On Saturday, anti-corruption attorney Thomas Renz in Ohio made headlines by suggesting that fake doctors and nurses may have been behind the COVID-19 murder-for-money scheme in hospitals.
“DEVELOPING: This is the most important developing story in the country. The COVID-19 murder for money scheme in the hospitals appears, in many cases, to have been carried out by fake doctors and nurses,” Renz wrote on Twitter.
I will have MAJOR news on this from Renz Law and https://t.co/IDxPWXBko5 on this soon.
— Tom Renz (@RenzTom) May 6, 2023
His statement follows the arrest of over two dozen people by the Department of Justice (DOJ) in connection with a plan to sell fake nursing degrees and transcripts from legitimate institutions.
“The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General (HHS-OIG) and our law enforcement partners launched a multi-state coordinated law enforcement action to apprehend individuals engaged in a scheme to sell false and fraudulent nursing degree diplomas and transcripts,” according to the news release.
“The enforcement action resulted in the execution of search warrants in Delaware, New York, New Jersey, Texas, and Florida, and 25 individuals being charged for their involvement in the fraud scheme.”
“The alleged scheme involved the selling of fake and fraudulent nursing degree diplomas and transcripts obtained from accredited Florida-based nursing schools to aspiring Registered Nurse (RN) and Licensed Practical/Vocational Nurse (LPN/VN) candidates. The individuals who acquired the bogus nursing credentials used them to qualify to sit for the national nursing board exam. Upon successful completion of the board exam, the nursing applicants became eligible to obtain licensure in various states to work as an RN or a LPN/VN. Once licensed, the individuals were then able to obtain employment in the health care field.”
More than 7,600 fraudulent nursing degrees were granted by three nursing schools in South Florida. These institutions were Siena College in Broward County, Palm Beach School of Nursing in Palm Beach County, and Sacred Heart International Institute in Broward County. These schools are now closed.
According to DOJ, each defendant faces up to 20 years in prison.
“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,” said U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida Markenzy Lapointe, who added that “a fraud scheme like this erodes public trust in our health care system.”
“Health care fraud is nothing new to South Florida, as many scammers see this as a way to earn easy, though illegal, money, “said acting Special Agent in Charge Chad Yarbrough, FBI Miami. “What is disturbing about this investigation is that there are over 7,600 people around the country with fraudulent nursing credentials who are potentially in critical health care roles treating patients. Were it not for the diligence and hard work of the investigators on this case, the extent of this fraud may not have been discovered.”
“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,” said Special Agent in Charge Omar Pérez Aybar of Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Inspector General (HHS-OIG). “In coordination with our law enforcement partners, HHS-OIG continues to aggressively investigate bad actors who so brazenly disregard the well-being of others in order to enrich themselves fraudulently.”
Recall, DOJ charged 18 people including doctors in massive Covid healthcare fraud takedowns last month.
“The Department of Justice today announced criminal charges against 18 defendants in nine federal districts across the United States for their alleged participation in various fraud schemes involving health care services that exploited the COVID-19 pandemic and allegedly resulted in over $490 million in COVID-19 related false billings to federal programs and theft from federally funded pandemic programs,” DOJ said in a news release.
One California doctor, Anthony Hao Dinh, was charged with allegedly submitting around $230 million in fraudulent claims to the federal Health Resources and Services Administration’s Covid-19 Uninsured Program.
Dinh, who practices in Orange County, was the country’s second-highest biller to that program, according to the DOJ. The program aimed to provide uninsured patients with access to Covid testing and treatment, but it stopped operating last year due to a lack of funding.
Dinh allegedly used more than $100 million of fraud proceeds for high-risk options trading.
Dinh and two other individuals are also charged with allegedly submitting more than 70 fraudulent loan applications that obtained more than $3 million under the federal Paycheck Protection Program and Economic Injury Disaster Loan Program.
Another defendant in California, lab owner Lourdes Navarro, is accused of submitting more than $358 million in false claims for lab testing to Medicare, which is the federal health insurance program for senior citizens, to HRSA and to a private insurance company.
Navarro’s lab performed Covid screening tests for nursing homes and schools, and allegedly increased its reimbursements by adding claims for respiratory pathogen panel tests that providers and facility administrators did not order.
A doctor and marketer in Florida were charged with allegedly purchasing Medicare beneficiary identification numbers and shipping tests to beneficiaries who did not request them.
That resulted in $8.4 million in fraudulent claims to Medicare, the DOJ said.
Other cases involved the alleged manufacture and distribution of fake Covid vaccine record cards.