Feds Bust Fake Nursing Diploma Scheme in Florida
Twenty-five people were charged in a Southern Florida federal court this week for their involvement in a massive $114 million diploma fraud scheme. Justice Department officials say the group forged thousands of fake nursing diplomas and transcripts, giving nursing students an illegal and dangerous shortcut to employment.
“The alleged selling and purchasing of nursing diplomas and transcripts to willing but unqualified individuals is a crime that potentially endangers the health and safety of patients and insults the honorable profession of nursing,”
Special Agent in Charge Omar Pérez Aybar (HHS-OIG)
The recently unsealed indictments say that more than 7,600 fake nursing diplomas were sold through three Florida nursing schools – Siena College, Palm Beach School of Nursing, and Sacred Heart International Institute – which have since shut down. The forged documents enabled students to take the national board exam without the proper qualifications. The Justice Department estimates 2,400 nursing students were able to obtain their licenses this way. Students paid around $15,000 for the degrees.
The defendants include owners and employees of the universities and “recruiters” for the scheme that operated outside of Florida. They are each facing up to 20 years in federal prison.
“Not only is this a public safety concern, it also tarnishes the reputation of nurses who actually complete the demanding clinical and course work required to obtain their professional licenses and employment. A fraud scheme like this erodes public trust in our health care system.”
U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida Markenzy Lapointe
ABC News reported that the agents spent weeks combing through 10,000 records from the nursing schools to advance the investigation. The operation spanned five states, including Florida, New York, New Jersey, Texas, and Delaware. The investigation was a joint effort between the DOJ, Health and Human Services, and the FBI.
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The bust comes in the middle of a nationwide staffing crisis in the healthcare industry. Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, hospitals have struggled to overcome a nursing shortage as more medical professionals seek to exit the field. Now, state licensing boards will have to revoke potentially thousands of licenses held by currently practicing nurses.
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