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Fake nursing diplomas scandal in Florida and Georgia: How easy is it to buy a bogus degree?

Federal authorities arrested 25 people in connection with an illegal scheme to sell thousands of fake nursing diplomas issued by three Florida schools.

Thousands of nurses obtained fake diplomas

Federal authorities arrested 25 people and broke up a scam that allegedly provided a “short cut” to obtaining nursing diplomas and transcripts for a fee from three South Florida-based nursing schools. This allowed thousands of individuals to sit for the national nursing board licensing exam to become registered nurses (RN), licensed practical nurses (LPN) and vocational nurses (VN).

Of the over 7,600 people who purchased the fake diplomas and transcripts, around 37 percent or 2,800 passed the necessary exams to practice as a licensed nurse. These individuals worked at hospitals and healthcare facilities around the country.

State nursing boards revoking nursing licenses

Nursing regulators in the affected states are “investigating individual cases and are taking appropriate action, in accordance with their state laws and due process, that includes loss of license,” according to a statement from the National Council of State Boards of Nursing.

WSB-TV News Consumer Investigator Justin Gray reported that 22 practicing nurses in Georgia allegedly obtained fake qualifications from the schools and have been asked to voluntarily surrender their nursing licenses within 30 days. Five of them are proclaiming their innocence and “are eager to defend their licenses and reputations through the proper channels” their lawyer told the Gray.

How easy is it to buy a bogus nursing degree?

“Health care fraud is nothing new to South Florida, as many scammers see this as a way to earn easy, though illegal, money,“ said Chad Yarbrough, special agent in charge of the FBI field office in Miami. However, he found disturbing the scale of the diploma mill scam that churned out the fake degrees and transcripts. “Were it not for the diligence and hard work of the investigators on this case, the extent of this fraud may not have been discovered.”

The case of one Iowa nurse who had received a fake diploma from one of the Florida nursing schools that came to light this past fall illuminates the process of obtaining one of the fake diplomas. Purchasers of the bogus degrees typically paid anywhere between $6,000 and $18,000.

In the case of the Iowa nurse he paid $11,000 to the National School of Nursing and Allied Health in Virginia, which was forced to shutter in 2013. He told the state board that he got his LPN degree in 2017 but couldn’t explain why it was backdated to 2013. The operators of that closed nursing school were partnering with Palm Beach School of Nursing’s owner to sell sham degrees through Siena College, two of the three Florida schools involved in the scam. The third school indicted for being involved in the scheme was Sacred Heart International Institute, all of which have since been forced to close.

The Iowa nurse also paid Siena College another $16,000 for his fake RN diploma. In the case of his LPN education, he told investigators that it consisted of a single-day “review course.” He admitted that his RN coursework was non-existent saying that he “basically had to study on my own.”