Jennifer Mensik Kennedy, PhD, MBA, RN, the new president of the American Nurses Association, also weighed in. "The accusation that personnel at once-accredited nursing schools allegedly participated in this scheme is simply deplorable. These unlawful and unethical acts disparage the reputation of actual nurses everywhere who have rightfully earned [their titles] through their education, hard work, dedication and time."
The false degrees and transcripts were issued by three once-accredited and now-shuttered nursing schools in South Florida: Palm Beach School of Nursing, Sacred Heart International Institute, and Sienna College.
The alleged co-conspirators reportedly made $114 million from the scheme, which dates back to 2016, according to several news reports. Each defendant faces up to 20 years in prison.
Most LPN programs charge $10,000 to $15,000 to complete a program, Robert Rosseter, a spokesperson for the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN), told Medscape Medical News.
None were AACN members, and none were accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education, which is AACN's autonomous accrediting agency, Rosseter said. AACN membership is voluntary and is open to schools offering baccalaureate or higher degrees, he explained.
"What is disturbing about this investigation is that there are over 7600 people around the country with fraudulent nursing credentials who are potentially in critical health care roles treating patients," Chad Yarbrough, acting special agent in charge for the FBI in Miami, said in the federal justice department release.
"Operation Nightingale" Based on Tip
The federal action, dubbed "Operation Nightingale" after the nursing pioneer Florence Nightingale, began in 2019. It was based on a tip related to a case in Maryland, according to Nurse.org.
That case ensnared Palm Beach School of Nursing owner Johanah Napoleon, who reportedly was selling fake degrees for $6000 to $18000 each to two individuals in Maryland and Virginia. Napoleon was charged in 2021 and eventually pled guilty. The Florida Board of Nursing shut down the Palm Beach school in 2017 owing to its students' low passing rate on the national licensing exam.
Two participants in the bigger scheme who had also worked with Napoleon, Geralda Adrien and Woosvelt Predestin, were indicted in 2021. Adrien owned private education companies for people who at aspired to be nurses, and Predestin was an employee. They were sentenced to 27 months in prison last year and helped the federal officials build the larger case.
The 25 individuals who were charged January 25 operated in Delaware, New York, New Jersey, Texas, and Florida.
In the scheme involving Siena College, some of the individuals acted as recruiters to direct nurses who were looking for employment to the school, where they allegedly would then pay for an RN or LPN/VN degree. The recipients of the false documents then used them to obtain jobs, including at a hospital in Georgia and a Veterans Affairs medical center in Maryland, according to one indictment. The president of Siena and her co-conspirators sold more than 2000 fake diplomas, according to charging documents.
At the Palm Beach College of Nursing, individuals at various nursing prep and education programs allegedly helped others obtain fake degrees and transcripts, which were then used to pass RN and LPN/VN licensing exams in states that included Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, and Ohio, according to the indictment.
Some individuals then secured employment with a nursing home in Ohio, a home health agency for pediatric patients in Massachusetts, and skilled nursing facilities in New York and New Jersey.
Prosecutors allege that the president of Sacred Heart International Institute and two other co-conspirators sold 588 fake diplomas.
The FBI said that some of the aspiring nurses who were talked into buying the degrees were LPNs who wanted to become RNs and that most of those lured into the scheme were from South Florida's Haitian American immigrant community, Nurse.org reported.