There are potentially thousands of practicing nurses currently employed with fake diplomas, according to the Department of Justice. On Wednesday, the agency announced charges against more than two dozen individuals alleged to be involved in an illegal licensing scheme that issued aspiring nurses with unearned diplomas from three accredited nursing schools in Florida.
“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,” said U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Florida Markenzy Lapointe.
Lapointe added, “A fraud scheme like this erodes public trust in our health care system.”
The alleged wire-fraud scheme, which occurred between 2016 and 2021, involved three South Florida schools, including Siena College, Palm Beach School of Nursing, and Sacred Heart International Institute. Those schools are now closed.
The DOJ accused the charged individuals of selling fake diplomas for approximately $15,000 each as an employment shortcut for aspiring nurses. Each defendant now faces up to 20 years in prison.
Aspiring nurses who obtained illegal credentials could move on to take the national nursing board exam. After passing the exam, they would have received licenses and been able to secure employment in various states across the nation as registered nurses, licensed practical nurses, and vocational nurses.
CBS News reported that some of the nurses who purchased the fraudulent degrees went on to work for homebound children, assisted living facilities, and veterans’ affairs organizations in Ohio, New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Georgia, Maryland, and Texas.
The DOJ’s charges accused two Burlington County, New Jersey, residents and a Westchester County, New York, resident of “solicit[ing] and recruit[ing]” aspiring nurses and working with Eunide Sanon of Siena College “to create and distribute false and fraudulent diplomas and transcripts.”
The diplomas incorrectly stated that the aspiring nurses attended the Broward County nursing program and completed all required courses, the DOJ alleged. Prosecutors accused all three schools of participating in a similar scheme.
“Nursing is without a doubt a highly specialized and ethical profession requiring rigorous and life-long education and training to acquire unmatched clinical expertise. You don’t achieve this overnight,” said American Nurses Association President Jennifer Mensik Kennedy. “There are no shortcuts in nursing – our patients and clients depend on us. It is both a demanding and rewarding profession that requires individuals to be adaptive to the evolving and complex health care landscape to ensure the delivery of safe and quality patient care.”
25 charged in fraudulent nursing diploma scheme centered in South Florida
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