A Fake Psychologist Treated Troubled Children, Prosecutors Say

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The parents all needed a therapist who could help their children with behavioral and mental health issues.

Glenn Payne, 60, appeared to fit the bill. He said he was a neuropsychologist with advanced degrees from the University of California, Los Angeles, affiliations with two Brooklyn hospitals and years of experience.

But those credentials were a lie, the Brooklyn district attorney’s office said.

For at least six years, Mr. Payne provided therapy that he was not qualified to give, prosecutors said. His degrees were fake, and the hospitals had no records that he had been affiliated with them. Despite practicing clinical psychology, he was not licensed to do so in either New York or California.

On Thursday, prosecutors formally charged Mr. Payne in a 55-count indictment in Brooklyn Supreme Court. They accused him of pretending to be a licensed psychologist and treating at least 12 people, including children, who were described as “troubled,” between June 2012 and May 2018.

The Brooklyn district attorney, Eric Gonzalez, said in a statement that “the alleged conduct in this case is truly outrageous and potentially endangered vulnerable people.”

“It is unbelievable that someone would put patients, including children, at risk by pretending to be qualified to diagnose and treat them,” Mr. Gonzalez said.

Both Mr. Payne and his girlfriend, Vernette Tobierre-Desir, 46, were accused in the indictment of working together to steal more than $30,000 from his patients.

Among the charges were grand larceny, unauthorized practice of a profession and scheme to defraud, as well as six counts of child endangerment.

Mr. Payne and Ms. Tobierre-Desir, who have two children together, have pleaded not guilty to all 55 counts.

“I think sometimes people see the volume of charges and jump to conclusions and make assumptions,” said Mr. Payne’s lawyer, Michael Chessa. “I truly do think Mr. Payne is going to be vindicated.”

On his LinkedIn profile, which is referenced in the indictment, Mr. Payne said he had been in private practice since 2011. He claimed to have a master’s degree in public health and a doctorate in psychology (which he spelled incorrectly).

But Mr. Payne has no formal counseling that prosecutors were aware of. He told investigators that he was a doctor with a “home-schooled, unconventional education during the Black Panther era,” according to court papers.

None of Mr. Payne’s patients had been hospitalized or physically harmed, an official said. Some of his patients liked him and his treatment methods.

But others became suspicious during therapy sessions. Mr. Payne would often talk about his own life and not ask patients about theirs, the official said. He would also repeat exercises and worksheets in some of his sessions with little explanation, giving patients the sense that he had run out of ideas to treat them.

According to prosecutors, Mr. Payne and Ms. Tobierre-Desir worked at three locations: his main office in a large building in Brooklyn Heights, a smaller building in Prospect-Lefferts Gardens and the offices of a nonprofit based at Kings CountyHospital Center, one of the hospitals with which Mr. Payne claimed to be affiliated.

Mr. Payne’s relationship with the nonprofit, the Kings Against Violence Initiative, was unclear. The group did not respond to requests for comment on Friday.

According to the indictment, patients were referred to Mr. Payne by their doctors or friends, though it was unclear how Mr. Payne built his professional network.

Patients would then set up appointments by email or phone with Ms. Tobierre-Desir, who acted as Mr. Payne’s office manager for the six years covered in the indictment, prosecutors said.

As she set up appointments, Ms. Tobierre-Desir would tell patients that Mr. Payne, like many therapists, did not take insurance, according to the indictment. Patients were required to pay his fees out of pocket, either in cash or through electronic transfers.

When some of Mr. Payne’s patients, looking to file out-of-network claims with their insurance companies, asked her for a provider number or license information, she refused to give it, the indictment said. Then the sessions would taper off.

In a statement, Ms. Tobierre-Desir’s lawyers, Arthur A. Edwards and Rodney T. Doyle, suggested that she was not responsible for the operation.

“By all appearances, she herself was a victim of someone whom she trusted and with whom she had a relationship, albeit a tumultuous one,” they wrote.

Among Mr. Payne’s patients was a child under probation, according to the indictment. Mr. Payne repeatedly filed court-ordered paperwork on his behalf to the city’s Probation Department.

The department’s general counsel, Wayne McKenzie, said the patient was already being treated by Mr. Payne before he was put under probation. The department does not typically choose or pay for providers when courts order psychological services, he added..

Prosecutors began to interview some of Mr. Payne’s patients in April 2018, a spokesman for the Brooklyn district attorney’s office said.

Around the same time, the spokesman said, Mr. Payne fled New York, adopting aliases and changing his phone numbers and bank accounts. He spent time in Las Vegas before heading to Los Angeles, where he was recently arrested and extradited.

Mr. Chessa, Mr. Payne’s lawyer, disputed that his client was running from the charges, saying he left New York because of “family circumstances.”

Mr. Payne was ordered held on $100,000 bond or $50,000 bail and remained in custody as of Friday. Ms. Tobierre-Desir was arraigned in January and was released.

Michael Gold is a general assignment reporter on the Metro desk covering news in the New York City region. @migold

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