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University-Affiliated Piano Teacher John Stonko Accused of Fraud

By Molly Davis Posted: 02/21/2012
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A Fox 5 investigation released last Wednesday revealed that a former Emory Continuing Education (CE) piano instructor used Emory’s practice facilities for private lessons despite no longer being involved in the CE program. In addition, he allegedly falsified his credentials and claimed to be involved with a charity organization for which he was soliciting donations, according to the report.

The video of the investigation showed the Fox 5 reporter following John Stonko through the Burlington Road Building, telling Stonko he is doing a feature on Stonko’s American Piano Academy. In what the newscast calls a “sting,” the reporter then asks Stonko “Why are you lying to your students?” at which point Stonko begins walking away. Stonko then states, “You are not to be in this building,” to which the reporter replies, “Are you to be in this building, sir?”

According to Kevin Karnes, associate professor and chair of the music department, Stonko was a music instructor for the CE program, previously known as Emory Lifelong Learning.

While serving as an instructor for the CE program, Stonko was permitted to use Emory’s practice space, Karnes explained. The Fox 5 report indicates Stonko’s course was canceled last fall but that he continued to use Emory’s facilities for his private lessons, which he taught at $80 per hour.

Stonko wrote in an email to the Wheel that he developed and taught the Adult Piano Courses for CE and a few Music Theory and Music History classes from 1996 until November of 2010.

“The piano courses, as evidenced by their longevity, were quite popular and well-attended,” Stonko wrote. “My credentials were vetted at the time I began teaching the classes.”

William Ransom, professor and director of piano studies, explained he first heard about Stonko several years ago when faculty members reported seeing someone teaching in the Burlington Road Building who they did not recognize and who was not supposed to be there.

After doing some research, Ransom said he found out that Stonko had been teaching as part of the CE program and did not pursue the issue further until he was approached by one of Stonko’s former students last year.

Ransom said the student complained that Stonko was representing himself as an Emory faculty member and that he was still teaching piano lessons at Emory.

Following this phone call, Ransom alerted Music Department faculty members to call the police if they saw Stonko on campus.

The report mentioned Stonko’s claims that he is a managing director of the American Piano Academy, which the newscast says does not exist. Stonko, according to the investigation, edited himself over a musician in a picture of a New Hampshire acoustical folk band and posted it on the Academy’s website, claiming the photo included the organization’s executive committee.

The website states that the American Piano Academy “provides high-calibre [sic], extraordinary piano and keyboard instruction for all ages.”

Stonko also displayed certification by the National Association of Music Teachers in his bio, but the newscast said that he has not been certified and that the group has contacted Stonko numerous times to ask him to remove the symbol of accreditation.

Ransom said that he is glad to see an investigation into the matter.

“When this recent article came up, I was delighted and kind of amused to see it getting publicity,” Ransom said.

He said he was surprised, however, that neither he nor Karnes were contacted by the local news station about the story.

The Fox 5 investigation explains that Stonko’s attorney has denied Stonko’s claims that he received a Ph.D. from Emory. The video also depicts Stonko stating that he teaches college classes at Emory.

Furthermore, in the newscast, Stonko is shown discussing a charity he claims to have started, which he refers to as the Piano Orphanage Project. The site solicited donations of up to $160,000 and boasts grants from large companies such as The Home Depot, according to the news report. Fox 5 noted The Home Depot has denied this claim. Though Stonko states in the video that the site is not active, the website listed partners and contributors and contained a link for people to donate through PayPal, the report says. Also, in the undercover portion of the newscast, Stonko says the Piano Orphanage Project is an active charity.
Stonko wrote that he has not seen the video of the report.

“I have been told that the piece done by the station was presented and edited to be sensationalized and salacious, although I’ve not personally seen it,” Stonko wrote in an email to the Wheel. “People who have seen it and know me said it was an unfairly presented. It’s pretty simple; I’m just a piano teacher.” 

Reactions to the allegations against Stonko varied.

“I was saddened to hear that a former Emory employee had tried to take advantage of members in our community,” Karnes wrote.

Ransom said he was amused.

“I laughed,” he said. “[Stonko] is such a charlatan.”

Nancy Seideman, associate vice president of communications and executive director of media relations, wrote in an email to the Wheel, “At this time, Emory is not planning to take legal action against Mr. Stonko, either on behalf of the institution or in conjunction with Mr. Stonko’s students. Emory is not in a position to give an opinion as to whether Mr. Stonko has violated any laws.”

Members of Emory’s music department, however, are investigating options for securing access to the Burlington Road Building facilities by implementing card-reader technology, Karnes wrote. He added that the music department is “working to ensure more robust communications” between the music department and CE.

“We will help with further investigations however it might be needed,” Karnes wrote.

— Contact Molly Davis.

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