Stafford County

Virginia Woman Convicted of Falsely Posing as Psychologist

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A Virginia woman who posed as a psychologist and treated dozens of children was convicted Wednesday in Stafford County.

Sharonda Avery entered pleas to nine felony counts and could serve decades in prison.

She dodged News4's cameras and offered silence in response to questions angry parents want answered.

"Why did you present yourself as a psychologist when you never even finished college?" News4 asked.

She had no reply and offered no apology.

Avery, who posed as "Dr. Avery," was arrested in May after an investigation revealed she fabricated her college degrees and faked her resume.

Prosecutors said Avery treated patients, primarily children, from January 2013 until at least September 2017 at Pediatric Partners for for Attention & Learning in Stafford, where she posted fake doctoral diplomas in her office. Dr. Joni Johnson ran the practice until it folded last year.

At least one family exhausted their savings, paying $10,000 for their child’s treatment. Many other families also lost thousands in direct payments & co-pays.

In addition to her work at the pediatric practice, Avery appeared in court as an expert witness in child custody cases. She also advised on Individualized Education Program plans for Stafford, Spotsylvania and Fredericksburg schools.

One couple took their 12-year-old daughter there for treatment of depression. They were shocked with what Avery told them to do.

"One day my child was having a bad day. Just a tough day and didn't want to go to school. She said, 'You need to take her to the emergency room and if you don't, I'm going to have you arrested for child neglect,'" Kelly Von Schwanitz recalled.

Fearful, they did go to the hospital. There, they got a much different response. Doctors told her Avery's advice was "ridiculous."

Suspicious patients complained to authorities after not being able to find a license for Sharonda Avery. News4's Julie Carey reports.

The family never returned to Avery. When word of her arrest broke last year, they were among more than 100 families who came forward with concerns.

Some adults said they also were harmed by Avery's treatments. One father was jailed after he refused to give his son medication Avery prescribed.

Prosecutors said Avery’s ruse started to unravel when a school psychologist in Spotsylvania started to become suspicious because Avery kept diagnosing children as autistic. The school employee reported Avery to the Virginia Department of Health Professions. They confirmed that Avery was not a license psychologist, but that didn’t stop her from working.

Stafford prosecutors said when state officials notified the Spotsylvania Sheriff’s Office, they did not take action. But in 2018, when suspicious parents started to complain, the Stafford County Sheriff’s Office assigned Detective Ed McCullough to investigate. He spent months building the record that led to the charges. (McCullough now works for the Spotyslvania Sheriff’s Office).

In court Wednesday, Avery entered Alford pleas to nine felonies and one misdemeanor, acknowledging there is enough evidence to convict her.

"It's frustrating a little bit," Jordan Von Schwanitz said. "I would like her to take complete accountability for what she's done. But it's better than nothing, and she has a lot of time hanging over her head."

"She took the trust of children and crushed it," his wife added.

Avery is set to be sentenced in July. She faces as much as 140 years in prison.

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