MIAMI, FLORIDA — Two leaders in a massive nursing school scam have admitted they helped issue phony diplomas to thousands of students.
Over 7,600 students were able to take a shortcut to licensure by skipping the rigorous training they were required to complete prior to taking their final exams.
Many of the students were graduates of Siena College, Palm Beach School of Nursing and Sacred Heart International Institute – all of which are located in South Florida. Between 2016 and 2021 the students paid $114 million for fraudulent degrees from these schools or programs located in other areas, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Florida.
“PUBLIC SAFETY CONCERN”
In January, federal prosecutors announced a total of 25 people were charged for their alleged involvement in the scheme. The students may lose their credentials, but will not be charged. The FBI says they sent the names of the 7,600 students to nursing boards in every state, notifying them of the students improper credentials.
“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,” U.S. Attorney Markenzy Lapointe, stated in a press release.
Sacred Heart President Charles Etienne and Siena College Owner Eunide Sanon both pleaded guilty to a conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud, the Miami Herald reports. Etienne entered his guilty plea on Tuesday; Sanon made hers last month.
They both face up to 20 years in prison, but their lawyers expect a much lower sentence due to the early pleas, according to the Herald.
Sanon admitted to taking part in selling over 2,000 “false and fraudulent diplomas and educational transcripts” to students that “falsely represented” they “had completed the necessary courses and/or clinical training to obtain nursing degrees from Siena,” the Herald noted. Etienne did the same for nearly 600 phony documents.
ILL-TRAINED NURSES TREATING PATIENTS: “DISTURBING”
Chad Yarbrough, acting Special Agent in Charge for FBI Miami, stated: “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.”
The Siena College of Health website includes a history of the school that mentions Sanon by name:
“In 1999, Eunide Sanon opened a Home Health Care Agency their goal was to seek skilled and qualified home health care workers and place them in area home where health care assistance was needed,” the website states. “Professionalism and proper training was important.”