7,600 fake diplomas and certificates were sold through the crime ring, which allegedly involved school staffers knowingly providing fraudulent documents to aspiring nurses who paid up to $15,000 per diploma.
The U.S. Department of Justice on Wednesday announced the successful takedown of a sizable multi-state operation to distribute over $100 million worth of forged nursing degrees.
Through the scheme, "thousands of people" purchased fraudulent nursing credentials from now-defunct nursing schools in Florida, bypassing the process of earning official nursing licenses, as reported by ABC News.
Following a joint operation by federal law enforcement agencies, 25 individuals have sustained a total of over two dozen criminal charges including wire fraud and wire fraud conspiracy, per the outlet.
The Justice Department said that if convicted of wire fraud and wire fraud conspiracy, defendants face a maximum jail sentence of 20 years, according to the report.
7,600 fake diplomas and and certificates were sold through the crime ring, which allegedly involved school staffers knowingly providing fraudulent documents to aspiring nurses who paid up to $15,000 per diploma, ABC News reported.
We "expect our health care professionals to be who they claim they are. Specifically when we talk about a nurse's education, and credentials - shortcut is not a word we want to use," U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida Markenzy Lapointe told ABC News.
"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 training our child took a shortcut," he added.
The takedown operation was conducted by the Office of Inspector General for the United States Department of Health and Human Services, the FBI and Justice Department, ABC News reported.
As Lapointe told the outlet, the defendants charged include "owners, operators and employees" of the nursing programs who "prepared and sold fake nursing school diplomas and transcripts to nursing candidates, knowing that the candidates would use those false documents to one, sit for nursing board examinations, secure nursing licenses, and three ultimately obtain nursing jobs in medical facilities - not only in Florida, but elsewhere across the country."
The takedown operation was carried out across five states including Delaware, Florida, New Jersey, New York and Texas, per the report.
Authorities allege in court documents that the defendants falsified diplomas and transcripts that were sold to buyers who would use them to apply for and obtain licenses and potentially nursing jobs "with unwitting health care providers throughout the country,"per the outlet.
Other defendants are comprised of people hired to "recruit" prospective buyers, ABC News reported.
"This is probably one of the most brazen schemes that I've seen. And it does shock the mind," Omar Perez Aybar, special agent for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' Office of Inspector General, told ABC News.
"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," acting special agent in charge for FBI Miami, Chad Yarbrough, told the outlet.
According to the report, officials said they had "not learned of, nor uncovered any evidence of patient harm stemming from these individuals potentially providing services to patients."
However, according to authorities, state licensing boards must take the next steps in disciplining participants in the scheme who may be practicing as nurses "somewhere in the United States, perhaps currently," Lapointe told the outlet. "We know who they are," he added.
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