Education

Picayune police investigating woman who admitted forging diplomas

Picayune police are investigating the headmaster of Christian Academy of Picayune to determine if any criminal charges will be brought against the woman, who parents say took thousands of dollars of tuition in exchange for a bogus diploma.

The school closed a little more than a week ago, not long after Candice Downey admitted in a letter to parents she had forged the signature of Pearl River County schools superintendent Alan Lumpkin on the diplomas of graduating seniors.

Downey also told parents the school was accredited, though the Mississippi Department of Education has no record of the school.

The case is now in the hands of police, who are seeking additional information from the parents, District Attorney Hal Kittrell said. Downey could be charged with forgery or false pretense, depending on where the investigation heads, he said.

Credentials in question

Downey also may have given false information to parents about her education and job experience.

On her LinkedIn page, which is an online resume, Downey claims she has a doctorate from the University of New Orleans. However, a UNO official who verifies degrees said Tuesday there are no records of her.

The LinkedIn page also claims Downey is a licensed professional counselor in two specialties, represented by the acronyms LPC and LMFT next to her name. Licensed professional counselors are trained in mental-health diagnosis and counseling. Licensed marriage and family therapists counsel couples and families.

Having a LPC or LMFT in one’s title means the person is licensed to practice psychology.

Downey claims on the profile she has been a psychologist on the Gulf Coast since 2014. However, her name does not appear on a search of the Mississippi State Board of Psychology’s license database. The license is required by law to practice in the state.

Parents say Downey’s credentials were one of the main reasons they allowed their kids to attend the academy.

“She was addressed as Dr. Candice inside and outside of school,” said Amanda Smith Wilson, whose two sons attended the school. “She told us she had a doctor’s degree in psychology. She’s even done therapy sessions with my oldest son.

“When I told her my youngest son has ADHD, she told me she knew how to work with kids with disabilities because she has a doctorate.”

Restitution

After news broke of the fraudulent diplomas, Downey said she was cooperating with authorities and making arrangements to pay parents back.

“I don’t know why I did it,” Downey told the Sun Herald earlier this month. “It’s really a bad situation. I don’t understand how it happened.”

Wilson said she payed $1,500 in tuition. She calculated $1,000 more for graduation fees, supplies and gas.

She said she hasn’t heard back from Downey, even after leaving repeated voicemail and text messages on her phone.

Pamela Quinlan’s daughter Shea Garland attended the school for two months.

“I believe in order to bring some form of healing to these children that have been affected so greatly, we must provide a sense of justice,” Quinlan said.

Justin Vicory: 228-896-2326, @justinvicory

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