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Attorney general sues unlicensed nursing school

FILE - In this Jan. 22, 2015, file photo, Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey testifies before the Massachusetts Gaming Commission, in Boston. Daily fantasy sports companies like FanDuel and Boston-based DraftKings would be allowed to continue operating in Massachusetts, but with age and advertising restrictions, disclosure requirements and other new rules proposed Thursday by the state's attorney general. Maura Healey announced what she called an aggressive, first-in-the-nation plan to regulate the websites after her office spent several weeks reviewing whether the contests were legal in the state. (AP Photo/Steven Senne, File)
Steven Senne/AP
Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey.

Massachusetts’ attorney general on Wednesday accused an unlicensed, for-profit nursing school of charging students thousands of dollars each — sometimes more than $10,000 — for inadequate educations that rarely led to nursing careers.

Attorney General Maura Healey sued the school, Hosanna College of Health, and its founding executives, Jackson Augustin and Michelle Desarmes, in Suffolk Superior Court.

Healey’s complaint alleges that since 2013 the college has recruited dozens of students from the Boston-area Haitian community, falsely promising that graduates would easily pass the nursing board exam and become well-paid licensed nurses working in Massachusetts.

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Instead, fewer than 3 percent of graduates passed the exam, a requirement for a nursing license in Massachusetts, according to the attorney general. The school is licensed in Florida but not in Massachusetts.

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Rose Dennis, an academic dean at the college, denied in a phone interview that Hosanna was operating a school in Massachusetts. “Our courses are offered down here,” she said, referring to Miramar, Fla. “Students have to travel here.”

She said students may have been “independently studying” in Massachusetts and hiring their own tutors, but she asserted all courses were held in Florida. Dennis denied that school officials told students Hosanna had a Massachusetts license.

Asked about graduates’ lack of success in passing the nursing board exam, Dennis said all nursing schools see their pass rates fluctuate. “Students can cheat, cheat their way through school. On paper they look immaculate,” but then they flunk the exam, she said.

Healey is asking the court to order the school to refund tuition, fees, and other payments; to impose civil penalties; and to bar the school from unfair and deceptive conduct.

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Her suit alleges Augustin and Desarmes “exploited their shared identity with Haitian immigrants to create confidence and trust, which in turn allowed them to charge steep tuition for a course of training that was essentially worthless.” The lawsuit quotes students accusing Hosanna officials of threatening them if they filed complaints, including “threats to use Vodou, which in Haitian culture is akin to a death threat.”

“These students invested their hopes and dreams in this program, but instead paid thousands of dollars for an ineffective, low-quality education that failed to provide a path to a nursing career,” Healey said in a statement. “We allege that this school aggressively recruited and misled students from the Haitian community in order to generate a profit.”

According to the complaint, Hosanna operates out of a rented building in South Florida, but classes were held in temporary spaces in Brockton and Randolph. Augustin and Desarmes flew to Massachusetts periodically to recruit students, oversee classes, and collect tuition, the complaint said.

Hosanna held “open house” events at which it falsely told prospective students it had a Massachusetts license and promised that its graduates would easily locate well-paid, full-time jobs, according to the suit. The school conferred its first degrees on Massachusetts residents in December 2014 and held another graduation in May 2015. But as of October 2015, the suit alleges, only 11 of its 174 graduates had taken the nursing board exams, and only five had passed.

Students paid a deposit of $1,000 to $3,000 and then $400 a month. They also had to pay for airfare and lodging for required trips to Florida for hands-on training. But students reported that the clinical training was of poor quality or sometimes didn’t take place at all, the suit alleges. One student merely watched a video on labor and childbirth.

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In February 2015, the Massachusetts Department of Education ordered Hosanna to cease operations in the state. The college responded a month later, denying it had ever held classes in Massachusetts. But the attorney general says Hosanna held nursing classes in multiple locations and hired Massachusetts residents as instructors.

“The goal, of course, was to operate a fly-by-night nursing school in Massachusetts — a school that attracted students and generated profits without having to submit to oversight and regulation,” the complaint said.

It is illegal to hold in-person, credit-bearing classes without a state license. Additionally, graduates of a school lacking a Massachusetts license cannot take the nursing exam in the state. Only two Hosanna graduates obtained Massachusetts licenses. The lawsuit says graduates of a school not authorized to operate in the state can obtain a Massachusetts nursing license if they first obtain a license in another state.

“Hosanna does not exist to train future nurses; instead, it exists to profit from each student’s dream of becoming a nurse,” the suit says.

Kay Lazar of the Globe staff contributed to this report. Felice J. Freyer can be reached at felice.freyer@globe.com.