Nursing school pains
Jamaican institution named in elaborate criminal conspiracy
QUESTIONS are being asked about a local nursing school after New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman last week named it in the investigation of an elaborate criminal network that set up bogus nursing schools throughout that US metropolis.
Hundreds of students are said to have collectively paid more than US$6 million to enrol in programmes offering qualification for careers in nursing. However, the certifications and transcripts, some of which reportedly came from a private school here in Jamaica, are now said to be fraudulent.
According to a release from the New York Attorney General's Press Office on Thursday, investigators with the New York State Department of Education (NYSDE) uncovered an alleged nursing school scam, which had tendrils reaching as far as a popular local educational institution that trains practical nurses.
That institution was named in the release as having provided fraudulent certificates to graduates from four fake New York nursing schools.
The release stated that in a series of early morning raids, eight individuals were arrested in New York for their participation in the scam, and a total of 11 were charged. Each faces multiple counts of Grand Larceny in the 3rd Degree, Scheme to Defraud and other charges.
The Attorney General's Office, in cooperation with NYSDE, conducted an investigation to reveal how the conspiracy operated. Undercover investigators were assigned to pose as students enrolled in the phony programmes, and search warrants were executed.
"The investigation found a criminal network that spanned New York to Jamaica, and included hundreds of victims who each paid thousands of dollars for useless courses," said the attorney general's press office.
According to the indictment and prosecutors' statements at arraignment, the defendants conspired to create and operate entities that claimed to be nursing schools. They recruited individuals — particularly of lower income — and falsely stated that completing the programmes would make them eligible to take the New York State Nursing Board Exam (NCLEX), and become Licensed Practical Nurses (LPNs) or Registered Nurses (RNs) in New York.
Those who enrolled were charged anywhere between US$7,000 and US$20,000 and then spent between 10 months and two years completing the programme, only to be issued fraudulent transcripts and certifications from various foreign schools -- none of which were approved to operate in New York.
According to Attorney General Schneiderman, "contrary to what they were told, the students who paid for and participated in the programmes were not eligible to take the Nursing Board Exam or become LPNs or RNs".
"These conspirators intentionally targeted people in pursuit of new opportunities, lining their pockets with others' hard-earned money. This case sends a clear message to anyone looking to profit off of exploitation and fraud: you will be caught. My office has zero tolerance for such criminal conduct and will continue to hold those who commit it accountable," he said.
According to officials, the list of schools believed to be involved include:
- International Language and Professional Network, Inc. (ILPN) located on Flatbush Avenue, Brooklyn;
- Life-VTEC, located at Jamaica Avenue, Queens Village;
- Hope-VTEC aka J Allrich Productions, Inc., Hope Nursing Tutorial Services, and Tutorial Nursing Prep, located at Hempstead Turnpike, Franklin Square;
- Helping Angels Foundation of America (HAFA) which operated at two locations: Brooklyn and Long Island; and
- Envision Review Center on Flatbush Avenue, Brooklyn.
Four of the schools, ILPN, HAFA, Life-VTEC and Hope-VTEC, are accused of having collaborated with a named Jamaican nursing school to provide fraudulent certifications.
Those indicted are Robinson Akenami, 36 of Woodhaven, owner and operator of HAFA; Jocelyn Allrich, 52, of Elmont, owner and operator of Hope-VTEC; Nadege Auguste, 36, of Brooklyn, owner and operator of Life-VTEC; Andre Castage, 54, of Brooklyn, an Administrator and Admissions Director at ILPN who allegedly spoke with students and told them that the school was accredited; Carline D'Haiti, 55, of Brooklyn, and Salavatrice Gaston, 56 of West Babylon, who operated Envision Review Center; Anthony Myers, an Administrator and the Admissions Director at ILPN, who is accused of telling students that they would be eligible to take the NCLEX exam after attending ILPN; Rodye Paquiot, 43, of Plainsboro, New Jersey, an executive at ILPN who is said to have done the same as Myers; Carl Lee Sellers, the Administrator of Hope-VTEC who identified himself as the "second in command", and who allegedly told students that they would be eligible to sit for the NCLEX after they attended Hope-VTEC; Frantz Simeon, 55, of Freeport, owner and Executive Director of ILPN; and Jude Valles, who prosecutors say established the VTEC franchise, received payments for the students that attended the schools in New York, and provided false documents to the schools and students.
Schneiderman stated that all charges are accusations and the defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.
Officials of the school in question, when contacted by the Sunday Observer, vehemently denied any connection to the fake US nursing institutions.
