Federal law enforcement officials have taken down a scheme to provide fraudulent nursing credentials to individuals in an attempt to circumvent important steps in the licensing process.
According to officials, over 7,600 fake certificates have been issued by a Florida-based nursing program, ABC News reported.
“This is probably one of the most brazen schemes that I’ve seen,” said Department of Health and Human Services – Office of Inspector General Special Agent in Charge Omar Perez Aybar.
HHS-IOG worked in cooperation with the Justice Department and the FBI in a joint investigation that led to the indictment of 25 participants in the scam.
Florida is one of five states involved in the fraud – including Texas, Delaware, New Jersey, and New York were a part of the probe named “Operation Nightingale,” out of respect to the founder of modern nursing, Florence Nightingale.
But the school was little more than a smokescreen to cover up a coordinated plan motivated by greed.
Potential candidates reportedly paid as much as $10,000 per fake diploma.
Agents scrutinized nearly 10,000 nursing school records looking for the connection.
“As we started to poke through them we noticed there were no real courses the individuals too – it was simply a cash mill,” Aybar said.
Three years into a worldwide pandemic, the nation is suffering from a countrywide nursing shortage.
Protests, death threats, and the rejection of life-saving coronavirus mandates by conspiracy theory-spreading right-wingers and QAnon nuts have led to mass burnout across the medical field.
On the front lines of the pandemic, nurses often bore the brunt of a public backlash against mitigation measures to slow the spread and save lives.
Federal officials were alerted to the conspiracy after a state audit found three Florida nursing schools had below-average passing rates.
“Alleged participants in the scheme backdate the diplomas and transcripts they were selling, to make them appear legitimate,” ABC News wrote.
Armed with a diploma and transcripts, nursing candidates were able to use fraudulent credentials to obtain licensure in other states and secure nursing jobs.
Federal prosecutors are leaving no stone unturned in their investigation that has netted charges of criminal wire fraud and wire fraud conspiracy for the over two dozen arrested so far.
The indictment alleges that some nursing school leaders actively recruited potential Registered Nursing, and Licensed Vocational Nursing candidates for the fake program, creating false transcripts and certificates giving the impression that the nursing potentials had passed all necessary qualifications.
“In fact, the aspiring nurses had never actually completed the necessary courses and clinical,” the indictments state.
Of particular concern is the possibility of harming those they are supposed to administer potentially life-saving care. Chad Yarbrough, Acting Special Agent in Charge at the FBI Miami division raised concerns about the potential negative effects on the quality of patient care
“What is disturbing about the scheme is the possibility of harm coming to patients under the dubious care of one of these allegedly fraudulent nurses,” Yarbrough said.
Original reporting by Sasha Pezenik at ABC News.
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