WAFF 48 Investigates: Controversy over counselor's credentials

A woman who testified as an expert in a child custody case apparently does not hold the credentials she claims.
A woman who testified as an expert in a child custody case apparently does not hold the credentials she claims.

HUNTSVILLE, AL (WAFF) - A woman who testified as an expert in a child custody case apparently does not hold the credentials she claims. On top of that, she's been paid with your tax dollars to do work in cases for the state.

Our investigation began when a parent contacted us following an ugly custody battle.

"Almost all my rights have been removed. I see my children every other Sunday for three hours," said Tina Berryman.

The fight over custody played out in a Colbert County courtroom in 2012.

Angel Gieske took the stand as an expert witness in behavioral therapy and analysis.

Our cameras were not in the courtroom then, but we obtained transcripts of testimony in front of Judge Jacqueline Hatcher.

Angel Gieske testified that she's a clinical behavioral specialist. Throughout proceedings, Angel Gieske is referred to as Dr. Gieske.

Gieske said she was hired to counsel the Berryman children by the ex-husband right after the divorce and after two private counseling sessions with the children. All parties were then court-ordered by Judge Hatcher to attend co-parenting counseling with Gieske.

In the transcripts we obtained, Gieske described the mental state of Tina Berryman for the judge. Gieske said, "Her pattern of behaviors is congruent to cluster-b personality disorder."

She went on to explain that "the disorder is associated with dramatic, emotional and erratic behavior."

Berryman's Attorney objects, saying, "Ms. Gieske's involvement has nothing to do with any mental or behavioral diagnosis of either one of the parents. She is not a psychologist."

However, Judge Hatcher still allows her testimony.

Gieske continues by saying "although the DSM4 is the manual utilized by psychologists, it is also used by counselors, family counselors, school counselors, just anyone in the field of mental health or behavioral health."

The only problem with that statement is Giekse isn't licensed as any of these in the state of Alabama, and that is where this gets really interesting.

"You can do anything until somebody finds out you're not licensed," said Berryman.

Starting with the title doctor, on the stand Angel Gieske claimed she received a doctorate in rehabilitation behavioral analysis and therapy from Southern Illinois University in Carbondale.

WAFF contacted the university; in a short statement officials verified that "Gieske never attended the university and therefore does not have a degree of any kind from the institution."

We then contacted the Alabama Board of Examiners in Counseling; officials did confirm that Gieske is not licensed but as is standard practice, would neither confirm nor deny an investigation. They added that specific action against an unlicensed counselor would come in the form of a cease and desist notice.

However, our questions are not the first into Ms. Gieske's credentials.

Across state lines, the Tennessee Board of Examiners in Psychology fined Gieske more than $9,050 in 2005 for posing and practicing as a psychologist without a license for a period of two years.

Gieske did not contest the board's findings and paid the fine according to documents WAFF obtained. Those same documents indicate Gieske conducted psychological evaluations, offered clinical diagnosis and signed reports with the title 'Psychologist' while presenting herself as a licensed psychologist to clients, government agencies, and the public at Turning Leaf Counseling and Education Services.

According to the Tennessee Secretary of State, Angel Gieske is the registered agent of Turning Leaf Counseling and Education Services in Loretto, Tennessee.

We weren't able to find a company website and every number listed for it was disconnected.

The Secretary of State lists the business at a home address in Loretto, so we made the drive and quickly realized the address doesn't exist.

With more digging, we found another address but there too, we ran into a dead end.

There's yet another twist to Angel Gieske's story.

In the case of Tina Berryman, Gieske was hired privately to work with the children.

However, we discovered Gieske has actually worked with other children in cases through the Department of Human Resources in six counties.

Her company Turning Leaf was listed as an approved vendor under Medicaid and the company has collected more than $864,000 of taxpayer money since 2006.

DHR'S Spokesperson, Barry Spear, sat down for an interview from Montgomery.

"October, we looked into information and had some email exchanges with them (Board of Psychology) and determined that the documentation (regarding Ms. Gieske) was not accurate. So we sent out a letter to our county directors and told them to cease using her services. She is no longer a vendor for the department," said Spear.

DHR provided WAFF with all the licenses, degrees and even a transcript from Southern Illinois University where she claimed she graduated with a perfect 4.0 GPA.

Again, the university has no record of her attendance.

WAFF asked DHR, how was she vetted? How is anyone who wants to be a counselor involved for DHR vetted?

"There's a resource person at every county office and they have procedures to look at that information and make determinations on whether it's accurate. They can call the universities and schools if they have suspicions that it may not be valid, if that had been done then we might have known," added Spear.

WAFF asked, maybe that would have just taken one phone call by DHR to find out, especially when we are talking about children here?

"It's possible and that is something the counties are going to look into doing but it's not been a problem and i am not aware of this happening any other time. Typically when they give us documentation, they give us ones that are accurate because there are laws against presenting fraudulent documents," said Spear.

Spear said the state of Tennessee would not have contacted DHR about a counselor that they were using.

Spear added that no background check was done on Gieske and that DHR only conducts checks on their employees, not outside vendors.

He couldn't provide a number of how many DHR cases Gieske has worked on since 2006, saying that's not something they track.

He said in every case, multiple social workers and providers assist with children so Gieske would not have had sole say-so over cases but she would have given recommendations.

Spear confirmed Gieske did testify in DHR cases involving terminating parental rights.

"I will fight, I will appeal it, I will never stop, I will never sit down and be quiet about it because if it's happening to me, it's happening to others," added Berryman.

"This is certainly something we (DHR) are not happy with, we do wish that we would have known ahead of time that she was not qualified as she said she was. It is going to open our eyes to look a little closer to some people. Our job is to protect children and that is our number one goal to do whatever we can to make sure children are safe," added Spear.

DHR is contacting District Attorneys in each county where this woman provided counseling to see if they can pursue charges against her.

As for Angel Gieske, after our many attempts to reach out to her, we didn't hear from her until she saw the story's promos airing.

But even after several emails, calls, and texts, she declined to comment.

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