Nursing professionals put years of hard work into their education and credentials. Unfortunately, some aspiring nurses took “shortcuts” to get their nursing licenses – illegal ones. That’s one of the findings announced earlier this year by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ). The FBI and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) were also involved in the investigation and resulting enforcement action (called “Operation Nightingale”).
The scheme involved selling fraudulent credentials — namely forged diplomas and transcripts from accredited nursing schools in Florida — that allowed candidates to skip some requirements of the national nursing board exam. The more than two dozen people charged with wire fraud offenses were described as “owners, operators and employees” of these schools who “solicited and recruited individuals who sought nursing credentials to gain employment as Registered Nurses (RN) or Licensed Practical/Vocational Nurses (LPN/VN).”
According to officials, those responsible for the scheme sold some 7,600 fake diplomas and certificates for as much as $15,000 each to thousands of people. They say over $100 million changed hands over the course of several years. While the fake diplomas were from Florida schools, those who obtained them, once licensed, could eventually go on to practice in any state.
Information has been shared with state licensing boards
Officials say they’ve provided the information they have collected about those with fraudulently obtained credentials to state licensing boards throughout the country so these boards “can assess what actions to take to prevent these individuals from rendering care.” They also encouraged nurses who see a colleague who isn’t “practicing up to the standards as you understand it” to report it.
One prosecutor said, “We know who they are.” However, it wasn’t clear whether the DOJ was going to move forward with arresting and prosecuting the thousands with fake credentials, they’ll likely lose their nursing licenses. Those who are prosecuted and found guilty could face up to two decades in federal prison.
Authorities stress that the real danger is that unqualified people are endangering patients’ health and safety because they avoided “hundreds, if not thousands, of hours of clinical training.” One agent with HHS’s Office of Inspector General said the scheme was “probably one of the most brazen schemes that I’ve seen.”
Nurses accused of breaking the law can face licensing as well as criminal issues. Both can change the course of your life. It’s crucial to have sound legal guidance.