Three Florida-based nursing schools have been shut down after a ring of 25 individuals were indicted for a wire fraud scam that created phony nursing school transcripts and diplomas that fast-tracked unqualified nurses to employment.
On January 25, the Department of Justice (DOJ) in the Southern District of Florida issued indictments against the 25 suspects after they sold fake nursing degree diplomas and transcripts from Florida-based nursing colleges to individuals who sought licenses and jobs as “registered nurses (RNs) and licensed practical/vocational nurses (LPN/VNs).
The documents served as a way for those who bought the shady paperwork to be able to take state boards and obtain nursing licenses in Delaware, New York, New Jersey, Texas, and Florida, upon passing the intensive exams. In total, 7,600 fraudulent diplomas were issued from three colleges in Southern Florida. Siena College in Broward County, Fla., Palm Beach School of Nursing in Palm Beach County, Fla., and Sacred Heart International Institute in Broward County were implicated in the scam, and the educational institutions have now been shut down.
“Health care fraud is nothing new to South Florida, as many scammers see this as a way to earn easy, though illegal, money,” acting FBI Special Agent in Charge Chad Yarbrough of Miami said. “What is disturbing about this investigation is that there are over 7,600 people around the country with fraudulent nursing credentials who are potentially in critical health care roles treating patients. Were it not for the diligence and hard work of the investigators on this case, the extent of this fraud may not have been discovered.”
United States Attorney for the Southern District of Florida, Markenzy Lapointe, also expressed how dangerous the racket was to the public.
“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 explained. He added that “a fraud scheme like this erodes public trust in our health care system.”
“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,” said Special Agent in Charge Omar Pérez Aybar of the Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Inspector General (HHS-OIG). “In coordination with our law enforcement partners, HHS-OIG continues to aggressively investigate bad actors who so brazenly disregard the well-being of others in order to enrich themselves fraudulently.”
From Siena College, the suspects are–Eugene Sanon, Stanton Witherspoon of Burlington County N.J.; Alfred Sellu of Burlington County N.J., and Rene Bernadel of Westchester County, N.Y. with conspiring to commit and committing wire fraud. The three latter culprits allegedly recruited potential customers, while Sanon received the payments for the bogus degrees. He also created fake transcripts and diplomas that were fraudulently sold.
From Palm Beach School of Nursing, Gail Russ of Broward County; Cheryl Stanley of Collier County, Fla.; Krystal Lopez of Palm Beach County; Ricky Riley of Broward County; Norberto Lopez of Palm Beach County; Damian Lopez of Palm Beach County; Francois Legagneur of Nassau County, N.Y.; Reynoso Seide of Union County, N.J.; Cassandre Jean of Palm Beach County; Yelva Saint Preux of Suffolk County, N.Y.; Evangeline Naissant of Nassau County, N.Y.; Rony Michel of Monmouth County, N.J.; Vilaire Duroseau of Essex County, N.J.; and Yvrose Thermitus, a/k/a “Yvrose Thompson,” of Union County, N.J., were charged with conspiring to commit wire fraud. The aforementioned suspects also created fake transcripts and fake nursing degrees.
Finally, Sacred Heart International Institute, which was only authorized to train vocational nurses and not registered nurses, indicted six people.
Ludnie Jean of Harris County, Texas; Serge Jean of Harris County, Texas; Simon Itaman of Harris County, Texas; Anna Itaman of Harris County, Texas; Rhomy Louis of Suffolk County, N.Y.; and Nadege Auguste of Broward County were also charged with conspiring to and committing wire fraud. They also allegedly created fake documents for clients seeking to become nurses.
The irony of the situation is none of the people who bought the fraudulent credentials actually studied to become nurses.
If they are found guilty, they face a maximum of 20 years in prison, according to the DOJ.