NEW PORT RICHEY — Sandra Wilbanks taught medical courses at Pasco-Hernando Community College for 18 years before anyone noticed her nursing license was a forgery.
Once that came to light last spring, an investigation began, Wilbanks abruptly retired — and then was arrested.
Earlier this month, the 60-year-old Shady Hills woman resolved her criminal case, pleading guilty to a felony charge of forgery, a lesser crime than she originally faced.
She received 18 months of probation and had adjudication of guilt withheld, meaning she is technically not a felon. She has no other arrests in Florida.
Wilbanks began teaching at the community college full time in 1990 in its technical certificate credit program. She earned rave reviews from students in courses like phlebotomy and medical language.
She did not teach nursing courses. The state does not require a nursing license for the technical courses Wilbanks taught, though the college does.
And every few years, college officials said, Wilbanks would provide a photocopy of her updated registered nurse's license.
But in the spring of 2008, as PHCC was going through re-accreditation, a clerk plugged Wilbanks' nursing license number into the state database and came up with someone else's name.
The discrepancy prompted the school to contact the state Department of Health, which investigated and called the Pasco County Sheriff's Office.
The college said Wilbanks got away with her deed because she was hired before many records were maintained online. PHCC officials said at the time that employees' credentials are now routinely verified at the time they're hired.
Wilbanks, who could not be reached Wednesday, earned an associate's degree in applied science in nursing from Central Piedmont Community College in North Carolina in 1978, a credential verified by PHCC. She also had an RN license in that state but saw it revoked in 1989 after an investigation revealed she had improperly obtained hospital drugs.
A few years after she began teaching in Florida, she wrote to North Carolina officials seeking to have her license reinstated. They laid out a plan for her, but she never followed up.
She earned about $45,000 a year as an instructor, according to PHCC. She also accrued benefits under the Florida Retirement System, estimated to be $1,015.78 per month, but it is unclear whether she will ever see that money.
Her arrest put her state pension in peril because retirement benefits can be forfeited when employees are convicted of certain felonies.
That includes theft from an employer, according to the Florida Department of Management Services. The state has not yet decided whether Wilbanks' conviction puts her in that category.
Molly Moorhead can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 869-6245.