diplomas and transcripts qualified those who bought them to sit for the national board of nursing exam. If they passed, they could get licenses and jobs in multiple states, prosecutors said.

The schools involved, Siena College, Palm Beach School of Nursing and Sacred Heart International Institute, are now closed.

Some of those who purchased degrees were from South Florida’s Haitian-American community, including some with legitimate LPN licenses who wanted to become registered nurses, the Miami Herald reported.

“Health care fraud is nothing new in South Florida, as many scammers view this as a way to make easy, albeit illegal, money,” Acting Special Agent in Charge Chad Yarbrough said Wednesday.

He said it is particularly disturbing that more than 7,600 people across the country have obtained false credentials and are potentially in critical healthcare roles treating patients.

The sale and purchase of nursing diplomas and transcripts to “willing but unqualified persons” is a crime that “potentially endangers the health and safety of patients and insults the honorable profession of nursing,” the special agent in charge said. Omar Perez Aybar. Perez said investigators have not found, however, that any of the nurses caused harm to the patients.

Students paid a total of $114 million for the bogus degrees between 2016 and 2021, the newspaper reported. About 2,400 of the 7,600 students eventually passed their licensing exams, mostly in New York, federal officials said. Registered nurses in New York can practice in Florida and many other states.

Many of those people may lose their certification, but they probably won’t be criminally charged, federal officials said. [Copyright 2023 NPR]