VERO BEACH, Fla. — A Florida woman is accused of setting up a fake nursing school and defrauding 37 students out of more than $93,000, authorities said.
Michelle Renee Wimes, 33, of Vero Beach, was charged Tuesday with organized fraud of more than $50,000, according to a news release from the Vero Beach Police Department and an arrest affidavit from the Indian River County Sheriff’s Office.
Vero Beach police Chief David Currey said Wimes, whom students knew as Michelle Hudson, defrauded 37 people who paid tuition to attend Grace Medical Training in Vero Beach, TCPalm.com reported. The scheme covered approximately 10 months, according to the news outlet.
“The total reported loss for the victims that were identified thus far is approximately $93,895,” Currey told reporters.
The students attended classes for 10 months and even had a graduation party, WPEC-TV reported. Graduates received certificates that looked genuine, but the Florida Department of Education said that the school was unlicensed and had been told to close, the television station reported.
The lack of certification prevented the graduates from taking the National Council Licensure Examination, a standardized test for nurses required to become licensed, the police said in its release.
Roseann Nelson, 57, a certified nurse assistant from Port St. Lucie, was hoping to earn her licensed practical nurse degree at Grace Medical Training, TCPalm.com reported. She paid $5,300 for the classes.
“A co-worker was taking classes in Vero and she told me about it,” Nelson told the news outlet. “We would work in the morning and could take the afternoon classes in Vero.”
While initially pleased with the school’s accreditation, Nelson became wary after taking lessons and reviewing class material.
“I realized what she was doing was wrong,” Nelson told TCPalm.com. “I was so upset over this.”
Currey said his department opened an investigation in July after receiving complaints from several students, WPTV reported.
“(Wimes) is not certified to teach,” Vero Beach Master Officer Darrell Rivers said, according to TCPalm.com. “She crushed the women’s dream of being a nurse. Some got jobs based on these fake certificates and therefore lost their jobs after it was determined their certificate was no good.”
Cassie Palelis, a spokesperson for the Florida Department of Education, told the news outlet that “the Commission for Independent Education is working with the Board of Nursing regarding Grace Medical Training.”
Wimes was released Tuesday after posting $30,000 bail, online records show.
It is uncertain whether she is being represented by an attorney, TCPalm.com reported.
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