COLLEGE PARK, Md. (AP) — The owners and operators of nursing schools in Virginia and Florida have been charged with plotting to sell bogus transcripts and diplomas, helping unqualified candidates pass nursing board exams and get health care jobs, federal authorities said Friday.
In March 2019, a witness told the FBI that Patrick Nwaokwu, 50, of Laurel, Maryland, and Musa Bangura, 62, of Manassas, Virginia, were creating illegitimate transcripts and certificates through a nursing school in in Woodbridge, Virginia. After the school was shut down for violating state regulations, Nwaokwu and Bangura continued selling bogus transcripts and certifications backdated to when it was open, the FBI says.
The FBI also investigated allegations that Nwaokwu and Bangura worked with people in Florida to sell illegitimate degrees for licensed practical nurses and registered nurses at a second school established by Johanah Napoleon, 45, of Wellington, Florida. The Florida Board of Nursing shut down Napoleon's school in May 2017 for having a low passing rate on licensure exams, according to an FBI agent's affidavit.
In September 2020, an FBI source wearing a recording device attended a test prep class in that Nwaokwu led in an office building in Laurel, Maryland.
Nwaokwu asked a student, “What are you most concerned about?” according to an FBI agent's affidavit.
“I’m afraid of killing the patient,” the student responded, causing the class to erupt in laughter, the agent wrote.
"Nwaokwu did little to address the student’s concern before he moved to the next topic," the affidavit said.
A criminal compliant filed in Maryland and unsealed on Monday charges Nwaokwu, Bangura and Napoleon with conspiracy to commit health care fraud, conspiracy to make false statements relating to health care matters and making false statements relating to health care matters.
A federal magistrate judge agreed to free Nwaokwu and Bangura on bond after their initial court appearances in Maryland on Monday, court records show.
Attorney Joel DeFabio defended Napoleon in an email to the Associated Press.
“Ms. Napoleón has worked very hard over the past 20 years to make a name for herself in the South Florida business community. She surrendered voluntarily to face these charges and looks forward to clearing her name in court,” DeFabio said.
Paul Kemp, an attorney for Musa Bangura, declined to comment on the charges. An attorney for Nwaokwu didn't immediately respond Friday to an email seeking comment.
Roughly 175 graduates of the Virginia nursing school have applied to the Maryland Board of Nursing for licenses between August 2012 and July 2019, with approximately 62 licensed practical nurses actively working in Maryland, according to the agent.
However, since June 2018, no graduates of the Virginia nursing school have been approved to practice in Maryland because Nwaokwu or Bangura have failed to provide paperwork required of out-of-state applicants by Maryland regulators, the affidavit says.
Some of those who graduated from the Florida nursing school with backdated transcripts are listed as people who passed the New York State Board Examination, the FBI says.
The FBI agent said a New York State Office of Professions employee told him that their internal license procedure is “fraught with disorganization,” but the agent said it's unclear why Nwaokwu has advised “all of his co-conspirators” to apply for a license in New York.
Receipts showed that students paid between $6,000 and $18,000 for the fake transcripts and certificates from the Virginia school, the affidavit says. An FBI undercover agent purchased a diploma from the Florida school for approximately $16,000.
The FBI agent who wrote the July 8 affidavit said he hadn't communicated with any employers of any graduates of the Florida nursing school “due to the covert nature of the investigation” but has verified that at least four graduates have worked for health care entities that bill Medicare and Medicaid and private insurance.