3 Defendants Found Guilty of Fraud in Florida’s Palm Beach School of Nursing Fake Diploma Trial

Palm Beach School of Nursing sold bogus diplomas. Now, a federal jury found three defendants guilty for their roles in the scheme.
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Published on December 21, 2023
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  • The Palm Beach School of Nursing distributed 3,500 fake nursing diplomas.
  • A federal jury found three defendants guilty for their roles in the scheme.
  • The defendants will face sentencing in April.

On December 15, a federal jury found three defendants guilty of fraud for their actions at the Palm Beach School of Nursing in Florida. The school ultimately distributed more than 3,500 fake nursing diplomas.

The case represented "the absolute corruption of the nursing field by these defendants and others who worked with them," Assistant U.S. Attorney Jon Juenger told jurors, according to a report by the Miami Herald. "This was all a shortcut designed to make money."

Investigators Turn to Operation Nightingale

A federal investigation known as Operation Nightingale uncovered a wide-ranging scheme that potentially put the health and safety of patients at risk. In January 2023, the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Southern District of Florida charged 25 defendants for allegedly selling fake nursing credentials.

The Palm Beach School of Nursing was one of the three South Florida nursing schools involved in the scheme, along with Sacred Heart International Institute and Siena College of Health. Collectively, the diploma mills uncovered through Operation Nightingale distributed more than 7,600 fake diplomas.

Florida regulators revoked the license of the Palm Beach School of Nursing in 2017 after a high percentage of students failed state licensing exams. Still, the school continued to operate.

According to prosecutors, more than 3,500 people bought fraudulent diplomas from the Palm Beach School of Nursing, paying between $10,000 and $20,000 for the fake credentials.

The bogus diplomas allowed the buyers to take nursing licensing exams, in spite of the fact that they did not complete required coursework and practicum experiences. Prosecutors determined that fake diplomas sold by the Palm Beach School of Nursing allowed unqualified candidates to earn nursing licenses and work in the healthcare field.

"They are monsters because you have to have clinical experience to do medication, to give IV, you can kill somebody," Lucy Brown, a former Palm Beach School of Nursing student, told NBC Miami.

Palm Beach School of Nursing Case Heads to Court

Of the defendants charged in the Florida nursing schools fake diploma scheme, 20 pleaded guilty or were convicted at trial by September. Federal prosecutors laid out their case against three defendants linked to the Palm Beach School of Nursing in a three-week trial that began in November.

The defendants included Gail Russ, a registrar at the school; Cassandre Jean, who recruited students from New York; and Vilaire Duroseau, who recruited students from New Jersey.

Former school owner Johanah Napoleon pleaded guilty and testified on behalf of the prosecution.

Defense attorneys targeted Napoleon's testimony in their closing statements. The prosecution's star witness "lies about so many things," Russ' defense attorney Grey Tesh said.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Christopher Clark said the attacks on Napoleon were a distraction. "The common denominator here is greed — it's to make money," the prosecutor told the jury.

After a six-hour deliberation, the jury agreed with the prosecution and found all three defendants guilty.

Guilty Verdict in Palm Beach School of Nursing Trial

Prosecutors charged the defendants with wire fraud and conspiracy to commit wire fraud.

The jury found Russ guilty of 13 wire fraud offenses. Jean and Duroseau were each found guilty of four wire fraud counts. Each count carries up to 20 years in prison.

Russ was at the heart of the scheme, according to prosecutors.

"Gail Russ is the hub of the activity," Clark told the jury. "Without Gail Russ, there is no transcript. Without Gail Russ, there is no diploma. Without Gail Russ, you have nothing.”

The three defendants will face sentencing April 2. They face a "substantial amount of time in prison," Clark told a federal district judge.

"A fraud scheme like this erodes public trust in our health care system," said U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida Markenzy Lapointe when federal investigators filed charges in Operation Nightingale. "Not only is this a public safety concern, it also tarnishes the reputation of nurses who actually complete the demanding clinical and course work required to obtain their professional licenses and employment."