Liberia: Spoon Network CEO, Stanton Witherspoon Indicted in America for Wire Fraud
Monrovia — The United States Department of Justice has issued an indictment against the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the Spoon Group of Companies, Mr. Stanton Witherspoon, for his alleged involvement into charges related to a Fraudulent Nursing Diploma and Transcripts scheme uncovered in Florida, New Jersey and New York.
Mr. Witherspoon is among 24 other individuals who have been charged in the Southern District of Florida for their alleged participation in a wire fraud scheme that created an illegal licensing and employment shortcut for aspiring nurses.
He is the owner of Spoon FM and TV, Farbric FM and Super FM in Liberia.
Speaking via telephone on the SPOON Talkshow on Thursday, Witherspoon said he was home and his family was doing fine. He said, he will address the allegations against him at a later date.
Quoting three separate unsealed indictments returned by a South Florida Federal Grand Jury and information filed by federal prosecutors, the US Department of Justice disclosed that the defendants engaged in a scheme to sell fraudulent nursing degree diplomas and transcripts obtained from accredited Florida-based nursing schools to individuals seeking licenses and jobs as Registered Nurses (RNs) and licensed practical/vocational nurses (LPN/VNs).
The bogus diplomas and transcripts qualified purchasers to sit for the national nursing board exam and, after passing it, to obtain licenses and jobs in various states as RNs and LPN/VNs.
The overall scheme 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. These schools are now closed.
The alleged act
The case involving Mr. Witherspoon has been registered as U.S. v. Witherspoon, et al., case no.: 23-60005-Cr-Smith. Another is U.S. v. Sanon, case no.: 23-60013-Cr-Moreno.
The indictments described Siena College as a Broward County school licensed by the Florida Commission for Independent Education and the Florida Board of Nursing.
It offers a Practical Nursing Program and an RN to Bachelor of Science in Nursing Program. Eugene Sanon managed Siena College.
The indictment charges defendants Stanton Witherspoon of Burlington County N.J.; Alfred Sellu of Burlington County N.J.; and Rene Bernadel of Westchester County, N.Y. with conspiring to commit and committing wire fraud.
The indictment alleged that Witherspoon, Sellu, and Bernadelsolicited and recruited individuals who sought nursing credentials to gain employment as an RN or LPN/VN.
“It is alleged that these defendants arranged with Sanon, who managed Siena College and is charged by information with wire fraud conspiracy, to create and distribute false and fraudulent diplomas and transcripts. 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. In fact, the aspiring nurses never completed the necessary courses and clinicals,” the documents revealed.
The information against Sanon alleges that he and others 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.
“The indictment charges defendants Stanton Witherspoon of Burlington County N.J.; Alfred Sellu of Burlington County N.J.; and Rene Bernadel of Westchester County, N.Y. with conspiring to commit and committing wire fraud. The indictment alleges that Witherspoon, Sellu, and Bernadel solicited and recruited individuals who sought nursing credentials to gain employment as an RN or LPN/VN. It is alleged that these defendants arranged with Sanon, who managed Siena College and is charged by information with wire fraud conspiracy, to create and distribute false and fraudulent diplomas and transcripts. 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. In fact, the aspiring nurses never completed the necessary courses and clinicals,” U.S Attorney in the Southern District of Florida Markenzy Lapointe maintained.
Attorney Lapointe emphasized that 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.
He emphasized that “a fraud scheme like this erodes public trust in our health care system.”
“Health care fraud is nothing new to South Florida, as many scammers see this as a way to earn easy, though illegal, money, “said acting Special Agent in Charge Chad Yarbrough, FBI Miami. “What is disturbing about this investigation is that there are over 7,600 people around the country with fraudulent nursing credentials who are potentially in critical health care roles treating patients. Were it not for the diligence and hard work of the investigators on this case, the extent of this fraud may not have been discovered,” Attorney Lapointe noted.
The charges speak to the purpose of a nursing license which is to protect the public from harm by setting minimum qualifications and competencies.
The US Department of Justice quoted Special Agent in Charge Omar Pérez Aybar of Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Inspector General (HHS-OIG) as saying that “the alleged selling and purchasing of nursing diplomas and transcripts to willing but unqualified individuals is a crime that potentially endangers the health and safety of patients and insults the honorable profession of nursing.”
Agent Aybar maintained that in coordination with law enforcement partners, HHS-OIG will continue to “aggressively investigate bad actors who so brazenly disregard the well-being of others in order to enrich themselves fraudulently.”
Mr. Witherspoon and the others are expected to appear in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida to answer to the allegations.
Each of the defendant would face up to 20 years in prison if found guilty.
When the indictments were released, Mr.Witherspoon did not appear on his widely viewed and listened to show dubbed “Spoon Talk.”
Witherspoon is a Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN) who works in Plymouth Meeting, Pennsylvania and is linked to the Lee Training Institute in the state of Delaware as a Nursing Director.
He previously worked prior as an LPN at a large nursing contractual agency known as Bayada. On his professional LinkedIn page, which has not been updated in recent times, the indictee, Mr. Witherspoon claims to be a Pastor, Freelance Multimedia Journalist, Digital Strategist and Mental Health Enthusiast.
The FBI Miami Florida office and other Federal law enforcement agencies including Homeland Security took interest in the defendants back in 2018 and began a multi-state investigations following an uptick in the number of bogus nursing certifications where the students would skip the required instruction, studying, and clinical work and just receive a diploma for as much as US$15,000.
With the fake nursing diploma and transcript, the students would then seek employment at various health centers across the U.S.
It remains unclear whether or not Mr. Witherspoon will shut down his media institutions operating in Liberia for a while to focus on his legal battle in the US.
However, he has been reportedly advised to stay off his Spoon Talk show as a Lead Host until the final adjudication of his case.
Mr. Witherspoon has been rendering uncountable humanitarian assistance to less fortunate Liberians and groups in his native land.
He has also used his platform to generate thousands of United States Dollars to the needy.
News of his indictment has been characterized with mixed reactions in post-conflict Liberia. Few of his supporters are frustrated as a result of the release of the indictment, while others, particularly politicians are welcoming the move made by the US government.