A Virginia woman has been arrested after allegedly pretending to be a licensed psychologist in Stafford County and unlawfully treating hundreds of patients.
Authorities cited by CBS6 said 42-year-old Sharonda L. Avery posed as a psychologist for over five years.
A spokesperson with the Stafford County Sheriff’s Office told the news outlet that authorities were alerted to Avery’s alleged malpractice by patients who felt they or their children had been misdiagnosed.
“Avery has treated hundreds of children and adults,” Amanda Vicinanzo told CBS6. “She was fired from the medical practice, which is no longer in business.”
According to Fredericksburg.com, some of the children Avery treated received medication based on her diagnoses.
“This was my son’s psychologist and counselor for years,” wrote Cathy Middlekauff Volz in a post on Facebook. “I’m sick to my stomach. He will have to be reevaluated, rediagnosed (she dx’d him) and will have to start over. She had us fooled. Dr. Johnson was the medical director and she’s no better for not checking up on this fraud. There are no words for how deeply hurt my family is by this woman.”
Another commenter, Bernita Brown Gilliam, wrote that the clinic where Avery worked continues to operate, saying, “They say that the medical practice is no longer in business. Trust me. It is still in business—just under another name.”
Avery reportedly claimed she had two PhDs and a Master’s degree, while investigators said she hadn’t even graduated from college.
The fake psychologist also reportedly testified in court in a juvenile relations case under the guise of a qualified expert, resulting in a charge of perjury.
Avery also faces charges of fraud, forgery, and practicing psychology without a license.
She was charged on May 6 and remains at Rappahannock Regional Jail without bond.
According to the Fredericksburg.com, Avery faces up to 20 years in jail.
Massive Marriage Fraud Scheme
The incident recalls the case of an alleged recent fake marriage-for-immigration-status racket.
Nearly 100 people were indicted, including an attorney, for participating in a massive marriage fraud ring in Houston, Texas, according to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
The federal agency said the grand jury returned an indictment on April 30 with 206 counts, charging 96 people. So far, 50 people are in custody, according to the agency.
According to the indictment, the scam involves creating sham marriages to help foreign people to attain immigration status and admission into the United States. The main purpose of the scam was to circumvent U.S. immigration laws.
“Marriage fraud is a serious crime,” said District Director Tony Bryson from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) Houston.
— ICE (@ICEgov) May 13, 2019
“This indictment reveals how successful our working relationships are with our law enforcement and intelligence partners when it comes to investigating marriage fraud,” Bryson added. “USCIS remains steadfast in our commitment to ensuring national security, public safety and the integrity of the immigration system.”
Prosecutors say the marriages were shams because the alleged couples did not live together, nor did they have any plan to do so, even though their statements and official documents indicated that they did. Moreover, in some cases, these “spouses” had only met briefly and usually just before obtaining their marriage license. In other cases, they never met at all.
To make a wedding appear real, the organization created fake wedding albums and photos, along with false tax, utility, and employment information so as to not raise suspicion from USCIS and ensure the immigration forms were approved, prosecutors alleged.
One of the middlemen in the scam allegedly received $50,000 to $70,000 from the “beneficiary spouse” for helping them to obtain a full lawful permanent resident status, according to the statement.
According to the indictment, criminal charges include 47 counts of marriage fraud, 50 counts of mail fraud; 51 counts of immigration fraud; 51 counts of false statements under oath in a matter relating to registry of aliens; and one count each of conspiracy to engage in marriage fraud, conspiracy to commit mail fraud, conspiracy to commit immigration fraud, conspiracy to make false statements under oath in a matter relating to registry of aliens, unlawful procurement of naturalization, obstructing and impeding the due administration of justice, and tampering with a witness, victim or informant.
“These arrests mark the culmination of a comprehensive yearlong multi-agency investigation into one of the largest alleged marriage fraud conspiracies ever documented in the Houston area,” said Special Agent in Charge Mark Dawson, from Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) Houston.
According to the statement, marriage fraud, or conspiracy to commit marriage fraud, has a maximum sentence of five years.
Epoch Times reporter Janita Kan contributed to this report.