Massive Fraud Scheme in Florida Nursing Schools Uncovered by Federal Investigators
Three nursing schools in south Florida, Siena College, Palm Beach School of Nursing, and Sacred Heart International Institute, are alleged to have sold thousands of fake nursing diplomas worth millions of dollars. The scheme enabled individuals to bypass the necessary training to become licensed nurses, putting patient safety at risk. According to federal prosecutors, the three schools distributed over 7,600 fraudulent diplomas with a total value of over $100 million, approximately $15,000 per diploma. All three schools have since closed.
In total, 25 defendants, including school directors and diploma recipients, were charged in the scheme, and each faces up to 20 years in prison if found guilty. Wire fraud-related charges have been brought against all defendants in five separate cases.
The investigation, dubbed “Operation Nightingale,” was conducted by the Department of Justice and the Health and Human Services’ Office of the Inspector General. The alleged scheme worked in three parts: recruiters helped aspiring nurses obtain fake degrees and transcripts; fraudulent degrees qualified recipients to take the national nursing board exam, and after passing the exam, they became eligible to become licensed in several states, where they eventually found jobs as licensed nurses.
Siena College was licensed by the state of Florida’s board of nursing and its independent education commission to offer practical nursing and Bachelor of Science in Nursing programs. The college was run by Eunide Sanon, who allegedly worked with three people in New York and New Jersey, who recruited aspiring nurses. From November 2018 to October 2021, Sanon is alleged to have sold 2,016 fake diplomas and transcripts that falsely purported that recipients had completed the necessary courses and training at Siena College to obtain such degrees when they had not.
At least seven nurses obtained fake diplomas from Palm Beach School of Nursing, Sunshine Academy, Quisqeya, and Florida College of Health, which were all owned by Johanah Napoleon. From April 2016 to July 2021, the seven nurses used the diplomas to become licensed nurses in Ohio, New York, New Jersey, and Massachusetts. With the help of the fake degrees, the nurses found jobs at nursing homes that took in Medicare and Medicaid-eligible patients. One nurse worked at a Veterans Affairs-run home. Ten people helped recruit people looking to obtain fake degrees. Napoleon has already pleaded guilty to wire and healthcare fraud charges.
From November 2020 to July 2021, Charles Etienne, owner of Sacred Heart International Institute, and two others provided purchasers with 588 fake diplomas and transcripts. Two co-defendants, Geralda Adrien and Woosvelt Predestin, also completed online courses on behalf of the fake degree purchasers. Adrien and Predestin are also named as co-conspirators in the Siena College case.
In conclusion, the distribution of fake diplomas by the three nursing schools in south Florida undermines the importance of proper training and certification in the nursing profession. The scheme puts patient safety at risk and enables unqualified individuals to practice as licensed nurses. The DOJ’s prosecution of those involved sends a message that fraudulent activity of this nature will not be tolerated.