25 people in Florida have been charged by the federal government with taking part in a wire fraud scheme that made it easier for nurses-to-be to get their licences and find jobs.
Indictments from a federal grand jury that were just made public say that the defendants took part in a scam that sold more than 7,600 fake nursing degrees from three schools in Florida, federal officials said at a news conference in Miami on Wednesday.
Prosecutors said that the scheme also involved nursing school transcripts for people who wanted to become registered nurses or licenced practical/vocational nurses and get licences and jobs. Each of the defendants could go to prison for up to 20 years.
The U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida, Markenzy Lapointe, said, “Not only is this a threat to public safety, but it also hurts the reputation of nurses who do the hard clinical and classroom work to get their licences and jobs.”
Lapointe also said, “A fraud scheme like this makes people less likely to trust our health care system.” People who bought the fake diplomas and transcripts were able to take the national nursing board exam. Prosecutors said that if they passed, they would be able to get licences and jobs in different states.
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Siena College, Palm Beach School of Nursing, and Sacred Heart International Institute are the three schools that were involved. Some of the people who bought degrees were from South Florida’s Haitian-American community. The Miami Herald said that some of them had valid LPN licences but wanted to become RNs.
“Health care fraud is nothing new in South Florida, where many con artists see it as an easy way to make illegal money,” acting Special Agent in Charge Chad Yarbrough said Wednesday. He said that it’s especially scary that more than 7,600 people across the country got fake credentials and could have been working in important health care jobs treating patients.
Special Agent in Charge Omar Pérez Aybar said that selling and buying nursing diplomas and transcripts to “willing but unqualified people” is a crime that “possibly endangers the health and safety of patients and insults the honourable profession of nursing.” Pérez said, though, that investigators haven’t found any evidence that any of the nurses hurt patients.
The newspaper said that between 2016 and 2021, the students paid a total of $114 million for the fake degrees. Federal officials said that about 2,400 of the 7,600 students who took the exams passed them in the end, mostly in New York. Nurses who got their licence in New York can work in Florida and many other states.
Federal officials say that many of these people could lose their licences but probably won’t be charged with a crime.
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