row of diplomas

More than two dozen people could go to prison for up to 20 years each for selling phony diplomas to nursing students, some of whom later obtained licenses to work in home healthcare.

Last week, federal authorities in Florida charged the defendants with wire fraud in a scheme to sell 7,600 fake nursing degree diplomas and transcripts obtained from three Florida-based nursing schools. Prosecutors said the scam involved licenses and jobs as registered nurses, licensed practical and vocational nurses. The schools listed in the indictment were Siena College in Broward County, Palm Beach School of Nursing in Palm Beach County and Sacred Heart International Institute in Broward County. All three are now closed. 

“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,” U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida Markenzy Lapointe said in a statement. “A fraud scheme like this erodes public trust in our health care system.” 

The indictments charge the schools with soliciting and recruiting students to buy the phony documents without completing the required course work. Obtaining the fake diplomas allowed them to sit for the national nursing board exam. 

The investigation spanned a half-dozen states. Prosecutors claim some of those who passed the exam and obtained licenses got nursing jobs in hospitals, home health agencies and skilled nursing facilities in Ohio, New York, Massachusetts, New Jersey and Texas. 

“The alleged selling and purchasing of nursing diplomas and transcripts to willing but unqualified individuals is a crime that potentially endangers the health and safety of patients and insults the honorable profession of nursing,” Special Agent in Charge Omar Pérez Aybar of Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Inspector General, said in a statement. 

The indictments come at a time when demand for nurses is skyrocketing. The U.S. will need to add approximately 250,000 RNs and LPNs by the end of the decade, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.