According to allegations made by federal prosecutors on Thursday, three nursing schools in Florida are accused of selling thousands of fake nursing diplomas worth millions of dollars as part of a scheme that enabled prospective nurses to avoid the required training to become licensed in the profession.
Federal prosecutors believe that Siena College, Palm Beach School of Nursing, and Sacred Heart International Institute, all of which are located in south Florida, are responsible for the distribution of more than 7,600 fraudulent diplomas worth a combined total of over $100 million, or approximately $15,000 per diploma. There is no longer any education available.
A total of twenty-five individuals, including school directors and those who had received diplomas, have been charged in connection with the scam, and each of them faces a maximum sentence of twenty years in jail if they are found guilty. On Thursday, the attorneys representing the defendants were not included in a database maintained by a federal court.
The inquiry, which was given the codename “Operation Nightingale,” was carried out jointly by the Department of Justice and the Office of the Inspector General of the Department of Health and Human Services. According to the prosecution, the scheme posed a threat to the health and safety of patients because there are mandatory training programs designed to “guard the public from damage by setting minimum skills and abilities.”
The Charges In The Case Of The Nursing Diploma
In five different cases, the DOJ is going after people who took part in the alleged scheme. In each case, the defendants are charged with wire fraud. Federal law says that a person is guilty of wire fraud if they use electronic communications across state lines to commit fraud and “to further the scheme.”
The Alleged Scheme
The OIG says that the scheme in general had three parts:
- Recruiters helped would-be nurses get the fake transcripts and degrees.
- People who got fake degrees were allowed to take the national nursing board exam.
- After passing the test, they were able to get a license in a number of states, where they eventually got jobs as nurses.
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- Siena College was a school in Broward County, Florida that was licensed by the state’s board of nursing and its independent education commission to offer practical nursing and Bachelor of Science in Nursing programs, according to a criminal complaint.
- The college was run by Eunide Sanon, who allegedly worked with three people, who are also charged, in New York and New Jersey who recruited aspiring nurses.
- From about Nov. 2018 to Oct. 2021, Sanon allegedly sold 2,016 fake diplomas and transcripts that falsely purported that recipients had completed the necessary courses and training at Siena College to obtain such degrees when they never had, according to the criminal complaint.
Palm Beach School of Nursing
- From April 2016 to July 2021, at least seven nurses obtained fake diplomas from the Palm Beach School of Nursing, Sunshine Academy, Quisqeya and Florida College of Health, which were all owned by Johanah Napoleon.
- The seven nurses used the diplomas to become licensed nurses in Ohio, New York, New Jersey and Massachusetts.
- With the help of the fake degrees the nurses found jobs at nursing homes that took in Medicare and Medicaid-eligible patients. One nurse worked at a Veterans Affairs-run home.
- Ten people helped recruit people looking to obtain fake degrees.
- Napoleon received large payments for providing the fake diplomas, in one case taking in a $30,000 wire transfer from a co-defendant in 2021. Napoleon already pleaded guilty to wire and health care fraud charges, the DOJ said.
Sacred Heart International Institute
- From Nov. 2020 to July 2021, Charles Etienne, owner of Sacred Heart International Institute, and two others provided purchasers with 588 fake diplomas and transcripts, according to court filings.
- Two co-defendants, Geralda Adrien and Woosvelt Predestin, also completed online courses on behalf of the fake degree purchasers.
- Adrien and Predestin are also named as co-conspirators in the Siena College case.
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