The DOJ announced that 25 defendants have been charged with selling fake nursing degrees and transcripts from three accredited Florida-based nursing schools. All defendants face up to 20 years in prison after being charged with varying counts of conspiracy to commit wire fraud. Approximately 7,600 fake nursing diplomas were distributed as a result of this scheme.

According to unsealed indictments, Siena College, Palm Beach School of Nursing, and Sacred Heart International Institute sold fraudulent nursing degrees and transcripts to individuals looking to become registered nurses (RNs) or licensed practical/vocational nurses (LPN/VNs). The fraudulent documents allowed unqualified individuals to sit for the national nursing board exam, receive licenses if they passed, and obtain employment as health care providers throughout the country.

The indictments pertaining to Siena College in Broward County, Florida, charge Stanton Witherspoon, a 50% owner of Siena Education Center, LLC and Siena College (collectively “Siena”), and two employees of the Nursing Education Resource Center (NERC), Alfred Sellu and Rene Bernadel, with wire fraud and conspiracy to commit wire fraud. Eunide Sanon, the owner, registered agent, and manager of Siena, was charged with wire fraud and conspiracy to commit mail fraud. According to the indictments, from approximately November 2018 through October 2021, the foregoing defendants, along with other co-conspirators, solicited and recruited individuals seeking nursing credentials. These defendants then provided fraudulent diplomas and transcripts to nursing candidates that falsely represented attendance and completion of all RN or LPN/VN courses at Siena College. In turn, several individuals received licenses and began jobs in health care throughout the country.

The indictment related to Palm Beach School of Nursing charges 14 defendants, including owner Johanah Napoleon and school employees Gail Russ, Cheryl Stanley, Krystal Lopez, and Ricky Riley, with conspiracy to commit wire fraud and wire fraud. From approximately April 2016 to July 2021, the foregoing defendants recruited individuals seeking nursing credentials and charged them for fake diplomas. Nursing candidates used their fraudulent documents to represent that they completed necessary courses to obtain RN or LPN/VM licenses. After obtaining their licenses, unqualified nurses received employment in various states throughout the country.

Similarly, the indictments stemming from Sacred Heart International Institute in Broward County charges 7 defendants, including Sacred Heart’s President Charles Etienne, with conspiracy to commit wire fraud and wire fraud. From approximately November 2021 through July 2021, Etienne allegedly created fake diplomas and transcripts, and his co-conspirators solicited individuals seeking LPN/VN credentials. The nursing candidates paid for the fake documents and obtained licenses and jobs as health care providers. 

The owner of Palm Beach School of Nursing has already pled guilty and awaits sentencing. All other defendants currently await trial. U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida Markenzy Lapointe noted that this scheme is a “public safety concern” that “erodes public trust in our health care system.” 

The attorneys at Chilivis Grubman represent clients of all types and sizes in connection to health care fraud and White-Collar Criminal matters. If you need assistance with such a matter, please contact us today.