25 Arrested and Charged in Fraudulent Nursing Diploma Scheme That 'Erodes Public Trust' in South Florida

Each of the 25 defendants face up to 20 years in prison if convicted in connection with the alleged sale of more than 7,600 combined fraudulent nursing school degrees

Sacred Heart International Institute
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More than 7,600 fraudulent diplomas were allegedly issued by three nursing schools in South Florida.

The U.S. Department of Justice announced the arrest of 25 individuals in a statement on Wednesday, as well as various wire fraud charges for a scheme "that created an illegal licensing and employment shortcut for aspiring nurses."

According to the DOJ's news release, the defendants are accused of selling fraudulent nursing degrees and transcripts from accredited Florida schools, Siena College and Sacred Heart International Institute in Broward County, and Palm Beach School of Nursing in Palm Beach County.

Charges related to Sienna College include 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.

Eunide Sanon, who managed Siena College, also faces a charge, according to charging documents.

In the Sacred Heart International Institute case, the indictment charges Ludnie Jean, Serge Jean, Simon Itaman and Anna Itaman, all of Harris County, Texas. In addition, Rhomy Louis of Suffolk County, N.Y., and Nadege Auguste of Broward County are also charged with conspiring to and committing wire fraud.

Sacred Heart's owner, Charles Etienne, was also indicted.

In the Palm Beach School of Nursing case, 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 a registered nurse or licensed practical nurse or vocational nurse.

The "bogus diplomas and transcripts" allowed fake students to take the national nursing board exam, which upon passing they could obtain licenses and jobs as registered nurses and licensed practical/vocational nurses, according to the indictment

All three schools have since been closed, and the defendants face up to 20 years each in prison if convicted, the Justice Department stated.

"A fraud scheme like this erodes public trust in our health care system," Markenzy Lapointe, U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Florida, said in a statement.

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"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," added Lapointe.

The alleged crime "potentially endangers the health and safety of patients and insults the honorable profession of nursing," said Omar Pérez Aybar, a special agent in charge at the Department of Health and Human Services with the Office of Inspector Genera.

Crimes like those alleged in this indictment continue to happen in South Florida, the DOJ said.

"Many scammers see this as a way to earn easy, though illegal, money," Chad Yarbrough, acting special agent in charge with the FBI in Miami, said in a statement.

"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," he added.

"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," Yarbrough said.

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