3 Florida schools issued bogus nursing credentials to over 7,600 people; 4 Long Islanders among 25 charged
More than 7,600 people around the country may be using fake credentials to work as nurses, prosecutors said Wednesday, charging 25 people — including four Long Islanders — with wire fraud in this “shortcut” scheme.
By buying “bogus diplomas and transcripts” from three now-closed Florida schools, the aspiring nurses qualified to take national exams and apply for work as registered nurses and licensed practical/vocational nurses, Markenzy Lapointe, the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Florida, said in a statement.
He and the investigators stressed the “public safety concern” raised by the phony school documents, with Lapointe adding: “a fraud scheme like this erodes public trust in our healthcare system.”
Special Agent in Charge Chad Yarbrough, FBI Miami, added: “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.”
Florida and New York federal prosecutors, and the nurses unions in Florida and New York, had no immediate comment on whether investigators were tracking down the individuals who might have used false documents to gain licenses — or possible penalties. The New York attorney general referred inquiries to the state’s licensing arm.
The New York State Office of Professional Licenses, part of the Education Department, said any disciplinary decision would be made on a case-by-case basis.
The education department, in a statement, said it worked closely with the federal investigating agencies and “public protection” was its first priority. It added: “Our partnership with law enforcement kept applicants with possibly fraudulent credentials from entering the nursing profession in our state. We are awaiting further details regarding the specifics of the schools and individuals involved, and we will determine appropriate next steps at that time.”
The education department had no immediate comment on how many people it might have blocked from gaining nursing licenses with the counterfeit diplomas and transcripts.
The statement continued: “Nurses are hardworking and vital healthcare professionals, and there can be no shortcuts to meeting the qualifications for licensure or questions about the integrity of those who serve some of New York’s most vulnerable populations.”
The three Florida schools, whose owners or managers worked with wrongdoing recruiters or helped with the fake documents, are Siena College in Broward County, Palm Beach School of Nursing in Palm Beach County, and Sacred Heart International Institute in Broward County.
Each defendant, all from New York, New Jersey, Texas and Florida, faces a maximum sentence of 20 years.
The four Long Islanders, who prosecutors say “solicited and recruited individuals who sought nursing credentials to gain employment,” are: Francois Legagneur of Nassau County, Yelva Saint Preux of Suffolk County, and Evangeline Naissant of Nassau County, who all worked with Siena College; and Rhomy Louis of Suffolk County who was part of the Sacred Heart network.
They all have been indicted on a charge of conspiring to and committing wire fraud.
No estimate was released of how much the scheme earned.
The sums might have been substantial. A two-year program at a public school cost $8,000 to $22,000 in 2021; for a private school that expense rises to $30,000 to $50,000, according to the website NurseJournal.org.
In 2021, nurses received an average salary of $77,600 per year or $37.31 per hour, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Vowing to aggressively investigate any bad actors, Special Agent in Charge Omar Pérez Aybar of the Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Inspector General, added: “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.”