In lieu of jail time, Julie DeVuono, of Amityville, is expected to be sentenced to 840 hours of community service and five years probation for running a fake COVID-19 vaccination card scheme. NewsdayTV's Shari Einhorn reports. Credit: Staff

An Amityville nurse practitioner pleaded guilty Friday to running a $1.5 million fraudulent COVID-19 vaccination card scheme in a deal that allowed her to avoid jail time, even as her attorney blamed government mandates during the pandemic for fostering her behavior.

Julie DeVuono, 51, and her corporation, Kids-On-Call Pediatric Nurse Practitioner, each pleaded guilty Friday in Suffolk County Supreme Court in Riverhead to felony charges of second-degree money laundering and second-degree forgery.

DeVuono, the owner of Wild Child Pediatric Healthcare in Amityville, also pleaded guilty to one count of first-degree offering a false Instrument for filing after she illegally obtained a prescription for 180 tablets of oxycodone for herself in the name of her brother.

As part of the plea deal, Supreme Court Justice John Collins is expected to sentence DeVuono on Nov. 17 to five years probation, 840 hours of community service and to pay $15,000 in fines. She also agreed to the forfeiture of $1,252,540, to surrender her nurse practitioner and registered nurse licenses, and to close her pediatric practice, which had been open since her arrest.

WHAT TO KNOW

  • An Amityville nurse practitioner pleaded guilty Friday to running a $1.5 million fraudulent COVID-19 vaccination card scheme in a deal that allowed her to avoid jail time.
  • Julie DeVuono, 51, and her corporation, Kids-On-Call Pediatric Nurse Practitioner, each pleaded guilty Friday to felony charges of second-degree money laundering and second-degree forgery.
  • Supreme Court Justice John Collins is expected to sentence DeVuono on Nov. 17 to five years probation, 840 hours of community service and to pay $15,000 in fines. She also agreed to the forfeiture of $1,252,540, to surrender her nurse practitioner and registered nurse licenses, and to close her pediatric practice.

“This defendant used her position as a nurse practitioner to circumvent the law by uploading false information into New York state-wide databases,” said Suffolk District Attorney Raymond Tierney. “The defendant’s abuse of authority preyed upon the fears and mistrust of the public during the COVID shutdown to forge COVID cards for the vaccine she never administered, in pursuit of no other purpose than her own enrichment.”

Outside of court Friday, attorney Jason Russo of Garden City said his client took responsibility for her role in the scheme.

"One thing that is very clear is that many Americans took issue with the government mandate that certain employees must have a vaccine or they lose their job," Russo said. "The federal government's intrusion on personal liberty and individual freedom of choice in their medical decisions created a situation that was untenable for the community and for many, many Americans. We do not excuse anything that Julie did. However, it was the government interference with these personal liberties that fostered and created the issue of when she became complicit."

Julie DeVuono, at Suffolk County Court in Riverhead on Aug....

Julie DeVuono, at Suffolk County Court in Riverhead on Aug. 28, 2023. DuVuono was scheduled to make a plea deal for distributing fake vaccine cards, but Judge Collins postponed it to Sept. 8. Credit: James Carbone

DeVuono remains free without bail pending sentencing but on GPS ankle monitoring.

Russo previously blamed his client's legal troubles on "COVID hysteria" and several other women who worked for DeVuono.

After entering into an agreement with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to administer free COVID vaccinations to the public in 2021, DeVuono directed practical nurse Marissa Urraro of Northport to fake giving shots to patients who would then receive a vaccine card in exchange for cash, prosecutors said. 

The shots were then falsely reported to the state while the vaccine doses, which were scarce at the time and difficult for Americans to obtain, were dumped into a trash can by DeVuono, Urraro or clinic receptionist Brooke Hogan, of Patchogue, prosecutors said.

Prosecutors said the nurses then entered the false information into the New York State Immunization Information System, a statewide vaccination database.

Urraro and Hogan have both been criminally charged with roles in the scheme and their cases are pending, records show. They have pleaded not guilty.

From June 15, 2021 through Jan. 27, 2022, adult patients paid $220 to $350 per fake shot recorded with the state, according to a civil forfeiture complaint filed by Tierney against DeVuono last year. Bogus pediatric shots ranged from $85 to $220, the complaint said.

The employees often received cash payments from patients, which were kept in a safe at the office from which DeVuono would frequently remove cash, according to the complaint.

DeVuono and Urraro were arrested in January 2022 after they allegedly forged COVID-19 vaccine cards for an undercover detective without administering the vaccination. Hogan was charged the following month.

While executing a search warrant of DeVuono’s home, authorities seized approximately $900,000 in cash with a ledger documenting profits in excess of $1.5 million from the alleged illegal activity, prosecutors said.

DeVuono laundered the proceeds of the scheme by authorizing a $236,980 wire transfer just three days after her arrest to pay the balance on a mortgage for the house owned by her husband, an NYPD pilot who retired in December, according to the civil forfeiture complaint.

The alleged fake COVID vaccine card scheme has been linked to a lawsuit in state Supreme Court in Brooklyn, filed by an attorney for a group of 30 New York City public school teachers who were suspended without pay after an investigator reported they received their vaccine cards from the Amityville clinic, according to records in that case.

Supreme Court Justice Gina Abadi ruled in December that those teachers, 27 of whom previously had been granted tenure and were not criminally charged, should be returned to the classroom and awarded back pay.

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