Liberia: Spoon CEO Witherspoon Hooked in US$114M Healthcare Fraud
... His alleged crimes involve him participating in a wire fraud scheme that created an illegal licensing and employment shortcut for aspiring nurses, and would land him in jail for 20 years if proven guilty and property forfeiture, if any.
Prosecutors in the US state of Florida have charged a Liberian media mogul, Stanton Witherspoon, along with about two dozen others, of fraudulently selling over 7,600 bogus nursing certificates, which netted him and his accomplices a whopping US$114 million.
His alleged crimes involve him participating in a wire fraud scheme that created an illegal licensing and employment shortcut for aspiring nurses, and would land him in jail for 20 years if proven guilty and property forfeiture, if any.
Under US law, he and his co-conspirators are presumed innocent until proven guilty, even though the scheme had been going on since 2018 — lasting for nearly six years.
Witherspoon, however, in a statement yesterday noted that he has a lot to say, he is being restricted by his lawyers from going into additional details.
“While I am very aware of your desire to get even more details on these charges, I can only appeal to you all to let the investigation and legal process play out,” said Witherspoon, the owner of Liberia's largest private media network, Spoon Communications Network.
“While temptation pushes me to address this matter in far more detail, I have to abide by my legal team's instructions. There is a greater being who orders our paths and steps, certainly mine.
While Witherspoon has not denied the authenticity of the indictment, a grand jury has indicted him along with Alfred Sellu Rene Bernadel and more than two dozen individuals for conspiring to commit and committing wire fraud.
The overall scheme, the indictment said, involved the distribution of more than 7,600 fake nursing diplomas issued by three South Florida-based nursing schools: Siena College in Broward County, Fla., Palm Beach School of Nursing in Palm Beach County, Fla., and Sacred Heart International Institute in Broward County.
According to the indictment, Witherspoon used his company, the Nursing Education Resource Center (NERC), which was based in Newport, Delaware, to buy a 50% stake in Siena Education Center and Siena College (collectively Siena) and then conspired with his co-accused to sell fraudulent nursing degree diplomas and transcripts.
The fake qualifications were sold to individuals seeking licenses and jobs as registered nurses (RNs) and licensed practical/vocational nurses (LPN/VNs), the US Attorney’s Office in the Southern District of Florida claimed.
The charging documents describe Siena College, which Witherspoon owns and 50 percent share in, as a Broward County school licensed by the Florida Commission for Independent Education and the Florida Board of Nursing that offers a Practical Nursing Program and an RN to Bachelor of Science in Nursing Program.
The Liberian media mogul's principal co-conspirator, Eugene Sanon, managed Siena College, the indictment said.
The indictment alleges that Witherspoon, and his co-accused sold thousands of fake Siena College nursing diplomas and educational transcripts to nursing applicants who used them to obtain RN or LPN/VN licenses in various states and nursing jobs with unwitting health care providers throughout the country.
These fake documents represented that the aspiring RN and LPN/VN candidates had attended Siena College’s nursing program in Broward County and completed the necessary courses and clinicals to obtain RN or LPN/VN diplomas,” the Indictment noted.
“It was the purpose of the conspiracy for the defendants and their co-conspirators to unlawfully enrich themselves by, among other things, soliciting and recruiting co-conspirators, via interstate wire communications, and seeking nursing credentials to obtain employment as an RN or LPN/VN in the healthcare field,” Witherspoon's indictment alleged.
The document added that Witherspoon and his co-accused “created and distributed, via interstate wire communications, false and fraudulent diplomas and transcripts for co-conspirators seeking RN or LPN/VN licensure and employment; while using the proceeds of the conspiracy for “their personal use and benefit, the use and benefit of others, and to further the conspiracy.”
“Not only is this a public safety concern, it also tarnishes the reputation of nurses who actually complete the demanding clinical and course work required to obtain their professional licenses and employment,” said U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida, Markenzy Lapointe, who added that “a fraud scheme like this erodes public trust in our healthcare system.”
Witherspoon, who himself is a licensed practical nurse (LPN), works at Plymouth Meeting, Pennsylvania, and is linked to the Lee Training Institute in the state of Delaware as a Nursing Director, according to information on his LinkedIn page.
He has also worked as a LPN at a large nursing contractual agency known as Bayada and claims to be a pastor, freelance multimedia journalist, digital strategist and mental health enthusiast.
Meanwhile, news of the Witherspoon indictment has shocked the country, considering his sphere of influence via his media conglomerate.
Even the outgoing president of the Press Union of Liberia, Charles B. Coffey, Jr., has weighed in, describing the development as troubling and worrisome.
“I have read the indictment. As per the records of the United States Court system, the issue of wire fraud, breaching medical practices policy, operating fake educational institutions allegedly is troubling, worrisome,” he said. “It borders on integrity and credibility.”
“He needs to do the needful by proving his innocence, if so. It is very important for him to ensure speedy trial because he has been using his media to preach integrity, and fight against corruption in Liberia. This situation also has the propensity to undermine public trust in the Liberian media,” Coffey said.