3 South Florida Nursing Schools Sold 7,600 Fake Degrees; 25 charged

MIAMI – Three now-closed South Florida nursing schools sold more than $100 million worth of fake nursing diplomas, prompting authorities to charge more than two dozen people, federal prosecutors said Wednesday afternoon.

US Attorney for the Southern District of Florida Markenzy Lapointe and representatives from the FBI Miami and the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Inspector General spoke at a news conference in Miami on Wednesday.

Authorities charged 25 people in multiple states in the scheme, prosecutors said.

(A list of the defendants appears at the end of the article.)

Prosecutors have made 21 arrests, and two more suspects are expected to turn themselves in in the coming days. The defendants were from Florida, New York, New Jersey, Texas, and Delaware.

“Individuals have been charged in multiple states with wire fraud crimes, including conspiracy,” Lapointe said.

They called the crackdown “Operation Nightingale,” after the legendary nurse Florence Nightingale.

Lapointe said that in the plan, the owners, operators and employees of three formerly accredited South Florida nursing schools would sell fake diplomas and transcripts for an average of $15,000.

That group constituted the first category of defendants.

“Nursing candidates had not done any work for these diplomas,” he said.

The three schools were the International Sacred Heart Institute in Fort Lauderdale, the Siena College of Health in Lauderhill, and the Palm Beach School of Nursing in West Palm Beach.

The second category of defendants included recruiters who brought in “students” from other states to obtain “direct access” documents from South Florida schools, Lapointe said.

“This was really on a grand scale,” he said.

South Florida schools sold more than 7,600 fake nursing diplomas, according to prosecutors.

“We are looking at about $114 million paid for these documents,” Lapointe said.

Nearly a third of fake diploma holders may be practicing, authorities said. Those graduates were able to pass a written nursing exam.

“The last thing we want to know is that medication nurses, those charged with carrying out a doctor’s orders, cut corners in their clinical training and used fake nursing diplomas to get their licenses and jobs,” Lapointe said. “Unfortunately, thousands of people have taken these shortcuts.”

Many of those who bought the bogus degrees had healthcare backgrounds, Lapointe said, including licensed practical nurses.

“Whether or not you passed the license test, to me, that’s beside the point,” he said. “For me, if you pass the test, but you haven’t done (the required clinical modules), that’s not redemption by any means.”

Lapointe said agents have alerted nursing boards across the country to the fraud.

An FBI special agent said South Florida “leads the nation in health care fraud” and said state boards of nursing may be taking action against accused fraudulent nurses.

Officials said they have not heard of any harm to patients linked to those who received fraudulent diplomas, but said they are working with state licensing boards to ensure that anyone who received fraudulent diplomas is no longer providing care.

“We know who they are,” Lapointe said.

The following persons were charged in the case:

  • gail russ

  • cheryl stanley

  • crystal lopez

  • Ricky Riley

  • norberto lopez

  • François Legangeur

  • Seide Reynoso

  • cassandra jean

  • Yelva Saint Preux

  • Evangeline Naissant

  • rony michel

  • Vilaire Duroseau

  • Yvrose Thermitus, also known as “Yvrose Thompson”

  • ludnie jean

  • Sergio Jean

  • simon itaman

  • Anna Itaman

  • romy louis

  • nadege augusto

  • Stanton Witherspoon

  • Alfred Sellu

  • René Bernadel

  • eunide sanón

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