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UW police investigates counselor who claimed Ph.D.

Monday, October 16, 2006

By RUTH TEICHROEB
P-I INVESTIGATIVE REPORTER

University of Washington police have seized the student records of a man known as a pre-eminent Native American psychologist in what is likely the first test of a new state law banning the use of false academic credentials

Detective Allen Beard said he obtained a search warrant to gain access to Terry Tafoya's academic records because the counselor had used a federal privacy law to block the release of his student information by the university.

A search warrant affidavit filed in King County District Court said Tafoya did not respond to a cease-and-desist letter sent to him in August by UW registrar Todd Mildon. The letter asked Tafoya to stop claiming he earned a doctorate in educational psychology in 1985.

"Tafoya has not complied with the demands of the letter and as of this writing is still advertising via the Tamanawit Web site that he holds a Ph.D. from the University of Washington," said the affidavit dated Sept.19.
As of Friday, the Web site for Tafoya's mental health consulting business, Tamanawit Unlimited, still listed a doctorate.

"This is an active investigation, and we are consulting with the fraud unit of the prosecutor's office," Beard said.

The new law, which took effect June 7, makes it a gross misdemeanor to knowingly falsify academic degrees. Issuing false degrees is a felony.

Tafoya did not respond to a request for comment last week.

Police launched the investigation after a Seattle P-I profile of Tafoya in late June revealed that the nationally known counselor had admitted in a legal deposition that he did not have a doctorate from the UW as he has claimed for years. He does have a 1974 master's degree in education and a 1975 master's degree in communication, according to UW job records.

Since creating Tamanawit in 1989, Tafoya has built a career as a charismatic speaker who appeared at up to 100 conferences and other events a year, most of them funded by public dollars.

He was on the board of the Kinsey Institute for Sex, Gender and Reproduction at Indiana University in June. Since then, Tafoya's name has been removed from the list of board members on the institute's Web site. The institute's director did not respond to a request for comment.

In the wake of questions about his credentials, a high-profile keynote speech by Tafoya to the 16th International Congress on Care of the Terminally Ill in Montreal in late September was canceled.

The state Board of Psychology Examiners reviewed whether Tafoya was violating state law by calling himself a psychologist. Tafoya has never been licensed by the state to treat clients as a psychologist or mental health counselor.

Department of Health investigator Dave Magby said last week that they found no evidence that Tafoya has used the title of "clinical psychologist" or treated patients, either of which would constitute "unlicensed practice." "If we received any evidence of that we would reopen our investigation," Magby said.

A member of Taos Pueblo contacted the P-I to complain that Tafoya had listed him on the Tamanawit Web site as a "contributor."

"He never had permission to do that," said Carpio Bernal, a well-known artist from Taos Pueblo. He said Tafoya hasn't responded to his request to be removed from the Web site.

Tafoya has claimed to be an enrolled member of Taos Pueblo, something tribal officials say is not true. Tafoya also said that his paternal grandfather was a member of the Bernal family -- which Carpio Bernal disputed.

"He's not a relative," Bernal said.

A member of the Skokomish Tribal Nation raised concerns about Tafoya's use of a family song in a video on the Tamanawit Web site.

Michael Pavel said his uncle Bruce Miller, a Skokomish tribal leader who died in February 2005, did not give Tafoya permission to record the "Canoe Welcome Song" or use it for his business.

Pavel also objected to Tafoya listing Miller as a "contributor" on his site and saying he had done workshops with Miller for 20 years. "I wouldn't say they collaborated to a large extent professionally," Pavel said.

Tafoya also has said his mother is from the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs in Central Oregon but doesn't explain he was "adopted" into her family as a college student.


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