(CMR) A major healthcare fraud has been uncovered in Florida, where more than 7,600 fake nursing degree diplomas were issued over five years.
Persons are now theorizing that unnecessary deaths may have been caused as many of these people lacked adequate training.
The students paid a total of $114 million for the fake degrees between 2016 and 2021, with 2,400 of the 7,600 students eventually passing their licensing exams.
Federal authorities charged 25 people, including school directors and diploma recipients, with participating in the wire fraud scheme that allowed aspiring nurses to bypass the required training to become licensed in the profession.
Allegations are that the defendants sold the fraudulent nursing degree diplomas from three Florida-based nursing schools: Siena College, Palm Beach School of Nursing and Sacred Heart International Institute. The schools are now closed.
The scheme also involved transcripts from the nursing schools for people seeking licenses and jobs as registered nurses and licensed practical/vocational nurses, AP reported. The defendants each face up to 20 years in prison.
“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 US Attorney for the Southern District of Florida Markenzy Lapointe.
Lapointe said, “a fraud scheme like this erodes public trust in our health care system.”
According to AP, the fake diplomas and transcripts qualified those who purchased them to sit for the national nursing board exam. If they passed, they were able to obtain licenses and jobs in various states.
According to the Miami Herald, some of those who purchased degrees were from South Florida’s Haitian-American community, including some with legitimate LPN licenses.
“Health care fraud is nothing new to South Florida, as many scammers see this as a way to earn easy, though illegal, money,” acting Special Agent in Charge Chad Yarbrough told AP News.
He said it’s particularly disturbing that more than 7,600 people around the country obtained fake credentials and were potentially in critical healthcare roles treating patients.