Recent psychic fraud trials in NY, Florida expose line between fortunetelling and the law


Recent psychic fraud trials in NY, Florida expose line between fortunetelling and the law

 via Associated Press

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NEW YORK (AP) — They’re in a mystical business with few guarantees, so perhaps anyone could foresee tension between psychics and the law.

In two prominent examples, self-declared clairvoyants were recently convicted of big-money scams in New York and Florida, where one trial featured a romance-writing titan as a victim. But beyond those cases is a history of legal wrestling over fortunetelling, free speech and fraud.

While the recent trials involved general fraud charges, numerous cities and states have laws banning or restricting soothsaying itself.

Authorities say they aim to distinguish between catering to people’s interest in the supernatural and conning them. Still, some psychics feel anti-fortunetelling laws are unfair to them and to people who believe seers have something to offer.

New York psychic Jesse Bravo decries seers who make impossible promises or press clients to consult, and pay, them frequently. “There are a lot of predators out there,” he says.

Why don't you remember this headline?

Why don’t you remember this headline?

But Bravo, an investment banker who moonlights as a medium, rues the disclaimer he’s compelled to give clients: Readings are for “entertainment only.” Unless solely for amusement, telling fortunes or using “occult powers” to give advice is a misdemeanor under New York state law.

“It’s a little insulting,” he says. “I believe in what I do, and the people who are coming to me believe in what I do. … But that’s OK — the state doesn’t have to believe in what I do.”

For all those who discount psychics, a 2009 survey for the Pew Research Center‘s Religion & Public Life Project found about one in seven Americans has consulted one.

Some visits evolve into extended — and expensive — relationships.

Best-selling historical-romance novelist Jude Deveraux paid psychic Rosa Marks about $17 million over 17 years, she testified at Marks’ recent federal fraud trial in West Palm Beach, Fla., according to newspaper reports. The psychic said she could transfer the spirit of Deveraux’s dead 8-year-old son into another boy’s body and reunite them, among other claims, the writer said.

“When I look back on it now, it was outrageous,” she testified. “I was out of my mind.”

Marks’ lawyer argued that Deveraux’s account was unreliable and that Marks was being blamed for some relatives’ confessed schemes.

Marks, based in New York and Florida, was found guilty and could get up to 20 years in prison on the top charge alone when sentenced this year.

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Two weeks later, a Manhattan jury convicted seer Sylvia Mitchell of bilking two clients out of tens of thousands of dollars. Mitchell linked their problems to past lives and “negative energy” and prescribed cures such as giving her five-figure sums “to hold,” according to testimony.

Mitchell’s lawyer said her psychic efforts were sincere, even if their effectiveness wasn’t proved — or disproved. She’s due to be sentenced this month, with the top charge carrying up to 15 years in prison.

A private investigator who specializes in such cases says they’re about proving clients were exploited, not about passing judgment on clairvoyancy.

In such cases, “you’re dealing with a confidence scheme,” says Bob Nygaard , who’s based in New York City and Boca Raton, Fla. “It becomes clear to you the script (the psychics) are following.”

Some states and communities have concluded fortunetelling is so rife with rip-offs that it should be regulated or prohibited, at least as a paid business.

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Jury finds ‘psychic’ Rose Marks guilty on all 14 fraud charges, faces possible 20 years in prison


Jury finds ‘psychic’ Rose Marks guilty on all 14 fraud charges, faces possible 20 years in prison

Average storefront palm-reader or psychic ringleader who bilked clients for millions? Fort Lauderdale psychic on trial photo
Rose Marks, a Fort Lauderdale woman who claims to be a psychic, waves to the media as she leaves the federal courthouse Tuesday Aug. 27, 2013 after the first day of her trial. (Lannis Waters/The Palm Beach Post)

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Family members hustle Rosie Marks, who was distraught after the conviction of her mother Rose Marks, into a car after the verdict Thursday afternoon, September 26, 2013.

Jury finds ‘psychic’ Rose Marks guilty on all 14 fraud charges, faces possible 20 years in prison photo
Family members hustle Rosie Marks, who was distraught after the fraud conviction of her mother Rose Marks, into a car after the verdict Thursday afternoon. (Lannis Waters/The Palm Beach Post)

By Jane Musgrave

Palm Beach Post Staff Writer

WEST PALM BEACH —

Even before the jury’s first guilty verdict was read, stifled sobs filled the courtroom. As the clerk repeated “guilty” 14 times, the quiet sobbing crescendoed.

“Psychic” Rose Marks turned to members of her family and put a finger to her lips, telling them to hush.

But it didn’t help.

Seeing the 62-year-old matriarch convicted of 14 fraud-related charges and immediately slapped in handcuffs on Thursday was too much for family members who were part of and benefited from the multi-million-dollar fortune-telling business that collapsed under the weight of a federal investigation.

Some reached out, trying to touch her. One threw a Bible. One called out to the lead investigator, mocking him. When they realized their beloved mother, grandmother and sister was about to walk through an open door and be taken to jail, shouts rang out.

“Mom, I love you!” one called. “Don’t be afraid!” yelled another.

“I’m not afraid,” Marks responded, as U.S. Marshals surrounded her. “I love you, too.”

