Star-Ledger Newark, NJ
Tuesday, June 20, 2000
foundation exec faces perjury counts -
Virginia says he lied about his
by William T. Quinn and David Ress, Star-Ledger Staff
Stocco, the executive director of the National Burn Victim
will be arraigned today in a circuit court in Manassas, Va.,
charges that he lied about his professional background while
there at a murder trial last year.
Stocco plans to plead not guilty, said David Schertler, one of his
Stocco has acknowledged listing two degrees from the University of San
an institution that has been identified as a diploma mill, among
credentials, but insists he never lied about his background.
"We're still in the dark about exactly where they think Gary
According to John Bear, a leading expert on nontraditional
a diploma mill sells degrees to all comers. Bear said the
of San Moritz has no physical campus. He said it once had an
in Switzerland and a mail drop in London.
Stocco, a 32-year-old West Orange resident, surrendered to Prince
County authorities and his bail was set at $10,000 with a 10
cash option. He posted the bail yesterday, said Schertler, who
the case to be scheduled for trial in the fall.
Paul Ebert, the Commonwealth Attorney for Prince William County, would
elaborate on the perjury charges except to say that, in Virginia,
law says perjury occurs if a person says two different and
things under oath. He said, however, that the perjury charge
what Stocco said in Virginia.
Ebert said that since Stocco had testified in a number of cases in
states, there would be extensive discovery. "We looked at cases
well beyond the boundaries of the Commonwealth of Virginia," he
Ebert said he was only concerned about Stocco's alleged perjury, not
burn victim foundation itself.
"Usually, you've got two people, one says there were shots, the
there weren't . . . this is an important case because it's about
expert witness," Ebert said.
"The whole system relies on experts. Juries, judges, prosecutors
be able to know they are credible," he said.
Foundation officials have backed Stocco in his current legal troubles,
he has continued to act as its executive director. The Virginia
surfaced two weeks ago when Stocco was arrested at his office by
Township police on a fugitive warrant a day after he was
"We believe the charges are false and will collapse of their own
Howard Sarrett, a vice president of the foundation and a member
its executive board, said after Stocco's arrest.
In the Virginia case in which Stocco testified last year, a couple
on trial for allegedly scalding a 21/2-year-old girl and causing
death. Stocco agreed to testify as a defense witness and was grilled
the trial attorneys about his background. In the end, the trial judge
to approve him as an expert and he was not allowed to testify.
"Most expert witnesses pull their qualifications to an extent,"
"I believe he went beyond that and that's the allegation."
Virginia prosecutors and lawyers say they've never heard of
an expert witness for perjury. Perjury is tough to prove in
law, they said. And most prosecutors are inclined to let such
ends lie after a case is decided, they said.
"It must have really stuck in Paul's craw," said R. Creigh
legislator and former prosecutor who now practices law in the
Blue Ridge Mountains region.
Deeds said Virginia prosecutors have been talking for at least a
about the need to look more closely at experts' expertise and
testimony. But he and other defense lawyers say they haven't
of any concerted effort to crack down by prosecuting experts.
Stocco's educational background, according to attorney Lawrence Coven,
represented him immediately after his arrest, includes bachelor's
master's degrees obtained from the University of San Moritz,
as a diploma mill in a 1999 book by Bear.
Coven said Stocco legitimately earned the degrees from the University
San Moritz. "These were not purchased degrees," he said. "There
According to a transcript of Stocco's testimony in the Virginia
case last year, he said that he did not have any university
at that time but had been working toward a master's and
degree at the Columbia State University in Louisiana.
In an interview, Bear called Columbia another diploma mill, selling
until it was shut down by the Federal Bureau of Investigation
a year and a half ago. Once it disappeared, he said, many degree
turned to the University of San Moritz.
Efforts to reach the university at a telephone number in the New York
have been unsuccessful.