Justice Department Charges 25 in Alleged Scheme to Sell 7,600 Fake Nursing Diplomas

Ryan Morgan
By Ryan Morgan
January 26, 2023USshare
Justice Department Charges 25 in Alleged Scheme to Sell 7,600 Fake Nursing Diplomas
The Department of Justice (DOJ) logo is pictured on a wall in New York on Dec. 5, 2013. (Carlo Allegri/Reuters)

Twenty-five individuals are now facing charges in connection to an alleged scheme to distribute 7,600 fraudulent nursing diplomas.

On Wednesday, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Florida charged individuals at three different Florida nursing programs with conspiring to create and distribute nursing diplomas to aspiring nurses who never completed their necessary course and clinical work. These 25 individuals have been charged as part of what federal investigators dubbed “Operation Nightingale,” a reference to a pioneer of modern nursing, Florence Nightingale.

Two different cases were brought against members of Siena College in Broward County, Florida. The Department of Justice alleges defendants Stanton Witherspoon, Alfred Sellu, and Rene Bernadel conspired to commit and committing wire fraud. The charges allege the three solicited and recruited individuals seeking employment as registered nurses (RN), licensed vocational nurses (LVN), and licensed practical nurses (LPN). Witherspoon, Sellu, and Bernadel allegedly distributed fake documents representing that the aspiring RN and LPN/VN candidates had attended Siena College’s nursing program in Broward County and completed the necessary courses and clinicals to obtain RN or LPN/VN diplomas. A second case alleges Eunide Sanon, who managed Siena College, sold the diplomas.

Prosecutors brought another pair of cases against members of the Sacred Heart International Institute nursing program in Broward County. They allege Charles Etienne, Sacred Heart’s owner, worked with Ludnie Jean, Serge Jean, Simon Itaman, Anna Itaman, Rhomy Louis, and Nadege Auguste to recruit aspiring nursing professionals and offer them fraudulent transcripts and diplomas. Etienne is charged separately from the other Sacred Heart International Institute defendants.

Prosecutors brought a fifth case against members of the Palm Beach School of Nursing, alleging Gail Russ, Cheryl Stanley, Krystal Lopez, Ricky Riley, Norberto Lopez, Damian Lopez, Francois Legagneur, Reynoso Seide, Cassandre Jean, Yelva Saint Preux, Evangeline Naissant, Rony Michel, Vilaire Duroseau and Yvrose Thermitus conspired to commit and committed wire fraud. The charges allege all of them recruited aspiring nursing professionals and that Russ, Stanley, Lopez, and Riley worked with the school’s owner, Johanah Napoleon, to create and distribute fraudulent diplomas and transcripts.

Siena College, Palm Beach School of Nursing, and Sacred Heart International Institute are all now closed.

“Not only is this a public safety concern, it also tarnishes the reputation of nurses who actually complete the demanding clinical and course work required to obtain their professional licenses and employment,” U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida Markenzy Lapointe said of the various cases.

Lapointe said that “a fraud scheme like this erodes public trust in our health care system.”

Officials have not yet learned of patient harm as a result of the care given by individuals with these fraudulent credentials.

FBI Special Agent Chad Yarbrough said that while this case focused on the individuals accused of selling fraudulent nursing credentials, investigators have provided information about the recipients of those alleged fraudulent documents to nursing licensing boards in all 50 states.

The U.S. Attorney’s office said each defendant faces up to 20 years in prison.

$15,000 for Diplomas

The defendants stood to gain a lot of money in the alleged scheme.

“Obviously the schools weren’t doing this for free,” Lapointe said in a Wednesday press conference. “On average, these defendants charged about $15,000 for a fake nursing degree, diploma, and school transcripts.”

“The chief motivation for this type of crime is almost always greed, and that is no different in this case today,” Yarbrough said. “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.”

NTD reached out to attorneys representing Rhomy Louis, Cassandra Jeane, Rene Bernadel, Noberto Lopez, Damien Lopez, and Krystal Lopez. Alexander Fernandez Fox, representing Noberto Lopez, Damien Lopez, and Krystal Lopez, declined to comment. The other attorneys did not respond before publication time.

Attorneys for the other defendants are not yet listed.

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