"There are over 7,600 people around the country with fraudulent nursing credentials who are potentially in critical health care roles treating patients," FBI Miami Special Agent in Charge Chad Yarbrough said this week. His warning came as the Justice Department announced charges related to three accredited nursing schools in Florida, accused of racking up a combined $100 million for selling fake diplomas to students who bypassed training between 2016 and 2021. More than 7,600 fake diplomas were issued by the Siena College of Health, Palm Beach School of Nursing, and Sacred Heart International Institute, all of which are now closed, according to the DOJ, which investigated alongside the Health and Human Services' Office of the Inspector General, per USA Today.
Prosecutors noted the risk to patients, as the bypassed training programs "protect the public from harm by setting minimum qualifications and competencies." Recruiters allegedly assisted individuals aspiring to become registered nurses and licensed practical/vocational nurses in obtaining the fake degrees and transcripts at an average cost of $15,000. Those documents allowed recipients to sit for the national nursing board exam. After passing the exam, the individuals became licensed in states including New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Maryland, Ohio, Georgia, and Texas, per CBS News. Recipients and school directors are among the 25 people charged with wire fraud who face up to 20 years in prison if convicted.
Eunide Sanon, who ran Siena College of Health, is accused of selling 2,016 fake diplomas with help from three recruiters, while Charles Etienne, the owner of Sacred Heart International Institute, is accused of selling 588 fake diplomas, per USA Today. Johanah Napoleon, who owned three nursing schools in addition to the Palm Beach School of Nursing and has already pleaded guilty to charges, issued at least seven fake diplomas, receiving $30,000 from one co-defendant, according to the DOJ. At least two others are accused of completing online courses on behalf of the purchasers in a scheme American Nurses Association President Jennifer Mensik Kennedy describes as "simply deplorable," per CBS. (Read more nurses stories.)