Thousands of practicing nurses in the U.S. could potentially be working with bogus academic credentials after federal officials uncovered an alleged scheme at three South Florida nursing schools.
In a statement, Chad Yarbrough—FBI Miami’s Special Agent in Charge—noted that fraud of this variety was unfortunately “nothing new” to the region.
“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,” Yarbrough added of this specific case, which sees each defendant facing as much as 20 years behind bars if convicted as charged on wire fraud counts.
The scam, prosecutors say, involved the selling of fraudulent diplomas and transcripts from three since-closed schools: Siena College in Broward County, Palm Beach School of Nursing in Palm Beach County, and Sacred Heart International Institute in Broward County.
According to a Miami Herald report, the 7,600 affected students ultimately paid a combined total of $114 million for the fake degrees. Of those students, the outlet added, roughly 2,400 of them were able to then pass licensing exams. The students, notably, will not be charged in connection with the elaborate scheme.
When speaking to reporters on the conclusion of Operation Nightingale on Wednesday, U.S. Attorney Markenzy Lapointe pointed to the “important public role” health care workers play in the larger medical system.
“We therefore expect our health care professionals to be who they claim they are,” Lapointe said. “Specifically, when we talk about a nurse’s education and credentials, ‘shortcut’ is not a word we want to use.”