A woman who treated numerous patients while pretending to be a psychologist in Stafford County was convicted of 10 charges Wednesday.
Sharonda L. Avery, 43, of Stafford, entered Alford pleas to five counts of obtaining money by false pretenses, two counts of passing forged documents, forgery, perjury and practicing psychology without a license. In exchange for her pleas, prosecutor Michael Hardiman dropped a number of other charges she had been facing.
Avery will be sentenced July 17 in Stafford Circuit Court by Judge Charles Sharp, who has leeway to impose a term ranging from no active prison time to 140 years. Avery was allowed to remain free on bond pending sentencing.
Stafford Detective Ed McCullough headed an investigation that began in October 2018, after the Sheriff’s Office started getting complaints about Avery.
The investigation showed Avery began her career in 2013 and worked at the now-closed Pediatric Partners for Attention and Learning at 2128 Jefferson Davis Highway. The practice was headed by Joni Johnson, a real doctor.
McCullough learned Avery was not licensed to practice and had none of the degrees she claimed to have, including two doctorates.
Hardiman said Wednesday that more than 100 victims, many of them parents of children Avery treated, came forward after learning about the investigation. He said many families were negatively impacted financially and physically by Avery’s scam.
Hardiman mentioned a number of those patients by name Wednesday, including a man who noticed a marked decline in his child’s behavior and school performance after taking drugs prescribed by Avery.
Another woman paid more than $10,000 out of pocket after her child was diagnosed with autism and depression, only to find out later that her money had been wasted.
Hardiman cited other examples of children who were misdiagnosed and given medication they shouldn’t have had. He said Avery even talked an investor into putting $1,600 into a practice she was planning to establish after being fired from Johnson’s office in 2017.
In addition, Hardiman said Avery became angry at one parent for not calling her “doctor” and threatened to call the police on one woman for not having her child committed, as Avery had suggested.
Avery also testified as an expert in at least one court hearing and at school hearings, something she was not legally qualified to do.
“She conned a lot of people for a long time,” Hardiman said.
The courtroom was full of former patients Wednesday and many are expected to return in July for what promises to be a lengthy sentencing hearing.