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(LOS ANGELES) – Attorney General Bill Lockyer today announced the arrest of 78 Southern Californians and the dismantling of an organized scheme to sell passing test scores to individuals who otherwise could not qualify as certified nurse assistants to work in Los Angeles-area nursing homes.
"Nursing home residents deserve quality care from trained care givers," Lockyer said. "Having people pose as certified nurse assistants exposes these elderly and dependent adults to abuse and poor quality of care. With the arrest of the two masterminds and 78 fraudulently certified nurse assistants, we've shut down a major scheme used to get nursing home jobs before any harm came to elderly and dependent residents."
Lockyer said the fraud scheme was first reported to the Attorney General's Bureau of Medi-Cal Fraud and Elder Abuse by a nursing home administrator who became suspicious after interviewing a certified nurse assistant (CNA) applicant who could not speak, read or write in English. The administrator was aware that the CNA test is given in English only. The Bureau's investigation launched last year uncovered a large number of individuals who had been recruited by the fraud ring leaders.
The Attorney General's investigation found that defendants paid up to $600 to guarantee that passing test scores would be reported to the state Department of Health Service, which issues certifications based on successful test results reported by authorized testing services. The fraudulently obtained certificates were then used to get jobs at 47 Los Angeles and Orange County-area nursing homes.
Of the 78 people arrested in the scheme, 71 surrendered voluntarily to law enforcement this week. Still wanted on an arrest warrant is Vilma Bonilla, 38, of Los Angeles. Depending on specific circumstances and facts, individuals have been charged also with misdemeanor grand theft and/or misdemeanor elder abuse, which could result in imprisonment in jail for up to one year and a fine of up to $1,000. False representation as a certified nurse assistant is a misdemeanor punishable by up to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine.
The accused organizers of the scheme, Juan Cano, 25, of Commerce, and Carole Lopez, 40, of Los Angeles, were arrested in November 2001. They were charged with multiple counts of felony conspiracy punishable by up to three years in prison and maximum $10,000 fine. Four other co-conspirators have entered no contest pleas in the case. Trial is pending for Cano, Lopez and another co-conspirator.
"Defendant Cano has admitted to targeting Hispanic applicants for his scheme who had poor English reading and speaking skills," Lockyer said. "He would for a fee guarantee passing test scores. He admitted translating the CNA exams in whole or in part for the Spanish-speaking applicants, and in many cases taking the exams himself for the passing scores. His alleged partner in the scheme was an authorized CNA test proctor who would submit the faked test results to her employer, Nurse Assistant Training Program, which then reported passing grades for certification to the Department of Health Services."
Since the arrest of the fraud organizers, Operation Safe Care has been looking into individuals who were fraudulently certified as nurse assistants to work in nursing homes. The case raised serious concerns about potential elder abuse since as much as 70 percent of all patient care given to the elderly and dependent adults in nursing homes are provided by CNAs. Some of the duties of certified nurse assistants include being first-responders in an emergency, detecting and responding appropriately to medical emergencies such as heart attacks, insulin shock and bleeding. Certified nurse assistants also often must check meals to ensure that the correct diet is being provided to the patient, and take accurate measurements and record the vital signs of the individuals.
"Operation Safe Care reflects the great cooperation and dedication of 10 different health, law enforcement and prosecutorial agencies to fighting elder abuse," Lockyer said. "With this kind of partnership, we can make sure that elderly and dependent Californians are protected from abuse and are able to live with dignity and quality care in nursing homes."
Directed by the Attorney General's Bureau of Medi-Cal Fraud and Elder Abuse, Operation Safe Care involves 10 different law enforcement and prosecutorial agencies from the cities of Los Angeles, Pasadena, Long Beach, Santa Monica and counties of Los Angeles and Orange. The Health Authority Law Enforcement Task Force of Los Angeles and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Inspector General also are assisting in the operation.