3 face trial for role in nurse degree scheme

Three defendants will face a jury trial in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., starting Nov. 29 for their role in a coordinated scheme to sell thousands of fraudulent diplomas and transcripts to aspiring nurses, which enabled them to sit for the National Council Licensure Examination without completing the necessary coursework. 

In January, 25 people were charged for their alleged participation in running the scheme, which involved the sale of more than 7,600 fake diplomas and transcripts from three now-shuttered nursing schools in South Florida. Twenty defendants have been convicted for their role, mostly through plea deals. 

According to a Nov. 28 report from the Miami Herald, the three defendants facing trial are Gail Russ, the former director of student services and registrar at the now-shuttered Palm Beach School of Nursing; and Cassandre Jean and Vilaire Duroseau, who are accused of recruiting students to the school to obtain the phony degrees. Opening statements are set to begin Nov. 29. They face charges of conspiracy and wire fraud.

Twelve jurors were selected Nov. 28, which was a contentious process that involved a debate over selecting certain Black jurors for the fraud trial, as federal prosecutors say many of the defendants charged and students involved are from South Florida's Haitian-American community, according to the Herald

About 37% of individuals who bought fraudulent documents from the schools passed the NCLEX exam and presumably went on to secure employment at healthcare facilities. The network of nursing schools charged between $10,000 and $17,000 for the fake diplomas. Between 2016 and 2021, federal authorities estimate thousands of students paid a total of $114 million for the degrees. 

At least four individuals have been sentenced to prison for their role in running the scheme. 

In the wake of the scheme, many state nursing boards suspended the licenses of nurses with degrees from the implicated nursing schools. Hundreds of nurses who attended the schools maintain they are innocent, saying they attended classes, completed required coursework and did not pay for a fraudulent degree. 

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