The Florida Nursing Diploma Scheme: 3 Things You Need to Know
In January 2023, The Department of Justice U.S. Attorney’s Office of the Southern District of Florida announced Operation Nightingale, a takedown of a massive nursing diploma fraud scheme involving six Florida schools.
The operation was named after Florence Nightingale, who is widely regarded as the founder of modern nursing due to her work organizing care for wounded soldiers in the Crimean War.
In the scheme which lasted several years, 25 individuals are alleged to have been involved in selling fraudulent diplomas and transcripts, allowing more than 7,600 would-be nurses to skip required educational components before taking the national nursing board exam.
Nearly 40% of the individuals who purchased fake diplomas and/or transcripts went on to pass the exam. This made them eligible to provide care to patients in nursing homes, assisted living facilities, Veterans Health Administration (VA) hospitals, and other healthcare facilities.
The schools involved in the scheme have since been closed. They are:
- Siena College
- Quisqueya Health Care Academy
- Quisqueya Nursing School
- Florida College of Health
- Sacred Heart International Institute
- Palm Beach School of Nursing
How did the scheme work?
Purchasers spent up to $15,000 per person in exchange for fraudulent diplomas and transcripts. This allowed them to skip hundreds of hours of training and experience required to obtain nursing licenses. In total, $114 million exchanged hands in the scheme over the course of several years.
Four months later, there are a number of developments in the case:
- Many states have taken action against nurses who participated in the scheme, ranging from rescinded/suspended licenses to formal charges.
- Five of the 25 defendants have pleaded guilty to wire fraud conspiracy so far. They will be sentenced on July 27, each facing up to 20 years in federal prison. From the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Southern District of Florida:
“During guilty plea hearings before U.S. District Judge Raag Singhal, D. Lopez, Legagneur, Seide, and Saint Preux admitted to soliciting and recruiting people who sought nursing credentials that would allow them to work as registered, licensed practical, or vocational nurses. They also admitted to working with Palm Beach School of Nursing to create and distribute fraudulent diplomas and transcripts representing that the aspiring nursing candidates had attended the school and completed the necessary courses and clinicals to obtain their nursing diplomas…K. Lopez admitted that, in her role as Palm Beach School of Nursing’s Finance Director, she processed applications for individuals who were issued fraudulent nursing school diplomas and transcripts and that each student paid the school $15,000 for the documents. The defendants all admitted to profiting from the scam.”
- Many nurses who attended the involved schools claim they earned their licenses legitimately, having completed all of their required coursework and passed the national nursing board exam. Some of these nurses have lost their jobs and/or licenses, and continue to fight to prove their innocence. These schools were previously accredited, and the fraud was only perpetrated for certain participants, not all students.
Employers: Stay Vigilant
It is estimated that fraudulent diplomas and transcripts are a $7 billion per year (and growing) industry worldwide. Healthcare employers: Stay vigilant and implement a thorough background screening program including education verification and a license management system.
Contact PreCheck today to build a screening program for your organization as a first line of defense against fraud.