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5 plead guilty in fake nursing diploma scheme in Florida

MIAMI (AP) — Five people have pleaded guilty in South Florida to participating in a wire fraud scheme that created an illegal shortcut for aspiring nurses to get licensed and find employment.

Krystal Lopez and Damian Lopez, both of Palm Beach County, Florida; Francois Legagneur, of Nassau County, New York; Reynoso Seide, of Union County, N ew Jersey; and Yelva Saint Preux, of Suffolk County, N.Y.; pleaded guilty last Wednesday in Miami federal court to wire fraud conspiracy. They each face up to 20 years in prison at a July 27 hearing.

A total of 25 people were charged earlier this year in a scam that sold more than 7,600 fraudulent nursing degree diplomas from three Florida-based nursing schools, according to grand jury indictments. The schools involved — Siena College, Palm Beach School of Nursing and Sacred Heart International Institute — are now closed.

During guilty plea hearings, Damian Lopez, Legagneur, Seide and Saint Preux admitted to soliciting and recruiting people who sought nursing credentials that would allow them to work as registered, licensed practical or vocational nurses. Krystal Lopez admitted that, in her role as the Palm Beach School of Nursing’s finance director, she processed applications for individuals who were issued fraudulent nursing school diplomas and transcripts and that each student paid the school $15,000 for the documents.

The fake diplomas and transcripts qualified those who purchased them to sit for the national nursing board exam. If they passed, they were able to obtain licenses and jobs in various states, prosecutors said.

About 2,400 of the 7,600 students eventually passed their licensing exams — mainly in New York, federal officials said. Nurses certified in New York are allowed to practice in Florida and many other states. Many of those people may lose their certification but likely won’t be criminally charged, federal officials said.