Author HeadshotBy George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law

On January 25, 2023, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General (HHS-OIG) launched a multi-state coordinated law enforcement action to apprehend individuals engaged in a scheme to sell false and fraudulent nursing degree diplomas and transcripts. The enforcement action resulted in the execution of search warrants in Delaware, New York, New Jersey, Texas, and Florida. 25 individuals have been charged in the Southern District of Florida for their alleged participation in a fraud scheme that created an illegal licensing and employment shortcut for aspiring nurses.

The defendants include “owners, operators, and employees” of the schools who “prepared and sold the fake nursing school diplomas and transcripts, knowing that the candidates would use those false documents to sit for nursing board examinations, secure nursing licenses, and ultimately obtain nursing jobs in medical facilities not only in Florida but elsewhere across the country,” officials said. Additional defendants charged include “recruiters” to bring in would-be buyers.

Operation Nightingale.

The scheme sold fake and fraudulent nursing degree diplomas and transcripts obtained from accredited Florida-based nursing schools to aspiring Registered Nurse (RN) and Licensed Practical/Vocational Nurse (LPN/VN) candidates. The nursing schools, Siena College, Palm Beach School of Nursing, and Sacred Heart International Institute, are now closed.

Officials said nursing candidates who allegedly participated in the scheme would pay as much as $15,000 for the fraudulent diplomas.

The individuals who acquired the fraudulent nursing credentials used them to qualify to sit for the national nursing board exam. Upon completing the board exam, the nursing applicants became eligible to obtain licensure in various states to work as an RN or an LPN/VN. Once licensed, the individuals could get employment in the healthcare field. The overall scheme resulted in the distribution of more than 7,600 fake nursing diplomas and transcripts.

Each defendant faces up to 20 years in prison. Learn more about “Operation Nightingale” from the OIG here.

Dangerous Healthcare Licensing and Credentialing Shortcuts.

We expect our healthcare professionals to be who they claim they are. We expect that they’ve had the proper training and credentialing. “Specifically when we talk about a nurse’s education and credentials – shortcut is not a word we want to use,” said U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida Markenzy Lapointe. “When we take an injured son or daughter to a hospital emergency room, we don’t expect that the licensed practical nurse or registered nurse training our child took a shortcut.” The scheme enabled these nursing candidates allegedly buying the fake diplomas “to avoid hundreds, if not thousands, of hours of clinical training countless hours getting that experience,” Lapointe said. “These people didn’t go through that. That part was completely skipped.”

This fraud scheme is a public safety concern and tarnishes the reputation of nurses who complete the demanding clinical work required to obtain their professional licenses and employment. Additionally, it can erode public trust in our healthcare system. The alleged selling and purchasing of nursing diplomas and transcripts to willing but unqualified individuals is a serious crime that can endanger the health and safety of patients.

Click here to view the U.S. Department of Justice press release.

Contact Health Law Attorneys Experienced in Investigations Against Nurses and Nursing Students.

The attorneys of The Health Law Firm provide legal representation to nurses, nursing students, and ARNPs in Department of Health (DOH) investigations, licensure defense representation, investigation representation, Department of Health investigations, DOJ investigations, Board of Nursing investigations, formal and informal administrative hearings, emergency suspension orders, emergency restriction orders and other types of investigations of health professionals and providers.

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Pezenik, Sasha. “Feds announce massive takedown of fraudulent nursing diploma scheme.” ABC News. (January 27, 2023). Web.

D’Angelo, Bob. “Operation Nightingale: 25 charged in fake nursing diploma scheme in Florida.” Cox Media Group. (January 27, 2023). Web.

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. “2023 Operation Nightingale Enforcement Action.” (January 26, 2023). Web.

About the Author: George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., is Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law. He is the President and Managing Partner of The Health Law Firm, which has a national practice. Its main office is in the Orlando, Florida, area. The Health Law Firm, 1101 Douglas Ave., Suite 1000, Altamonte Springs, FL 32714, Phone: (407) 331-6620 or Toll-Free: (888) 331-6620.

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