The emotional end to the monthlong trial was not as unexpected as the verdict. When the trial began, cynics scoffed at the notion that a psychic could be charged with separating a fool and his money.

But, prosecutors methodically built a case, showing how Marks, her daughters-in-law and even her granddaughter preyed on broken people who came to their storefronts in midtown Manhattan and Fort Lauderdale to deal with tragedies life had handed them. Instead of solace or guidance, they told clients the only way out was to give them money — lots of it — with the promise it would one day be returned.

Instead, the psychics amassed a roughly $25 million fortune.

“I’ll be the voice of the victims. Justice has been served,” said Charles Stack, who began what appeared to be a quixotic investigation in 2008 before he retired from the Fort Lauderdale Police Department.

People understood the agony of those who trusted epic Ponzi schemers Scott Rothstein and Bernie Madoff, Stack said.

In many ways, Marks’ victims were more sympathetic. Unlike those who fell prey to Rothstein or Madoff, the psychic’s clients weren’t looking for money. “In this case, the victims were praying for hope, and hope is the unwavering belief in the unseen,” Stack said.

Stack, who said he understood why Marks’ family lashed out at him, is a hero to the victims, including best-selling romance novelist Jude Deveraux. He befriended the writer, helping her get over the shock of learning that her nearly 20-year relationship with Marks was a sham and she was unlikely to ever recover the $20 million she had given the psychic “to cleanse.”

“I’m glad she’s going to be taken off the streets and out of the business and she won’t hurt anyone else,” said Deveraux, 66, who splits her time between New York City and Southwest Ranches near Fort Lauderdale.

Deanna Wolfe, who lost nearly $1 million during her three-decade relationship with Marks, expressed mixed feelings about the verdict. “I don’t know if she started out meaning to do this or if the greed and the money just took over,” said Wolfe, 72, who lives in Virginia. “It’s a sad thing for everyone involved, including her family.”

Deveraux, who sought Marks’ help to deal with an abusive husband and the death of an 8-year-old son in a 2005 ATV accident, expressed no such ambivalence. “It was never a friendship,” she said. “There’s no sadness. None.”

Unlike other victims, she said she doesn’t care if she gets back any of the money she lost. Wolfe, who ran up huge credit card debts and borrowed money from a wealthy friend, said she is hopeful some of the money will be returned.

Attorney Fred Schwartz, who defended Marks, said the government seized all of Marks’ assets — including cars, a boat, motorcycles, jewelry, gold coins and a home near the Intracoastal Waterway. During the trial, he portrayed the victims as satisfied customers who were improperly convinced they were victims by Stack. He said he plans to appeal based on improper investigative procedures by government agents who he said kept key evidence from him.

He tried to prepare Marks for the possibility that, if convicted, she would be taken immediately to jail. He said she expects to die behind bars. While the punishment for the convictions on 14 charges carry a maximum punishment of roughly 250 years, realistically she faces of 10 to 15 years, he said.

“Rose believes that even with a 4- or 5-year sentence, given the wear and tear on her body from working since she was 8 or 9 years old, she would die in jail,” Schwartz said. During the trial she used a cane to deal with knee problems and experienced chest pains when the verdict was announced.

Her daughter and son-in-law, her two sons and their wives, her sister and granddaughter also each pleaded guilty to a charge of conspiracy to commit wire/mail fraud. They will be sentenced before Marks learns her fate on Dec. 9.


THE CHARGES

The 14 federal charges Rose Marks was convicted of on Thursday:

  • 1 count of conspiracy to commit mail/wire fraud
  • 1 count of conspiracy to commit money-laundering
  • 2 counts of mail fraud
  • 2 counts of money laundering
  • 6 counts of wire fraud
  • 2 counts of filing false income tax returns

 

Source: U.S. court documents.

Denver DA Arrests Psychics For Fraud, Going For Hat Trick


Denver DA arrests two psychics for fraud, going for hattrick
By idoubtit
Psychic parlor tricks and curses.

2 Psychics Arrested, 3rd Sought « CBS Denver.

One Denver psychic has been convicted of theft, a second was arrested this month in California and Denver prosecutors are still seeking to arrest a third psychic accused of convincing clients she was a “witch doctor.”

“In these cases, where after they’ve paid money for services rendered, they take additional money, I believe through theft and deception, through magic and things like that and then don’t give money back to the victims … that’s when we get involved,” said Stevenson.

Denver psychic Cathy Ann Russo is currently on probation after being pleading guilty last August to felony theft and misdemeanor theft. Over the course of five years, beginning in 2007, Russo conned a Hispanic man out of $35,250. according to court records.

She is still acting as a psychic, although when a CBS4 producer went to see her for a tarot card reading, she identified herself as “Miss Anna.”

Earlier this month, authorities in California arrested Denver psychic Isabel Costello on an arrest warrant for theft and conspiracy to commit theft issued by the Denver DA’s office.

They say the two women conned at least four victims out of thousands of dollars by convincing them their money was cursed, and the more money turned over to the psychics, the easier it would be to remove the curses.

In order to convince clients of their “powers”, they did things like making grapefruits bleed, tomatoes taste like salt and cracking eggs open revealing black yolks. Anyone have info on how these tricks worked?

The psychics took advantage of clients’ belief in black magic and curses.

When will ALL psychics who take money be able to be charged with fraud?