On Wednesday (Jan. 25), federal agents arrested at least 25 suspects who allegedly sold phony nursing degrees to thousands of students, according to the Miami Herald.
It’s reported that the students who purchased the fraudulent graduation certificates used them to take licensing exams in several states, including Florida, New York, New Jersey and Texas.
The Herald said according to federal authorities and court documents, a group of South Florida nursing school professionals illegally charged each student between $10,000 for a licensed practical nurse degree and $17,000 for a registered nurse diploma without requiring proper training.
The publication added that about 7,600 students paid a total of $114 million for the fake nursing degrees from three South Florida schools between 2016 and 2021.
The three schools involved with the alleged scam are the Sacred Heart International Institute in Fort Lauderdale, Siena College of Health in Lauderhill and the Palm Beach School of Nursing in West Palm Beach.
U.S. Attorney Markenzy Lapointe addressed the issue during a Wednesday press conference saying that nurses serve a pivotal part in healthcare, and anticipates them to “be who they claim they are.”
“Our healthcare professionals play an important role in our public health system,” he said. “We, therefore, expect our healthcare professionals to be who they claim they are. Specifically, when we talk about a nurse’s education and credentials, shortcut is not a word we want to use.“
He added that individuals have been charged across multiple states with wire fraud crimes, including conspiracy. The Justice Department has charged at least 25 people for the crime and each faces up to 20 years in prison.
Authorities confirmed that corrupt schools created a system that eliminated students from taking a nearly two-year nursing program that requires clinical work, national exams and certification. However, the instructors coached them up on how to take the licensing exams to practice nursing in many states.
Officials also said that the majority of the students who purchased the degrees are from South Florida’s Haitian-American community. Some had legitimate LPN licenses and just wanted to become registered nurses. The others were recruited from out of state to participate in the nursing program scam.
Although it’s reported that no one was harmed in the scheme, those who purchased the fake degrees could lose their certification, but won’t be criminally charged.