(WEST PALM BEACH, FLA) — Federal agents arrested 25 people on Wednesday, accused of running a multi-million dollar fraudulent nursing diploma scheme in South Florida.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General (HHS-OIG) conducted a multi-state coordinated law enforcement action titled ‘Operation Nightingale’, which resulted in the execution of search warrants in New York, New Jersey, Delaware, Texas, and Florida, according to the HHS-OIG.
The Palm Beach School of Nursing in West Palm Beach, Sienna College of Health in Lauderhill, and Sacred Heart Institute in Fort Lauderdale, have shut down after several of the defendants were found to have distributed fraudulent nursing degree diplomas and transcripts for $15,000 each.
“The alleged scheme involved the selling of fake and fraudulent nursing degree diplomas and transcripts obtained from accredited Florida-based nursing schools to aspiring Registered Nurse (RN) and Licensed Practical/Vocational Nurse (LPN/VN) candidates,” said the HHS-OIG in a statement. “Upon successful completion of the board exam, the nursing applicants became eligible to obtain licensure in various states to work as an RN or a LPN/VN. Once licensed, the individuals were then able to obtain employment in the health care field. The overall scheme involved the distribution of more than 7,600 fake nursing diplomas and transcripts.”
Authorities say the involved schools sold 7,600 fraudulent nursing diplomas since 2016, bringing in an estimated $114 million.
“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,” asserted U.S. Attorney Markenzy Lapoint, arguing that “a fraud scheme like this erodes public trust in our health care system.”
The defendants face charges of conspiring to and committing wire fraud. If convicted, they may face up to 20 years in prison.