The Washington Post
Saturday, January 13, 2001

Fake Burn Expert Gets Probation for Lying in Court; 
Perjury Case Could Lead To
Prosecution Elsewhere
by Josh White, Washington Post Staff Writer

After years of testifying across the country as a self-professed expert on burn injuries, Gary S. Stocco will never again offer his opinions in a U.S. courtroom.

  Stocco -- the former executive director of the National Burn Victim Foundation -- was sentenced to 10 years' probation and ordered never to testify again after Prince William authorities uncovered a trail of fraud that they say stretches across several states. Stocco was convicted of perjury and obtaining money by false pretenses for trying to testify in a 1999 Prince William murder trial, using his fake credentials in an attempt to offer expert testimony for a fee.

   Stocco was also ordered to pay almost $8,000 in restitution to Casey Stevens, the lawyer who hired him as an expert, and to prosecutors.

  Stocco, 33, of New Jersey, had tried to testify in Prince William County that 2-year-old Sade Naomi Hatfield's scalding death was purely accidental, an opinion that was in stark contrast to a number of legitimate medical experts. Both of Hatfield's attackers were convicted in her death.

 Stocco's sentencing Thursday marked the end of the local case against a man authorities say has been repeatedly lying about his past, and it might set the stage for a number of other prosecutions. The New Jersey attorney general's office is investigating Stocco and his former organization, the National Burn Victim Foundation, and prosecutors said other states are opening inquiries into Stocco and his testimony.

  Although Stocco will do no jail time for falsifying his credentials, prosecutors said this week that they have put a stop to "a monster" who was diligently working to subvert the criminal justice system.

  "He was trying to take the truth and justice out of the system," said Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney Sandra Sylvester, who initiated the push to expose Stocco. "We were so offended that this guy was going to come in and take away the only thing we could give to Sade: the truth. We did this for Sade."

  According to court documents from Massachusetts, Ohio, Indiana and New Jersey, Stocco had been playing himself off as a highly qualified expert on burn injuries, testifying several times that he had extensive experience and education. In some cases Stocco was hired to gain convictions and in others he helped defendants go free.

  Prince William authorities who questioned Stocco's background learned that he did not have a college degree and had lied a number of times about his past, including claims that he had been a "state police officer" in New Jersey and that he investigated burn cases. Prince William detective Gary Gardiner discovered that Stocco instead had patrolled parking lots and had no experience with burn investigations.

  "It's really dangerous what he was capable of doing," Gardiner said after the sentencing. "I'm glad I was in a position to put a stop to it. People need to come to court and tell the truth."

  Stocco's attorney, David Shertler, said after the hearing that his client was not motivated by his witness fees but instead was compelled by a selfish need to bolster his own resume. Shertler said Stocco "appreciates the fact that what he did was wrong and appreciates the seriousness of it."

  "This was a mistake that he made in life," Shertler said. "He was somewhat insecure about his credentials and wanted to embellish himself."

  Woodbridge lawyer Stevens, who hired Stocco in 1999 as an expert, said he finds Stocco's actions "personally and professionally offensive."

 "The scary thing is that it threatens our trust in the system," Stevens said. "If people lose faith in the system, it can't work at all."