From a simple gated apartment in Little Havana, Maria Del Consuelo Fernandez advertised an elaborate school for health workers across the county to get trained in the intricacies of CPR, infection control and even consoling the mentally ill.
People would arrive in scrubs to get certificates to land jobs at assisted living facilities, group homes and even as private school bus drivers.
But all along, the 56-year-old woman was running a diploma mill with no training taking wads of cash over the fence and giving her customers fake certificate, prosecutors say.
Fernandez was among 20 people arrested Wednesday in an undercover investigation into one of Miami-Dades burgeoning illegal industries: cash for credentials.
At least one assisted living facility was shut down after Miami-Dade police found the owner bought a host of the bogus credentials to care for people with special needs but was never certified herself.
This is being done for one reason: greed, said Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle at a press conference that capped an investigation that began in February and ended this week. At the heart of this are our most vulnerable people: the elderly and children.
Called Operation Cardiac Arrest, the probe represents the first crackdown on what senior advocates have long identified as a growing problem in Miami-Dade that leaves elders and mentally ill in the care of shoddy and untrained caretakers.
Rundle said the investigation began in February after an anonymous tipster complained people were able to buy CPR cards from a company known as A&F Health Review to get jobs as bus drivers for children.
The cards even came with the American Red Cross symbol showing the person was trained in all the basics of life-saving techniques.
Police said they were able to break into the network weeks later when they sent an undercover officer to meet with Fernandez at her apartment in a yellow, two-story building at 1020 SW Seventh St. just blocks from the state attorneys office.
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