TEMPLE TERRACE — The Florida Department of Health ordered the mayor of Temple Terrace to stop referring to herself as a psychologist and fined her $814 after an investigation found she is not a licensed health professional.
The department received a complaint about Mel Jurado in early October, days after the Tampa Bay Times reported that her Ph.D. in industrial psychology came from an unaccredited diploma mill that was shut down in 1996. A subsequent state investigation found that Jurado, 60, had described herself as an "industrial-organizational psychologist" on her website and in campaign materials.
"Per DOH records, Melody Jurado is not a licensed psychologist in the State of Florida," an investigator wrote in a cease and desist letter. The letter notes that practicing psychology without a valid license is prohibited by state law and constitutes a crime.
The department's warning followed a 49-page investigative report, which included the text of a complaint that a Temple Terrace resident made to the department on Oct. 12.
The complainant, whose name is redacted from the report, noted that Jurado had for years referred to herself as "Dr. Mel." Her Ph.D. came from LaSalle University, an unaccredited correspondence school in Louisiana which was raided by the FBI and shut down. She has also claimed to have two master's degrees in pscyhology and sports medicine from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. But the school's registrar's office said they have no record of her being awarded the sports medicine master's degree.
"The community recently became aware of Ms. Jurado's fraudulent credentials, and several people, including myself, are working to correct the misinformation she has been circulating about herself for two decades," the complainant wrote.
The complaint came with several pages, including material from Jurado's mayoral campaign website, in which she was listed as an "organizational psychologist."
On Nov. 26, Jurado visited the department's Tampa Investigative Services Office and gave a brief interview with two investigators, according to the report. She defended her use of the term "industrial organizational psychologist" and said she "was not subject to licensure if she did not participate in clinicals, social work, or Employee Assistance Programs." She also told the investigators that she participates in training and strategic planning.
The same day, the investigators gave Jurado the cease and desist letter. They also ordered her to pay a fine of $750, plus $64.46 in investigative costs. The cease and desist letter was first reported by WFLA-Ch. 8.
The discrepancies in Jurado's academic claims led some Temple Terrace residents to call for her resignation. Others voiced support for the mayor.
In a Sept. 13 interview with the Times, Jurado said she did not know that LaSalle University was unaccredited. She insisted she did the work to earn the Ph.D. and allowed reporters to look through her 460-plus page dissertation. She has since made no public comment about the matter, but she did remove the reference to the Ph.D. from her bio on the Temple Terrace website.
Editor's note: An earlier version of this story listed the incorrect amount of a fine paid by Mel Jurado.
Times Staff Writer Chris O'Donnell contributed to this report. Contact Dan Sullivan at firstname.lastname@example.org.