Federal agents arrest a large number of fraud suspects with nursing degrees in Florida

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Federal agents arrested about 20 suspects Wednesday morning accused of selling fabricated nursing degrees to thousands of students who then used their fake degrees to take licensing exams in several states, including Florida, New York, New Jersey and Texas.

A network of nursing school operators centered in South Florida illegally charged each student between $10,000 for a licensed practical nurse degree and $17,000 for a registered nurse degree — without requiring proper training, according to federal authorities and court records.

In doing so, the scofflaw schools provided a shortcut for students to avoid having to complete an almost two-year nursing program that requires clinical work, national exams, and certification, while the schools’ instructors coached them through the process of taking the license exams to practice nursing in a number of states. Most of the students who earned the mock nursing degrees required to take their certification exams were in New York before them.

In that state, there was no limit to the number of times students could take the nursing exam. In addition, a certification in New York allows nurses to practice there and in several other states, including Florida.

As a result of the ever-expanding federal investigation, a few thousand students who obtained bogus nursing degrees and passed the licensing exams in certain states, such as New York, may now lose their certification due to the alleged fraudulent scheme and possible damage to public. Sources familiar with the investigation report this. About a third of the estimated 8,000 students who paid for fake nursing degrees from South Florida schools and others eventually passed their licensing exams.

U.S. Attorney Markenzy Lapointe, along with the FBI and the Department of Health and Human Services, plans to hold a press conference at 2 p.m. Wednesday to announce the results of what federal prosecutors described as “a major fraud enforcement operation.”

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Markenzy Lapointe, US Attorney for the Southern District of Florida

The federal investigation began in 2019 with a tip from Maryland that led to an FBI undercover operation initially targeting two Fort Lauderdale businessmen, Geralda Adrien and Woosvelt Predestin, who both pleaded guilty to a conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud. to commit. They cooperated with authorities and were sentenced in 2022 to more than two years and three months in prison.

Adrien owned two private education companies, Docu-Flex & More and PowerfulU Health Care Services, where Predestin was an employee. They teamed up with Siena College of Health/Siena Education Center in Lauderhill and Palm Beach School of Nursing in Lake Worth to “sell fraudulent diplomas and college transcripts,” according to court documents. Also initially targeted: Palm Beach School of Nursing president Johanana Napoleon of West Palm Beach, who pleaded guilty to the same conspiracy charge, was cooperating with authorities and awaiting sentencing.

All three defendants reached plea deals with assistant attorney Christopher Clark and helped investigators develop the larger case, resulting in more than 20 new arrests. A pair of cases were filed Monday in federal courts in Miami and Fort Lauderdale.

Among the new indictments: Eunide Sanon, owner of Siena College of Health/Siena Education Center, and Charles Etienne, president of Sacred Heart International in Fort Lauderdale. The police report did not list lawyers for Sanon and Etienne, so they could not be reached for comment.

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According to one case, Sanon collaborated with Adrien, Predestin and others to sell approximately 2,016 “false and fraudulent diplomas and educational transcripts to” students who “falsely claimed” that they had received “necessary coursework and/or clinical training to obtain nursing degrees.” achieve “Sienna.”

According to another case, Etienne collaborated with Adrien, Predestin and others to sell about 588 “false and fraudulent diplomas and educational transcripts” under the same circumstances.

Court records show that in 2021, an undercover FBI employee met Adrien at her Fort Lauderdale office, where she explained that a typical nursing school program lasts 22 months and can equate to four years at a major university. During the program, Adrien said she took students through a nursing school that was either on probation or closed, so it seemed like the students went to that school for a while.

Adrien offered the undercover operative a diploma from the Palm Beach School of Nursing and training for a New York licensing exam for the sum of $16,000, according to a statement from the FBI. The diploma should arrive in a few weeks. Adrien volunteered to fill out the application for the board certifications and take the designated classes for the FBI’s undercover agent. She also created an account through an accredited nursing education website used in New York State and assigned the employee a password of “123456,” according to the FBI’s affidavit.

Adrien assured the undercover operative that the transcript and diploma from the nursing school would be ready for them within two weeks. The employee was instructed to complete a nursing school application and use it retroactively to show that the form was completed in June 2016. Predestin also helped the undercover operative apply for a permit through the New York state system. When the employee asked which nursing school to write on the form, Predestin said, “Leave this for me.”

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The undercover operative received the diploma on March 31, 2021 — 13 days after his first meeting with Adrien. The document stated that on June 29, 2018, the employee completed an associate degree in Science of Nursing with a 3.4 GPA. At one point, Adrien told the FBI’s undercover agent that she has students from even outside of Florida who buy degrees from her and that she has “a lot of people all over the place,” the affidavit said.

The Palm Beach school was previously licensed by the Florida Board of Nursing as a legitimate nursing training program, but its license was terminated in May 2017 due to low pass rates on the state certification exam.

The nursing school in Siena was also granted a probationary license in 2020 due to low pass rates for the certification exam.

Students who want to become Registered Nurses or Licensed Practical Nurses must be able to show proof of graduation from an approved program and completion of the National Council Licensure Examination, according to the National Council of State Boards of Nursing. Some states also require a criminal background check.

“The purpose of a professional license is to protect the public from harm by establishing minimum qualifications and competencies for entry-level safe practitioners,” according to the NCSBN.

This is a breaking news story that will be updated as new information becomes available.

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