Four Harris County residents face federal charges for allegedly selling fake nursing diplomas
Originally Published: Jan. 26, 2023 | Republished: Jan. 27, 2023
HARRIS COUNTY, Texas (KTRK) — A warning to hospitals and healthcare facilities across the country: more than two dozen people across five states face federal charges for allegedly selling fake nursing diplomas to thousands of people.
Four defendants : Simon Itaman, Anna Itaman, Ludnie Jean, and Serge Jean are from Harris County, and investigators believe there could be more people working illegally as nurses.
On Wednesday, in a press conference, the US Department of Justice said Operation Nightingale found that the scheme peddled more than $100 million over several years. The operation was named after Florence Nightingale, the founder of modern nursing.
This is highly concerning to federal investigators, who say someone who is not properly trained and certified can pose a risk to their patients. They believe they know who those responsible are and are working to track them down.
“When we talk about a nurse’s education and credentials, ‘shortcut’ is not a word we want to use,” Markenzy Lapointe, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida, said.
Federal investigators said one of the ways they were tipped off about the fraudulent plot was when the Florida state auditing process discovered poor passing rates at three nursing schools. They allege the executives at these schools sold at least 7,600 fake diplomas at about $15,000 each.
These fake degrees allow aspiring nurses to skip hours of clinical training, qualifying them to sit for the national nursing board exam with the potential of putting patients’ health and safety at risk.
The Justice Department said these students never completed the necessary courses and clinicals.
“When we take an injured son or daughter to a hospital emergency room, we don’t expect, really cannot imagine, that the licensed practical nurse or registered nurse treating our child took a shortcut around educational and licensing requirements,” Lapointe remarked.
The sweeping enforcement action spanned five states: Texas, Florida, New York, New Jersey, and Delaware.
Two of the related entities listed in the case are in northwest Houston.
One is Nursing Bridges Institute, owned by the Itamans.
The other is Jean’s NCLEX Review LLC, owned by the Jeans.
Court documents state the Jeans worked for the Itamans before opening up their own business.
Attempts for comment from these defendants, who face up to 20 years in prison, have been unsuccessful. Federal investigators said they are now working with licensing boards in each state to make sure anyone who got a fraudulent diploma can no longer provide care.
“To date, we have not learned of nor uncovered any evidence of patient harm stemming from these individuals potentially providing services to patients,” Special Agent Omar Perez Aybar with US Department of Health & Human Services said.
“Bruce’s discharge was authorized by an imposter who was neither a psychiatrist nor a physician. The “doctor” was eventually convicted and imprisoned for perjury and practicing medicine without a license.” – Bruce v. Estelle, 536 F.2d 1051, 1053 (5th Cir. 1976)
Fraudulent Nursing Diploma Scheme Leads to Federal Charges Against 25 Defendants
Originally Published: Jan 25, 2023 | Republished: Jan 27, 2023
MIAMI – More than two dozen individuals have been charged in the Southern District of Florida for their alleged participation in a wire fraud scheme that created an illegal licensing and employment shortcut for aspiring nurses.
According to three recently unsealed indictments returned by a South Florida federal grand jury and two informations filed by federal prosecutors, defendants engaged in a scheme to sell fraudulent nursing degree diplomas and transcripts obtained from accredited Florida-based nursing schools to individuals seeking licenses and jobs as registered nurses (RNs) and licensed practical/vocational nurses (LPN/VNs).
The bogus diplomas and transcripts qualified purchasers to sit for the national nursing board exam and, after passing it, to obtain licenses and jobs in various states as RNs and LPN/VNs. The overall scheme involved the distribution of more than 7,600 fake nursing diplomas issued by three South Florida-based nursing schools: Siena College in Broward County, Fla., Palm Beach School of Nursing in Palm Beach County, Fla., and Sacred Heart International Institute in Broward County. These schools are now closed.
Each defendant faces up to 20 years in prison.
“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,” said U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida Markenzy Lapointe, who added that “a fraud scheme like this erodes public trust in our health care system.”
Crimes such as these unfortunately continue to spring up, especially in this area.
“Health care fraud is nothing new to South Florida, as many scammers see this as a way to earn easy, though illegal, money, “said acting Special Agent in Charge Chad Yarbrough, FBI Miami. “What is disturbing about this investigation is that there are over 7,600 people around the country with fraudulent nursing credentials who are potentially in critical health care roles treating patients. Were it not for the diligence and hard work of the investigators on this case, the extent of this fraud may not have been discovered.”
The charges speak to the purpose of a nursing license which is to protect the public from harm by setting minimum qualifications and competencies.
“The alleged selling and purchasing of nursing diplomas and transcripts to willing but unqualified individuals is a crime that potentially endangers the health and safety of patients and insults the honorable profession of nursing,” said Special Agent in Charge Omar Pérez Aybar of Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Inspector General (HHS-OIG). “In coordination with our law enforcement partners, HHS-OIG continues to aggressively investigate bad actors who so brazenly disregard the well-being of others in order to enrich themselves fraudulently.”
Charges Related to Fraudulent Nursing Diplomas and Transcripts from Siena College.
U.S. v. Witherspoon, et al., case no.: 23-60005-Cr-Smith
U.S. v. Sanon, case no.: 23-60013-Cr-Moreno
The charging documents describe Siena College as a Broward County school licensed by the Florida Commission for Independent Education and the Florida Board of Nursing that offers a Practical Nursing Program and an RN to Bachelor of Science in Nursing Program. Eunide Sanon managed Siena College.
