37% of nurses in degree scheme passed NCLEX, feds say

More than one-third of aspiring nurses who allegedly purchased phony degrees to bypass coursework and training required to sit for the National Council Licensure Examination passed the test, The New York Times reported Jan. 27.  

The scheme involved selling more than 7,600 fraudulent diplomas and transcripts from three now-shuttered nursing schools in Florida to the aspiring nurses, many of whom had prior experience working in healthcare as certified nursing assistants or other positions, according to Omar Pérez Aybar, special agent in charge for the Miami region of HHS' Office of Inspector General.

Aspiring nurses paid between $10,000 and $15,000 for fake nursing degrees and transcripts, which allowed them to qualify for the NCLEX exam. About 2,800 people — or 37 percent of those who bought fake documents — passed the test, according to Mr. Pérez Aybar. A "significant number" went on to gain licensure and secure employment at U.S. healthcare facilities, he told the Times.

Court documents do not publicly name the facilities where these nurses worked but described them as Veterans Affairs hospitals in Maryland and New York, a hospital in Georgia, a skilled nursing facility in Ohio, a rehabilitation center in New York and an assisted-living facility in New Jersey, according to the Times.

In total, 25 people face charges of wire fraud and wire fraud conspiracy for their alleged participation in the sale of the phony documents. Defendants include administrators from the Florida nursing schools, along with employees at several nursing test prep academies in other states that allegedly recruited candidates to buy the fake diplomas, according to Mr. Pérez Aybar. If convicted, the defendants face up to 20 years in jail.

The National Council of State Boards of Nursing and its state regulatory bodies have also been working closely with state and federal authorities to identify and monitor individuals who allegedly purchased the fake nursing degrees. Last week, the Delaware Board of Nursing said it annulled the nursing licenses of 26 individuals tied to the scheme.

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