Three people have been found guilty in a fraudulent nursing degree scheme the feds dubbed “Operation Nightingale”.

Gail Russ, registrar of the Palm Beach School of Nursing in Lake Worth; Cassandre Jean, owner and operator of Success Nursing Review in Brooklyn, New York; and Vilaire Duroseau, owner and operator of the Center for Advance Training and Studies in West Orange, New Jersey were recently convicted by a federal jury in Fort Lauderdale on charges of wire fraud and conspiracy to commit wire fraud following a three-week trial.

How the Fake Diploma Scheme Worked

We first wrote about the fraudulent nursing degree scheme in March. It worked like this:

The defendants sold bogus diplomas and transcripts obtained from accredited Florida-based nursing schools to those seeking licenses and jobs as registered nurses and licensed practical/vocational nurses.

The fraudulent nursing diplomas went for between $10,000 for a licensed practical nurse degree to $17,000 for a registered nurse diploma — netting the suspects more than $114 million. The fake nursing diploma scheme took place from 2016 through 2021.

Those fake nursing credentials allowed them to sit for the national nursing board exam and, after passing it, to obtain licenses and jobs in various states. Although they still had to take the exam, the bogus nursing credentials allowed them to skip hundreds of hours of clinical nursing training and therefore could jeopardize the health and safety of those patients under their care, although so far no harm to patients has yet been discovered.

The Defendants

In this fraudulent nursing degree scheme, as many as 7,600 fake diplomas were issued by three South Florida-based nursing schools: Palm Beach School of Nursing in Palm Beach County, Siena College in Broward County and Sacred Heart International Institute in Broward County. All are now closed.

In July, Johanah Napoleon the former owner of the Palm Beach School of Nursing was sentenced to 18 months in prison and ordered to pay $3.5 million after pleading guilty to wire fraud and conspiracy to commit wire fraud.

Eunide Sanon, who managed Siena College, pleaded guilty in March, to conspiracy to commit wire fraud Sanon was sentenced to 27 months in prison, and ordered to forfeit $1,287,633.

Charles Etienne, the former owner of Sacred Heart pleaded guilty in April, to conspiracy to commit wire fraud.

Skirting the System

Around 2,400 of those who purchased the fake diplomas passed a licensing exam to obtain jobs as registered nurses and licensed practical nurses or vocational nurses in multiple states including Georgia, Maryland, New York and Ohio, according to court documents. State nursing boards have stripped those who purchased the fake nursing diplomas of their licenses.

In total, 27 defendants were charged in the fraudulent nursing diploma scheme. As of September, 20 defendants have pleaded guilty or been convicted at trial in U.S. District Court in South Florida.

OIG and Healthcare Audits

Investigators said they were alerted to the fraudulent nursing diploma scheme after Florida auditors noticed poor passing rates at the three nursing schools involved. Audits play an integral role in detecting healthcare fraud, and it’s one of the many tools the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of the Inspector General (HHS OIG) uses in its enforcement actions.

OIG audits can take an emotional and financial toll on your practice and can result in a loss of your business, as with the three nursing schools, or with the loss of your license, as with those who purchased the bogus nursing diplomas. It is imperative that you protect yourself in advance of an audit, as well as effectively respond if you are audited.

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The Health Law Offices of Anthony C. Vitale utilizes a team of healthcare attorneys, consultants and experts to represent nurses and other healthcare professionals who are the subject or target of healthcare fraud, false claim, antikickback, licensing board, FBI, OIG and private insurance investigations.

Becoming the target of a healthcare fraud investigation is serious business. The best outcome would be to avoid being disciplined or charged and, in the process, prevent all the unwanted publicity and damage to your reputation and your business. Contact an attorney the minute you become aware that you or your company are under investigation.