Over 7,600 fake nursing diplomas in alleged wire fraud scheme were issued in Florida

Nursing – Nurse holding patient’s hand – Courtesy: Shutterstock – Image by sasirin pamai

Following the discovery of an alleged conspiracy at three South Florida nursing schools by federal agents, thousands of currently employed nurses in the United States may be using phony academic qualifications. According to the Department of Justice, the now-closed institutions allegedly awarded more than 7,600 nursing degrees that were fraudulent and unearned.

Siena College, Palm Beach School of Nursing, and Sacred Heart International Institute are among the claimed participating institutions. More than a dozen people have been accused by the Justice Department, saying they “engaged in a scheme to sell fraudulent nursing degree diplomas and transcripts obtained from accredited Florida-based nursing schools.” Each of those defendants now face up to 20 years in prison. 

Many of the alleged scheme participants, including those from New York and New Jersey, are said to be from out of state, according to the charge filings. According to documents, the nurses who obtained fake degrees went on to work in a variety of settings, including veteran affairs, assisted living facilities, and homes for handicapped children, as well as in several states, including Ohio, New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Georgia, Maryland, and Texas.

Between 2016 and 2021, the claimed schemes allegedly took place.

The National Nursing Board exam allowed those who received the bogus degrees to become registered nurses (RNs), licensed practical nurses (LPNs), and vocational nurses (VNs), which allowed them to obtain licenses and employment in “different states,” according to the DOJ.

A scam like this, according to Markenzy Lapointe, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida, “erodes public trust in our health care system.”

“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,” Lapointe said. 

Residents of Burlington County, New Jersey, Stanton Witherspoon and Alfred Sellu, as well as Rene Bernadel of Westchester County, New York, are among those accused. The three allegedly “solicited and recruited” applicants for nursing licenses before collaborating with Eunide Sanon of Siena College “to construct and distribute counterfeit and fraudulent diplomas and transcripts” that were sold to “thousands” of nursing applicants, according to the prosecution. Prosecutors said that the documents falsely claimed that the prospective nurses had attended the Broward County nursing program and finished their coursework and clinicals.

Allegedly, the other identified colleges followed suit.

“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,” she said. “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.”

The schools that were once accredited, and the actions of those who were involved, are “simply deplorable,” she said. 

“This undermines everything the nursing profession represents and stands for and is in direct opposition to the Code of Ethics for Nurses,” she said. “Furthermore, these unlawful and unethical acts disparage the reputation of actual nurses everywhere who have rightfully earned the title of the ‘Most Trusted and Ethical Professionals’ through their education, hard work, dedication, and time.”

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