5 Plead Guilty in Florida Fake Nursing School Diploma Scandal

Ten people, in total, have pleaded guilty to fraud and/or conspiracy in a diploma mill scheme in Florida.
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Matthew Arrojas is a news reporter at BestColleges covering higher education issues and policy. He previously worked as the hospitality and tourism news reporter at the South Florida Business Journal. He also covered higher education policy issues as...
Published on September 26, 2023
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Scott Harris has worked as a writer and editor for nearly 25 years, including more than 15 years covering healthcare and higher education. As a senior editor with Red Ventures, Scott currently is a contributing editor at BestColleges and edits the "N...
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  • Federal prosecutors charged more than two dozen people in January over a fake diploma scheme in South Florida.
  • Three local schools reportedly distributed 7,600 fake diplomas in nursing.
  • Many of the Florida nurses with fake diplomas lost their nursing licenses due to the revelation that their degrees were fraudulent.

Five defendants in a fake nursing degree scheme pleaded guilty in federal court Friday.

The case involves three South Florida colleges that reportedly awarded more than 7,600 fake nursing diplomas. Approximately a third of these students went on to pass a licensing exam, but federal authorities said many of the students who passed their exams have lost their certification.

Prosecutors will not charge students who fell victim to the scheme or potentially engaged with the schools knowing it was a fake degree.

The Department of Justice (DOJ) did, however, charge over two dozen people who helped run the diploma mill in late January. The five people who pleaded guilty Friday — Simon Itaman, Ana Itaman, Ludnie Jean, Serge Jean, and Rhomy Louis — joined five other defendants in the scheme who pleaded guilty in May.

The case involves three now-shuttered schools based in South Florida:

  • Siena College of Health
  • Palm Beach School of Nursing
  • Sacred Heart International Institute

According to the DOJ, defendants sold students fraudulent nursing degree diplomas and transcripts obtained from accredited Florida-based nursing schools. A student would then be able to use those diplomas and transcripts to register for the licensing exam and become a registered nurse (RN).

This route was reportedly quicker than the usual two years it takes to earn a nursing degree.

"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," acting Special Agent in Charge Chad Yarbrough said in a statement in January.

The Miami Herald reported that the FBI notified nursing boards in all 50 states of every student who obtained a fake nursing diploma from any of the three diploma mills in South Florida. The investigation found that there has been no harm caused by nurses who obtained a fraudulent degree from any of the three now-closed South Florida schools.

It's unclear what recourse students may have if they obtained an invalid diploma but passed the licensing exam.