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- Three schools in Florida sold 7,600 fake credentials to nursing license applicants, officials said.
- The faux diplomas and transcripts qualified applicants for the national nursing board exam.
- They would have allowed buyers to potentially skip thousands of clinical trainings, prosecutors said.
Up to 7,600 people across the US may be using fake nursing credentials from a scheme run by Florida nursing schools selling diplomas, federal prosecutors said on Wednesday.
Employees and owners of three accredited schools — Palm Beach School of Nursing, Siena College, and Sacred Heart International Institute — are accused by the Justice Department of selling 7,600 diplomas and transcripts to people seeking licenses and jobs as registered nurses and practical or vocational nurses.
The fake credentials wouldn’t have given the buyer a nursing license, but it would qualify them to sit for the national nursing board exam. They’d only become licensed nurses upon passing that exam.
Still, the bogus diplomas and transcripts, which cost as much as $15,000 each, would have helped candidates skip “hundreds, if not thousands, of hours of clinical training,” Markenzy Lapointe, the US attorney for the Southern District of Florida, told ABC News.
In a Justice Department statement, officials said “recruiters” would approach potential buyers and conspire with employees, managers, or owners at the schools to create and distribute the fraudulent documents.
The diplomas would state that the buyer had attended the respective school’s nursing program, when they never took classes there, prosecutors said.
A total 25 people are being charged with wire fraud and wire fraud conspiracy for taking part in the scheme, and each defendant faces up to 20 years in prison.
All three schools have been closed, officials said. Siena College and Sacred Heart International Institute are in Broward County. Palm Beach School of Nursing is in Palm Beach County.
“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,” said Chad Yarbrough, an acting special agent for the FBI in Miami.
Authorities said they haven’t yet heard of cases where a patient was harmed because they received care from someone who bought a faux license through this scheme.
But the scale of the fraud operation has officials worried about the potential for patient harm, especially as the US faces a nurse shortage that’s worsened during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Not only is this a public safety concern, it also tarnishes the reputation of nurses who actually complete the demanding clinical and course work required to obtain their professional licenses and employment,” said Lapointe in the Justice Department statement.
The US attorney’s office for the Southern District of Florida and the office of the inspector general at the Department of Health and Human Services did not immediately respond to Insider’s requests for comment.