MIAMI (AP) – Federal authorities in Florida have charged 25 people with participating in a wire fraud scheme that created illegal shortcuts for aspiring nurses to obtain licenses and find jobs.
A recently unsealed federal grand jury indictment alleges 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 at a press conference in Miami Wednesday afternoon.
Prosecutors said the scheme included transcripts from nursing schools for people seeking licenses and jobs as registered nurses and licensed practical/professional nurses. Each accused faces up to 20 years in prison.
“This is not only a public safety concern, but also tarnishes the reputation of nurses who actually completed the clinical and course work required to obtain their professional licenses and employment,” said Markenzie LaPointe, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida.
LaPointe added that “a fraud scheme like this undermines public confidence in our health care system.”
The fake diplomas and transcripts qualified those who bought them to take the National Nursing Board exam. If they passed, they could get licenses and jobs in various 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 legal LPN licenses who wanted to become registered nurses, the Miami Herald reported.
“Healthcare fraud is nothing new to South Florida, as many scammers see it as an easy, illegal, way to make money,” Special Agent in Charge Chad Yarbrough said Wednesday.
He said it’s particularly troubling that more than 7,600 people across the country have obtained fake credentials and are potentially in critical health care roles treating patients.
The sale and purchase of nursing diplomas and transcripts to “willing but unqualified individuals” is a crime that “potentially endangers the health and safety of patients and dishonors the honorable profession of nursing,” said Special Agent in Charge Omar Perez Aybar. Perez said investigators did not find any nurses harmed patients.
Students paid a total of $114 million for fake 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. Nurses certified in New York are allowed to practice in Florida and many other states.
Many of these people could lose their certification but likely won’t face criminal charges, federal officials said.