The operator of a Los Angeles nursing school that turned out to be fake will pay back the defrauded students.

As many as 300 students paid $20,000 each to enroll and attend classes at RN Learning Center, which advertised its fast-track program for earning a bachelor of science degree in nursing in less than two years.

California Attorney General Jerry Brown said the school deceived students by pretending to offer an accredited nursing program and tricking graduates into believing they had qualified to become registered nurses.

"By creating the illusion it was training future registered nurses," Brown said, "the school destroyed the aspirations of hundreds of students who also lost thousands of dollars in wasted tuition. The school will shut its doors today and pay back its former students as fully as it can."

In the settlement negotiated by Brown's office on behalf of the Board of Registered Nursing, Junelou Chalico Enterina, owner and operator of RN Learning Center, which operated on Wilshire Boulevard in Los Angeles, agreed to close his business and pay victims restitution of $500,000. He also agreed never again to open a nursing school in California.

Worthless degrees

The board, which is the state agency that oversees the practice and education of nurses, believes no student of RN Learning Center was able to use her degree to qualify for the state's nursing exam or become a registered nurse. However, the board is contacting every medical facility in the state to warn about unaccredited schools such as RN Learning Center.

The settlement concludes a board investigation that began in early 2007. Despite purporting to be a nursing school, Brown said RN Learning Center never applied to the nursing board to obtain accreditation as a school of nursing.

Three years ago, the board ordered the school to close. It also disciplined two licensed registered nurses associated with the school and posted a notice on its website warning prospective students that unaccredited schools were operating in California.

Despite the scrutiny, RN Learning Center continued to operate, targeting mostly Filipino-Americans who already worked in the health field. The school's marketing materials promised the program would, "Advance Your Education. Increase Your Earnings. Secure Your Financial Future."

Just as they would in a real nursing school, students took classes in anatomy, microbiology and learned to do sutures. They traveled to the Philippines for a month of clinical study in hospitals and prisons, and attended classes at a foreign nursing school that also had not been approved by California's board.

Elaborate deception

Brown said RN Learning Center kept the deception going by holding formal graduation ceremonies. About 50 of its students applied to the nursing board to take the National Council Licensing Examination, which qualifies nursing school graduates to become licensed registered nurses.

The students submitted transcripts that were declared fraudulent, so they were unable to meet the eligibility requirements and were not allowed to take the licensing exam. Because RN Learning Center was unlicensed, none of the course work taken there can be counted toward completing a Bachelor of Science in Nursing.