Feds: 3 South Florida nursing schools sold 7,600 fake degrees; 25 charged

Crackdown dubbed ‘Operation Nightingale’

MIAMI – Three now-shuttered South Florida nursing schools sold more than $100 million worth of fake nursing diplomas, leading authorities to charge more than two dozen people, federal prosecutors said Wednesday afternoon.

U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida Markenzy Lapointe and representatives from FBI Miami and Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General spoke at a news conference in Miami Wednesday.

Authorities charged 25 people across multiple states in the scheme, prosecutors said.

(A list of those charged appears at the bottom of the article.)

Prosecutors have made 21 arrests, with two more suspects expected to surrender in the coming days. Those charged were from Florida, New York, New Jersey, Texas and Delaware.

“Individuals have been charged across multiple states with wire fraud crimes, including conspiracy,” Lapointe said.

They dubbed the crackdown “Operation Nightingale,” after legendary nurse Florence Nightingale.

Lapointe said in the scheme, owners, operators and employees of three formerly-accredited South Florida nursing schools would sell fake diplomas and transcripts for an average of $15,000.

That group made up the first category of those charged.

“The nursing candidates had done no work for these diplomas,” he said.

The three schools were the Sacred Heart International Institute in Fort Lauderdale, Siena College of Health in Lauderhill and the Palm Beach School of Nursing in West Palm Beach.

The second category of defendants included recruiters who would bring “students” from other states to get the “shortcut” documents from the South Florida schools, Lapointe said.

“This was truly large-scale,” he said.

Over 7,600 fake nursing diplomas were sold by the South Florida schools, according to prosecutors.

“We’re looking at around $114 million paid for these documents,” Lapointe said.

Nearly a third of the fake diploma-holders could be practicing, officials said. Those diploma-holders were able to pass a written nursing exam.

“The last thing we want to learn is that the nurses administering the medications, the ones charged with carrying out a doctor’s orders took shortcuts on their clinical training and used fake nursing diplomas to get their licenses and jobs,” Lapointe said. “Unfortunately, thousands of people have taken these shortcuts.”

Many of those who bought the phony degrees had health care experience, Lapointe said, including licensed practical nurses.

“Whether or not you passed the licensing test, to me, that’s beside the point,” he said. “To me, if you pass the test, but you haven’t done (required clinical modules), that’s no redemption in any way whatsoever.”

Lapointe said agents have alerted nursing boards across the country about the fraud.

An FBI special agent said South Florida “lead(s) the nation in health care fraud” and said state nursing boards may be taking action against the accused fraudulent nurses.

Officials said they have not learned of any harm to patients linked to those who received fraudulent diplomas, but did say they are working with state licensing boards to ensure anyone who received a fraudulent diploma no longer provides care.

“We know who they are,” Lapointe said.

The following people were charged in the case:

  • Gail Russ
  • Cheryl Stanley
  • Krystal Lopez
  • Ricky Riley
  • Norberto Lopez
  • Francois Legangeur
  • Reynoso Seide
  • Cassandre Jean
  • Yelva Saint Preux
  • Evangeline Naissant
  • Rony Michel
  • Vilaire Duroseau
  • Yvrose Thermitus, aka “Yvrose Thompson”
  • Ludnie Jean
  • Serge Jean
  • Simon Itaman
  • Anna Itaman
  • Rhomy Louis
  • Nadege Auguste
  • Stanton Witherspoon
  • Alfred Sellu
  • Rene Bernadel
  • Eunide Sanon

About the Authors:

Chris Gothner joined the Local 10 News team in 2022 as a Digital Journalist.

Roy Ramos joined the Local 10 News team in 2018. Roy is a South Florida native who grew up in Florida City. He attended Christopher Columbus High School, Homestead Senior High School and graduated from St. Thomas University.