BY Matthew McNulty /TSR Investigation
Back in January, over two dozen people were arrested for selling fake transcripts and degrees to aspiring nurses in an operation called “Operation Nightingale.”
After an investigation by the US Attorney’s Office it was revealed that of the 7600 people who purchased these fake diplomas, a third of them somehow passed the board exams and qualified to obtain nursing licenses in their states despite them not completing the coursework or clinical requirements.
In this episode of TSR Investigates, we dug a little deeper and discovered that many of the aspiring nurses that were targeted were Black immigrants.
We were also able to speak with several attorneys representing the nurses caught up in the operation to see how the states plan to move forward with the investigation.
However, could there be more to this story than simple greed? The Shade Room investigates…
The diplomas may look real, but they’re not.
And at around $15,000 per diploma, the scheme has netted fraudsters over $114 million, according to the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida.
Now, states are going after hundreds of nurses nationwide, encouraging them to either surrender their licenses, or face the possibility of having them revoked.
At the center of this investigation are three former nursing schools, Sienna College, Sacred Heart International Institute, both in Broward County, Florida, and the Palm Beach School of Nursing in West Palm Beach, all of which have been closed.
“Knowing that the candidates would use those false documents to one, sit on nursing boardroom examinations, two, secure nursing licenses, and three, obtain nursing jobs in medical facilities,” LaPointe said of the schools.
A video posted to YouTube years ago of Johanah Napoleon promoting her nursing school.
She’s Haitian, and is the mastermind behind the Palm Beach School of Nursing, and who according to court paperwork, had four subsidiary programs in the Sunshine State.
Those documents also show that she and 14 other staffers and “nurse recruiters” created and distributed fake transcripts and diplomas “for aspiring RN (registered nurse) or LPN/VN (licensed practical nurse) licensure and employment.”
Vilaire DuRoseau, who was one of those staffers listed in court documents, allegedly owned and operated the Center for Advanced Training in New Jersey.
He’s also from Haiti and is accused of wiring over $30,000 dollars to Napoleon in exchange for fake nursing diplomas and transcripts.
“Not only is this a public safety issue, but it also tarnishes the reputation of nurses who actually did the hard work and coursework required to get licenses and jobs,” LaPoint went on to say.
Another suspect that caught our eye is businessman Stanton Witherspoon, the CEO of a popular media company in Liberia.
He was the owner of Sienna College, where court documents show that he and his co-conspirators “solicited and recruited people seeking nursing credentials to obtain employment as an RN or LPN.VN.”
“The chief motivation of this type of crime is almost always greed,” said acting special agent in charge FBI Miami Chad Yarbro.
One of the phony accreditation schools still has an active and working website, too.
The Shade Room reached out to several of these defendants for comment, but never got any response.
We did hear back from a lawyer who’s representing 12 nurses in New York.
“They demanded they hand back their licenses until they can prove they obtained all of their credits from other than one of the six schools (in question),” said attorney Jordan Fensterman.
Fensterman says the catch is many of the nurses did complete the necessary coursework, and questioned why the Department of Education didn’t know about the scam.
He says most of the nurses he represents are immigrants, where English is not their first language.
He believes that these nurses were targeted based off of that alone, because the people running these schools were of the same nationality.
Fensterman says he has not yet heard that any of his clients have been fired, and that they won’t hand over their licenses.
Meanwhile, a former nurse-turned-attorney is representing several health care professionals facing these licensing complaints.
That lawyer, Hannah Williams, maintains that the schools in question did operate legitimately, and did have approval status. She went on to say that her clients are hard-working immigrants from Black countries who came to the U.S. for better opportunities.
She said while some nurses in those programs did obtain their licenses through fraudulent means, that doesn’t mean the rest did so as well.
Investigators say they do not plan on charging any of these nurses, and that there is no evidence to suggest that anyone was hurt under these nurses’ care.
TSR Investigates explores cold cases and special interest news stories underrepresented in mainstream media.
– The Shade Room