The facility has been operating for more than a quarter of a century in Kingston, Jamaica and promotes itself on its website as a leading institution that trains practical nurses in the country, "supplying personnel who have been trained to world-class standards to hospitals, health centres, nursing homes and other health care facilities".
Its principal, who spoke with this newspaper on condition of anonymity, said a search of school records showed it had a contract with one Bethel Professional Training Services out of New York in the US. He said it now appears that the school's contact person at Bethel is Jude Valles, who is named in the New York fraud case affidavit as establishing the VTEC franchise, receiving payments for those enrolled in the New York schools, and providing false documents to the schools and students. Bethel, however, is not named as part of the conspiracy.
The principal also noted that the one-year contract with Bethel was signed by the school's previous operator and expired in November 2009. The operator later died, and the school has been under current management only since January this year.
"Contractual obligations with Bethel Professional Training, required that we provided training services, candidate assessment, assigned qualified assessors and ensured that this assessment data was entered as per policy," he said, adding that he could not speak to any other institution mentioned in the New York affidavit.
"Any possible arrangement with the others, I could not speak to since they preceded me... The present administration is not involved."
He believes that the death of the person who originally signed the contract should be enough to absolve the school from any liability.
In fact, the principal suggested further that the school is also a victim of the scam artists.
"I don't know, it appears that these people may have sold our programme differently.
"Maybe they presented it differently to their clients," he said, referring to the fact that the school is not allowed to call its graduates practical nurses, but refers to them as Health and Patient Care assistants. The school's website says its certificates "are recognised in over 70 countries in the Caribbean region and the Commonwealth of nations", but does not mention the US.
He confirmed information on the school's website that says the school is registered with the Registrar of Companies and the Ministry of Education, and has an accredited nursing programme with the National Council on Technical Vocational Education and Training (NCTVET).
NCTVET was contacted for a comment on the allegations by the New York Attorney General, and the Sunday Observer was told that officials were reviewing the information. However, there was no response forthcoming up until press time.
"The Ministry of Education, which has jurisdiction over all educational institutions in Jamaica, has monitoring and supervisory responsibilities" for the training institution, according to the site.
The site also lists the criteria it needs to meet in order to be accredited, including proven quality assurance and control; adequate staff; proper client service, training and assessment. The website further claimed that an audit is carried out twice yearly by the Ministry, to check that standards are maintained.
This is not the first time this particular school has had questions raised publicly about its nurses' training programme.
Sunday Observer investigations unearthed court files linking the facility to the withdrawal of the license of a Nigerian nurse in Vermont in the USA in August 2010. That file said the nurse had enrolled in the same Kingston, Jamaica school named in the New York fraud case, after moving to Georgia in 2004.
"The instruction for this programme was not in Jamaica, but rather was in Marietta, Georgia, (US) and the clinical instruction was in Miami, Florida, in a nursing home. She attended classes and instruction for two years," the document states.
"On February 8, 2005, the Respondent was given a certificate of completion of 12 months of practical nursing instruction" from the school that the legal document identifies as being located in Kingston, Jamaica, West Indies.
In May 2010, the Vermont Nursing Board reported to the courts that it received information that the same school in Kingston was not an "approved school" as of January 2005, and was not "recognised or accredited" in Jamaica.
"There was some evidence that the school was accredited by the National Council and Technical and Vocational Education and Training (Institute) in Jamaica and that the school was registered with the Jamaican Registry of Education and Culture, however, neither of these entities appear to licence practical nurses, and practical nurses are not licensed in Jamaica in general," the document stated.
Some of the school's officials with whom the Sunday Observer spoke, said they recalled this case and that there was an issue at the time with several nursing schools being accredited, but they could not speak to specifics.
"I could not admit or deny, because it preceded me," said the school's principal, while insisting that his was a fully accredited institution.
Asked about whether he felt he had grounds to pursue redress from the NYDSE in a court of law, he cited financial concerns.
"We will see how it unfolds.
"We have a very good name and we don't want it to be tarnished," he said.
On Friday, NationNewsBarbados reported that Jamaican Paula Haughton, 49, who said she wanted to be a nurse since she was a little girl, had told the New York Daily News she paid six thousand dollars to ILPN nursing school on Flatbush Avenue in Brooklyn.
"My heart is broken right now," said Haughton, a mother of four who moved to the US in 1981. "I'm still trying to get over it. It's too much to handle. My dream is shattered.
"It was a lot of work," the Brooklyn resident reportedly told the paper.
"A lot of sleepless nights doing the research and studying. I was very, very disappointed to find out that I had wasted all this time, money and energy and everything, and it wasn't real."