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MIAMI – Twenty-five people across several states are accused of selling more than 7,600 fake nursing degrees to students, who then used the fabricated diplomas to take licensing exams in several states, including Florida, New Jersey, New York and Texas, federal prosecutors said.

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According to a news release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Florida, the defendants took part in a scam that involved fake diplomas from three South Florida-based nursing schools. Prosecutors said on Wednesday that the scheme also involved transcripts from the nursing schools for people seeking licenses and jobs as registered nurses, practical nurses and vocational nurses.

Prosecutors said the three schools were the Sacred Heart International Institute in Fort Lauderdale, Siena College of Health in Lauderhill and the Palm Beach School of Nursing in West Palm Beach, WPLG-TV reported. All three schools are now closed, according to the television station.

Each defendant faces up to 20 years in prison, the news release stated.

The students paid a total of $114 million for the degrees from three schools between 2016 and 2021, the Miami Herald reported. The students were charged between $10,000 for a licensed practical nurse degree and $17,000 for a registered nurse diploma, according to the newspaper. The candidates received the diplomas without having proper training, court records stated.

Of those students, approximately 2,400 passed their national nursing board licensing exams, according to the newspaper. Many of the candidates were from New York, which has no limit on the number of times a student can take the exam.

Nurses who are certified in New York can practice in Florida, the Herald reported.

“Our healthcare professionals play an important role in our public health system,” U.S. Attorney Markenzy Lapointe said at a news conference Wednesday. “We therefore expect our health-care professionals to be who they claim they are. Specifically, when we talk about a nurse’s education and credentials, ‘shortcut’ is not a word we want to use.”

Many of the students who bought degrees were members of South Florida’s Haitian-American community, the Herald reported. Some of those students had legitimate LPN licenses and wanted to become registered nurses. Other students were recruited from outside Florida to participate in the nursing programs, prosecutors said.

“The nursing candidates had done no work for these diplomas,” Lapointe told reporters, according to WPLG. “This was truly large scale.”

“The alleged selling and purchasing of nursing diplomas and transcripts to willing but unqualified individuals is a crime that potentially endangers the health and safety of patients and insults the honorable profession of nursing,” Special Agent in Charge Omar Pérez Aybar said in a statement.