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Georgia nurses alleged to have purchased bogus nursing degrees and fake transcripts are maintaining their innocence.
Channel 2 Consumer Investigator Justin Gray broke the story Monday that the FBI informed state investigators that 22 nurses practicing in Georgia allegedly obtained their licenses with fake diplomas or transcripts.
The Georgia Board of Nursing sent letters to those nurses asking them to voluntarily surrender their nursing licenses within 30 days.
Gray spoke exclusively Wednesday to Hahnah Williams, an attorney representing five of those nurses.
Williams told Gray her clients will not surrender their licenses and maintained they have done nothing wrong.
“My clients maintain that they are legitimate,” Williams said.
The Georgia nurses are allegedly among the thousands who paid $15,000 each for a bogus diploma from three south Florida nursing schools.
The FBI and Department of Justice announced the bust of the $100 million nationwide fraud ring last week. They call it Operation Nightingale.
Federal prosecutors say instead of going to class, the nurses bought degrees and transcripts.
Williams, a nurse herself, counters that not everyone with a degree from those schools bought a bogus degree.
For years, prosecutors acknowledge the schools were real, accredited nursing schools. Williams maintains that her clients earned their degrees.
“Look, nobody wants a fraudulent nurse taking care of them or their loved ones. However, in this case what we have are allegations and an investigation. We have to allow that process to play out before we rush to judgment,” Williams said.
The surrender letters were sent on Jan. 17 and so far none of the nurses has surrendered their licenses.
“It’s concerning and alarming,” Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger told Gray.
Raffensperger’s office oversees the Nursing Board.
“Our job is to make sure that our people in Georgia, our patients know they have credentialed nurses that are practicing there,” Raffensperger said.
“The fact of the matter is the nursing candidates had done no work for these diplomas,” said U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida Markenzy Lapointe.
Channel 2 Action News has confirmed three of those nurses accused of having sham degrees worked at the Atlanta VA Medical Center.
“Within days of learning of this nationwide scheme, we removed three nurses from patient care at the Atlanta VA Medical Center. Their removal is very unfortunate but patient safety is and must be our primary responsibility at VA,” said VA Press Secretary Terrence Hayes.
Secretary Raffensperger says state investigators are now working with the FBI to get the evidence needed to revoke the licenses of any of the nurses who refuse to surrender them voluntarily.
Williams says her clients are eager to defend their licenses and reputations through the proper channels.
“There’s been no determination of wrongdoing by any type of judicial body. So to rush to judgment and start firing nurses just because they went to an accredited school that’s been implicated in criminal activity is just wrong,” Williams told Gray.