The indictment charges defendants Stanton Witherspoon of Burlington County N.J.; Alfred Sellu of Burlington County N.J.; and Rene Bernadel of Westchester County, N.Y. with conspiring to commit and committing wire fraud. The indictment alleges that Witherspoon, Sellu, and Bernadel solicited and recruited individuals who sought nursing credentials to gain employment as an RN or LPN/VN. It is alleged that these defendants arranged with Sanon, who managed Siena College and is charged by information with wire fraud conspiracy, to create and distribute false and fraudulent diplomas and transcripts. These fake documents represented 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. In fact, the aspiring nurses never completed the necessary courses and clinicals.
The information against Sanon alleges that he and others sold thousands of fake Siena College nursing diplomas and educational transcripts to nursing applicants who used them to obtain RN or LPN/VN licenses in various states and nursing jobs with unwitting health care providers throughout the country.
Charges Related to Fraudulent Nursing Diplomas and Transcripts from Palm Beach School of Nursing.
U.S. v. Russ, et al., case no.: 23-60007-Cr-Singhal
According to the charging documents, Palm Beach School of Nursing’s objective was to prepare students to meet Florida’s licensing and nursing board requirements and become eligible to take the national licensing exam in order to work as registered nurses.
The indictment charges Gail Russ of Broward County; Cheryl Stanley of Collier County, Fla.; Krystal Lopez of Palm Beach County; Ricky Riley of Broward County; Norberto Lopez of Palm Beach County; Damian Lopez of Palm Beach County; Francois Legagneur of Nassau County, N.Y.; Reynoso Seide of Union County, N.J.; Cassandre Jean of Palm Beach County; Yelva Saint Preux of Suffolk County, N.Y.; Evangeline Naissant of Nassau County, N.Y.; Rony Michel of Monmouth County, N.J.; Vilaire Duroseau of Essex County, N.J.; and Yvrose Thermitus, a/k/a “Yvrose Thompson,” of Union County, N.J., with conspiring to commit, and committing, wire fraud. The indictment alleges that these defendants solicited and recruited individuals who sought nursing credentials to gain employment as an RN or LPN/VN.
It is alleged that these recruiter defendants then arranged with Palm Beach School of Nursing’s owner Johanah Napoleon and school employees Gail Russ, Cheryl Stanley, Krystal Lopez, and Ricky Riley to create and distribute false and fraudulent diplomas and transcripts representing that the aspiring RN and LPN/VN candidates had attended Palm Beach School of Nursing and completed the necessary courses and clinicals to obtain RN or LPN/VN diplomas. In fact, the aspiring nurses never completed the necessary courses and clinicals.
The nursing applicants used the fake diplomas and transcripts they purchased from the owner and employees of Palm Beach School of Nursing to obtain RN or LPN/VN licenses in various states and nursing jobs with unwitting health care providers throughout the country. Napoleon was previously charged by information and has pled guilty to conspiring to commit health care fraud and wire fraud, as well as wire fraud (case nos. 22-60111-Cr-Smith and 22-60118-Cr-Smith).
Charges Related to Fraudulent Nursing Diplomas and Transcripts from Sacred Heart International Institute
U.S. v. Jean, et al., case no.: 23-60010-Cr-Smith
U.S. v. Etienne, case no.: 23-60012-Cr-Singhal
According to charging documents, Sacred Heart International Institute was a Broward County School licensed by the Florida Board of Nursing that offered a nursing program designed to prepare students for employment as practical nurses.
The indictment charges Ludnie Jean of Harris County, Texas; Serge Jean of Harris County, Texas; Simon Itaman of Harris County, Texas; Anna Itaman of Harris County, Texas; Rhomy Louis of Suffolk County, N.Y.; and Nadege Auguste of Broward County with conspiring to and committing wire fraud. It is alleged that these defendants solicited and recruited individuals who sought nursing credentials to gain employment as an LPN/VN. These recruiters then arranged with Charles Etienne, Sacred Heart’s owner, to create and distribute false and fraudulent transcripts and diplomas representing that the aspiring candidates had attended Sacred Heart and completed the necessary courses and clinicals to obtain LPN/VN diplomas. In fact, the aspiring nurses never completed the necessary courses and clinicals. Etienne is charged by information with conspiracy to commit wire fraud.
The nursing candidates used the fake diplomas and transcripts they purchased from Sacred Heart to obtain LPN/VN licenses in various states and nursing jobs with unwitting health care providers throughout the country.
U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida Markenzy Lapointe; acting Special Agent in Charge Chad Yarbrough, FBI, Miami Field Office; and Special Agent in Charge Omar Perez Aybar, HHS-OIG, made the announcement.
FBI Miami and HHS-OIG Miami investigated these cases. Valuable assistance was provided by Homeland Security Investigations, Miami Field Office; U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs-Office of Inspector General; United States Postal Inspection Service, Miami; and Florida Attorney General-Florida Medicaid Fraud Control Unit, Mid-Atlantic Field Office. Assistant U.S. Attorney Christopher J. Clark is prosecuting this case and Assistant U.S. Attorney Nicole Grosnoff is handling asset forfeiture. This case is being prosecuted in conjunction with a related criminal matter in the District of Maryland.