Tip: Therapist used high school student to sell drugs to ‘half the school’

A former therapist has been sanctioned by the state for allegedly using a minor to sell illegal drugs at a high school in central Iowa.

According to state records, Joni Hunley, 50, of Des Moines, had worked for Woodward Community Based Services, a counseling service owned by Sequel Care Company since 2017. While working for WCBS, Hunley provided counseling services therapy to middle and high school students in central Iowa.

Last August, WCBS filed a lawsuit alleging Hunley provided marijuana to a student customer. WCBS conducted an investigation which found that Hunley violated multiple laws and standards by engaging with a client outside of therapy, selling marijuana to a minor, and breaking boundaries between herself, as a therapist and a client.

Hunley was fired, and WCBS filed a complaint with the Iowa Board of Social Work regarding Hunley’s relationship with the student. In October, according to council records, the student told police she started seeing Hunley for therapy when she was in seventh grade, in 2015 or 2016. For several years, the student has continued to see Hunley for therapy, although there were no records. maintained from any therapy session once the girl entered high school in 2018.

The student alleged that in ninth grade, she started smoking marijuana with Hunley outside of school, sometimes at Hunley’s home, according to board records.

In the second semester of her ninth year, Hunley allegedly instructed the student to begin delivering marijuana to established “drug users,” according to board records. Hunley reportedly provided the student with a car to use to make deliveries and collect payment for the drugs.

Hunley’s relationship with the student escalated the summer before the girl’s sophomore year, according to council records, when the student allegedly began selling marijuana to her own friends at Hunley’s behest. The student told police she sold marijuana to her friends and “half the school” she attended, according to council records. (The school is not identified in publicly available council records.)

In August 2021, the student was hospitalized after an overdose of illegal drugs and told her sister about the relationship she had with Hunley, sparking the complaint to WCBS, according to council records.

As part of the police investigation, authorities reviewed text messages between Hunley and the student that appeared to discuss transporting and selling drugs.

Contacted by police, Hunley denied smoking marijuana with the student or asking the student to sell marijuana, according to the social work board. However, she admitted to having a non-therapeutic relationship with the student, saying the girl helped her with a yard sale and once drove her to a funeral.

After the Board of Social Work filed disciplinary charges against Hunley, a closed hearing was held in May at which Hunley refused to appear.

The board found that while Hunley denied all drug-related allegations, text messages she sent to the student documented discussions about “amount of marijuana sold, money owed, transaction costs , among other things… The evidence establishes that (Hunley) provided illegal drugs to the student and then recruited the student to participate in the buying and selling of illegal drugs.

The council said Hunley’s actions were “totally inappropriate” and illegal and had put both the student and the general public at risk. The board then voted to revoke Hunley’s license in Iowa as an independent social worker.

There are no public records of criminal charges filed against Hunley in connection with the alleged drug sales. Hunley could not be reached for comment.