Instead of offering a 22-month nursing track, filled with clinical work, national exams and a certification to practice, a South Florida educational racket provided bogus diplomas to hundreds of students in a matter of weeks for about $17,000 each, according to federal authorities.
A federal grand jury Thursday charged Geralda Adrien and Woosvelt Predestin with conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud, accusing them of manufacturing false nursing degrees through a pair of Fort Lauderdale businesses that collaborated with a couple of nursing schools in Broward and Palm Beach counties, according to the indictment and an FBI criminal affidavit.
Adrien’s two companies, Docu-Flex & More and PowerfulU Health Care Services, conspired with Siena Education Center in Lauderhill and Palm Beach School of Nursing in Lake Worth “to sell fraudulent diplomas and college transcripts” to students and then “coach” them to take their licensing exams in New York, according to the affidavit and online state public records. There was no limit on the number of times the students could take the nursing licensing exam in New York state.
The FBI investigation was built on a tip from Maryland and carried out by undercover operatives who interacted with the two defendants, Adrien and Predestin, according to the criminal affidavit filed by Assistant U.S. Attorney Christopher Clark.
Both Adrien and Predestin are currently in custody and have arraignments set for July 26. Adrien’s defense attorney, Julio Perez, declined to comment, and Predestin’s lawyer, Marco Quezada, could not be reached.
Beginning in March 2019, the FBI and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services investigated the actions of two South Florida-based organizations, as well as two unnamed nursing schools, according to the criminal affidavit.
Adrien and Predestin were involved with two companies. The first, Docu-Flex & More, LLC., opened in February 2020 at 3601 W. Commercial Blvd., Fort Lauderdale. The company was managed by Adrien and its website showcases services including background checks, notaries, CPR classes, IT solutions and resume building.
The second, PowerfulU Health Care Services, opened in November 2014 and was also run by Adrien. According to its Facebook page, the company is “a group of nurses and doctors who want to empower men and women by helping them to become a health care provider.”
Predestin worked at Docu-Flex and PowerfulU to help Adrien provide fake nursing diplomas and transcripts to students from the two schools in Broward and Palm Beach counties, the affidavit said.
The FBI was notified by a confidential source in 2019 that the source purchased a phony nursing school diploma and transcript for $17,000 in South Florida.
Earlier this year, an undercover FBI employee met with Adrien at her Fort Lauderdale office, where she explained that a normal nursing school program is 22 months long and can equate to four years at a large university. At the program, Adrien said she processed students under a nursing school that was on probation or closed, so the students appeared to be attending that school for a period of time.
Adrien offered the undercover employee a degree from the nursing school in Palm Beach County and training for a licensing exam in New York at a cost of $16,000, the affidavit says. The diploma would arrive in a matter of weeks.
Adrien offered to fill out the application for the board certifications and complete the designated classes for the FBI undercover employee. She also created an account through an accredited nursing education website used in New York state and assigned the employee a password of “123456,” according to the FBI affidavit.
She assured the undercover employee that the transcript and diploma from the nursing school would be ready for them in two weeks. The employee was instructed to fill out a nursing school application and backdate it to show that the form was completed in June 2016.
Predestin also helped the undercover employee with the application for a license through New York’s state system. When the employee asked what nursing school to write on the form, Predestin said, “leave this for me.”
The undercover employee received the diploma on March 31, 13 days after his initial meeting with Adrien. The document stated that the employee completed an associate degree in Science of Nursing with a 3.4 GPA on June 29, 2018.
At one point, Adrien told the FBI undercover operative that she has students from even outside Florida who purchase degrees from her and that she has “a lot of people all over the place,” the affidavit said.
The investigation yielded information from two more confidential human sources who paid for fraudulent nursing degrees, according to the affidavit written by FBI special agent Thomas Clark. One admitted to Adrien and Predestin that he had no medical experience.
They were assured that obtaining their nursing school degrees would not be a problem and that they could obtain their diplomas in mid-June
Although they are not identified by name in the affidavit, the Miami Herald learned from state public records that “Nursing School #1” is Palm Beach School of Nursing, incorporated on April 11, 2016, and “Nursing School #2” is Siena Education Center, incorporated on May 22, 2006.
The Palm Beach school was previously licensed by the Florida Board of Nursing as a legitimate nursing education program, but its license was terminated in May 2017 due to low passing rates on the state certification exam.
The Siena nursing school also had its license placed on a probationary status in 2020 due to low passing rates on the certification exam.
Students who are looking to become registered nurses or licensed practical nurses need to show proof of graduation from an approved program and completion of the National Council Licensure Examination, according to the National Council of State Boards of Nursing. Some states also require a criminal background check.
“The purpose of a professional license is to protect the public from harm by setting minimal qualifications and competencies for safe entry-level practitioners,” according to the NCSBN.
Florida’s Nurse Practice Act says that curriculum for prospective nurses must include clinical experience, which can entail working in a community setting, acute or long-term care.
If you have information to report regarding this case or any other case involving falsified medical degrees, please call the FBI hotline: (410) 277-6999.
Miami Herald staff writer Jay Weaver contributed to this story.