PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — A U.S. Department of Justice investigation is looking into some Florida schools fraudulently issuing nursing diplomas.

Operation Nightingale found more than 7600 fake nursing diplomas issued by multiple Florida schools. The FBI began arresting people involved in distributing the phony diplomas in January, but Washington state health officials said they started noticing something was up much sooner.

Washington state requires a licensed nurse to have a national accreditation but not every state does. About 18 months ago, Washington officials began noticing applications for nursing licenses from candidates who graduated from certain Florida schools that were not compliant with Washington standards.

They began an investigation and identified about 150 people licensed in the state who had credentials from those schools. Some legitimately graduated.

The investigation led to 11 licenses being rescinded and 4 applications denied. Of those 11, most were working in a nursing capacity when they were stripped of their licenses, said Paula Meyer, the executive director of the Washington State Nursing Care Quality Assurance Commission.

“It’s very important to the profession of nursing that we maintain that public trust,” Meyer told KOIN 6 News. “That’s why boards of nursing are there to maintain that level of trust so that where there are instances such as this we can take those actions.”

Meyer said the red flags state officials noticed included courses not taken in the order they should have been. In some cases, the counterfeit transcript didn’t have the markings it needed to even look legitimate.

“For example the school seal. We require that the school sends the transcripts, not the applicant and every single one of those has to have the school seal,” she said. “So the school seal may have been there, may not have been there.”

Oregon response

The Oregon State Board of Nursing said they are cooperating with the United States Department of Justice’s investigation into allegations of fraudulently issued Florida nursing diplomas.

“To date, out of the 7,600 potential fraudulent graduates of the three Florida nursing programs involved with the alleged scheme, the number of identified individuals in Oregon who may be involved with active Oregon licenses is approximately six,” OSBN officials said in a statement to KOIN 6 News. “Cases against two of those individuals were dismissed during the February 22 board meeting. Approximately 10 individuals have active applications for licensure. The Board has not received any reports of patient harm related to the identified individuals of concern.”

Officials said it is “a complex investigation” but made clear none of the nursing programs involved were in Oregon.