'Operation Nightingale': Feds charge 25 in sweeping nurse diploma scheme

Twenty-five people have been charged for their alleged participation in a coordinated scheme to sell aspiring nurses thousands of fake nursing degree documents, the Justice Department said Jan. 25.

The scheme involved selling more than 7,600 fraudulent diplomas and transcripts from three now shuttered nursing schools in Florida to aspiring nurses who had not actually completed the necessary coursework to graduate or sit for the National Council Licensure Examination. Aspiring nurses would allegedly pay $10,000 or more for the fake diplomas, which fast-tracked the process for them to take the NCLEX test. Applicants who passed the test and gained licensure then allegedly used the fake documents to secure employment "with unwitting healthcare providers throughout the country," officials said.

"This is probably one of the most brazen schemes that I've seen. And it does shock the mind," Omar Perez Aybar, special agent in charge with HHS' Office of Inspector General, told ABC News

The inspector general's office, FBI and Justice Department launched "Operation Nightingale" — named after Florence Nightingale, the founder of modern nursing — to take down the scheme after a Florida state audit identified poor NCLEX passing rates at the three nursing schools. 

In total, 25 people face criminal wire fraud and wire fraud conspiracy charges in five states: Florida, New York, New Jersey, Texas and Delaware. If convicted, the defendants face up to 20 years in jail. Mr. Aybar said additional action may be taken against nursing applicants who allegedly purchased the fake diplomas.   

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