Federal prosecutors have identified three Florida nursing schools that participated in a scheme to sell up to 7,600 people fraudulent nursing credentials, Business Insider reports,
The investigation, dubbed Operation Nightingale, was a joint effort between the Department of Justice and the Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General. Staff members and owners of Palm Beach School of Nursing, Siena College, and Sacred Heart International Institute, all of which are accredited, are accused of selling fake diplomas and transcripts to thousands of people seeking licenses for jobs as "registered nurses (RNs) and licensed practical/vocational nurses (LPN/VNs)." The credentials allowed them to take a shortcut to qualify to sit for the national nursing board exam. Markenzy Lapointe, the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Florida, told ABC News that the bogus documents helped many bypass "hundreds, if not thousands, of hours of clinical training."
In the DOJ statement, officials outlined how "recruiters" would conspire with employees, managers, or owners from the schools to create diplomas and transcripts that stated the buyer attended the school's nursing program, despite never taking classes, per Insider. Buyers would pay up to $15,000 for the faux documents, helping schemers net a profit of over $100 million. Prosecutors said the scheme put patient safety at risk as required training programs exist to "protect the public from harm by setting minimum qualifications and competencies."
Authorities have charged 25 people with wire fraud and wire fraud conspiracy for their roles in the scheme, and all three schools have been closed. Each defendant faces up to 20 years in prison if convicted.
"Health care fraud is nothing new to South Florida, as many scammers see this as a way to earn easy, though illegal, money, "said Miami FBI Special Agent Chad Yarbrough. "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." Authorities say they have not uncovered any patients harmed in the care of someone who purchased the fake documents.