Five years after losing her nursing license in North Carolina over allegations that she had improperly obtained hospital drugs, Sandra Wilbanks wrote to that state's board seeking to make things right.
"I have enjoyed a wonderful 41/2-year teaching career at a community college but feel the nursing part of my life remains unsettled and needs to be resolved," Wilbanks, then known as Sandra Case, wrote from Florida in February 1994.
She wrote that she had no addiction problem and wanted to return to nursing, "a profession that I worked so hard to be a part of since childhood."
But as far as Florida officials knew, she had never left it.
Wilbanks joined the faculty at Pasco-Hernando Community College in 1990, teaching technical health classes, after producing a fraudulent copy of a nursing license, according to authorities. The truth didn't come to light until this spring, when college officials checked her license number online as part of a re-accreditation process and found that it belonged to someone else.
The Florida Department of Health and the Pasco County Sheriff's Office got involved, and Wilbanks, 59, of Shady Hills was arrested Wednesday on charges of scheming to defraud, forgery and practicing without a license.
How come she never resolved the license issue? Officials can't say. North Carolina told her in March 1994 what she needed to do to have her license reinstated, including submitting performance reports, working under the supervision of a registered nurse and having no access to controlled substances.
It never heard back.
Wilbanks had been accused of obtaining prescription drugs — an allergy medication and a narcotic pain reliever — for a patient at the Charlotte hospital where she worked. A review found no documentation of a doctor ordering the drugs or the patient receiving them, according to North Carolina records.
A settlement agreement was reached in January 1989 suspending her license for a year. Wilbanks began teaching that year as an adjunct at PHCC. In 1990, she was hired full time.
She taught technical certificate program courses such as phlebotomy and medical language. State regulations don't mandate a nursing license to teach such classes, but PHCC requires it of faculty members.
State records show that one RN license number Wilbanks gave to the school was issued to Sharon Lee Christiansen, then an assistant director at a New Port Richey nursing home.
Christiansen, who now goes by her maiden name, Sharon Schmidt, is currently a real estate agent in New Jersey.
She said Friday that she doesn't know Sandra Wilbanks or Sandra Case and didn't recognize her photograph.
"Oh, no kidding," Schmidt said when a reporter told her about the forged license. "It's very spooky. I'm sitting here going, 'Geez, you hear of all this identity theft.' "
Schmidt said that during her 10 years in Florida, she also worked for a local hospice and a home health care agency.
"I keep searching my mind," she said. "You just come in contact with so many people."
Wilbanks, who has had no other arrests in Florida, told college officials that she intends to retire, though her retirement benefits could be forfeited if she is convicted. She has declined to speak to reporters.
PHCC officials think her bogus license went unnoticed for so long because she was hired before records were online, and she quickly earned a reputation as a trusted, popular instructor.
But the incident has been a wake-up call, college spokeswoman Lucy Miller said.
"I think we going to be hyper-vigilant," she said. "I think if Sandra Wilbanks walked through our door today to apply for an instructor position, … I don't think this would have happened."
Times researcher Will Gorham contributed to this report. Molly Moorhead can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 869-6245.