DICKINSON -- A forged Ph.D. diploma. A transcript purchased on the Internet.
Those were the only qualifications Michelle Weiss needed to treat mentally disabled patients and teach college classes locally for two years.
Weiss, 44, was admitted to the Broome County Correctional Facility this Tuesday on first-degree perjury charges after a nearly decade-long string of elaborate lies and falsifications that went undetected by public agencies.
According to the state Investigator General's office, Weiss began working as a psychologist at the Broome Developmental Disabilities Services Office in 2002.
Although she claimed to have a doctorate from a prestigious university, her only actual qualification was a bachelor's degree in psychology.
"The office's investigation determined that Weiss falsely stated on her application that she received a doctoral degree from the University of California at Berkeley," the Inspector General's report states. "A document purporting to be a Berkeley transcript submitted by Weiss ... proved to be fraudulent."
According to the report, the state Office for People with Developmental Disabilities hired her as a psychologist in 2002 to work at the Broome office. She was promoted to "Psychologist II" six months later.
A Psychologist II "works with individuals receiving services that present the more complex behavioral and/or mental health problems and may provide administrative supervision to lower-level psychology staff," according to the state Department of Civil Service. The minimum qualification is a master's degree.
Also in 2002, the investigation report states, Weiss used her falsified credentials in a successful application for a part-time teaching position at Broome Community College.
Finally, a fellow employee tipped off the state Investigator General's office, and the agency confronted Weiss.
"When interviewed by this office, Weiss admitted her actions and stated that she only possessed a bachelor's degree in psychology. She further admitted purchasing the forged transcript and diploma on the Internet," the investigation report states.
After resigning from OPWDD, Weiss was fired by the college.
Process in place
Herm Hill, an OPWDD spokesman, said he was unable to answer questions about how many times the agency has discovered an employee was hired using false credentials. He also couldn't say whether the hiring process has changed since Weiss was hired in 2002.
"We work very carefully to check qualifications of people and to hire the most qualified individuals we possibly can for these positions," he said. "The agency works very hard and diligently to make sure that the qualifications for our staff are correct."
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According to Hill, all new employees appointed to a position requiring a degree are required to produce an original diploma or a certified transcript. This process, he admitted, is not infallible.
"Obviously, it could happen," he said. "But there's a process in place."
Rich David, spokesman for Broome Community College, characterized Weiss' falsifications as an "isolated incident."
"In this particular case, the individual went through great lengths to falsify those documents -- as far as to recreate the letterhead (and) the seal ...," David said.
He said BCC doesn't believe this has happened before or since.
Although the state Inspector General's office reported Weiss was hired by BCC in 2002, David said the college only has records indicating she was a part-time, adjunct instructor at the college in the spring semester of 2004.
The college does not always contact the degree-granting agency to check the veracity of transcripts and diplomas, he said, adding the college has hundreds of adjunct professors.
"References were checked, but in this particular situation, this is somebody who essentially went to extremes to craft false credentials," he said. "This is the first time that I've heard of someone actually flying across the country in order to make sure that the postmark on the envelope matched the city of the institution."
Brian Jeker, who married Weiss in 1997 and filed for divorce in 2003, said he never doubted her story.
"The day I met her, she told me she had a Ph.D. in psychology from Berkeley," he said. "And of course, when you meet somebody and they tell you that, you believe it."
Jeker said Weiss, who grew up in Ohio, originally took jobs that did not require a Ph.D. when the couple arrived in Broome County, including a grants writer for SUNY-Cortland and a supervisor at a day care.
The couple had two children together, a daughter born in 1998 and a son born in 2000.
After Jeker filed for divorce in 2003, he said, Weiss' behavior began to change.
Weiss twice tried to falsely implicate Jeker in physical assaults between 2005 and 2007, according to a custody order issued by the state Supreme Court Appellate Division in October 2010.
In October 2005, Weiss cut her own lip with a box cutter, hired a man to strike her face and paid two other women to give false testimony to police that Jeker had assaulted her, according to the court order.
The charges were dropped when the two hired witnesses -- who originally agreed to supply false testimony for $500 each, according to statements they later filed with police -- came forward as the trial approached.
Although Weiss' accusations were untrue, the couple's 5-year-old child was subjected to interviews with police and social services during the investigation.
Then, in June 2007, Weiss accused Jeker of shoving her in Brooklyn, according to court documents.
Jeker said he was arrested and required to travel to New York City one weekend every month for a year for court proceedings as a result of the 2007 accusations, even though he had pictures of himself at the Broome County Air Show and receipts proving he was not in Brooklyn.
Jeker said he filed a federal lawsuit and eventually reached a settlement with the city.
In the course of three custody trials, two criminal trials and at least seven visitation trials, Jeker said, he has spent more than $50,000 in legal fees.
Although he filed for and eventually won sole legal custody of his children in July 2007, Jeker said he feels the divorce and custody system is weighted too heavily in favor of whoever makes the accusations.
"It's really unbelievable the extent that she's gone through to do these things, and there's been no recourse," he said. "Everything was totally based on the fact that she was allowed to say something and everybody jumped."
Broome County District Attorney Gerald Mollen, through a secretary, declined to comment on the case.