Is the Florida psychic case fraud, a business dispute or racism?

Federal prosecutors have indicted a Fort Lauderdale psychic advisor on 15 counts of conspiracy, fraud, money laundering and tax offenses, even after two prior attempts to charge her were rejected by federal magistrates and criticized as "shameful" and "slipshod." Prosecutors were forced to drop several federal charges and reduce the alleged financial losses -- and the remaining case could be tainted by the main complainant's close ties to police and a reasonable claim of anti-Roma bias.

The 62-year-old Romani psychic advisor has practiced for decades in upscale storefronts in Broward County and Manhattan, and through private arrangements. The Roma people, often called Gypsies, believe that many women have God-given psychic abilities like hers, she says. Using those abilities, Romani religious beliefs and common sense, she says, she helps clients add beneficial energy to the universe. Sincere religious beliefs could support a First Amendment defense.

At least one of the failed grand jury hearings, according to a federal magistrate, included testimony tarnished by anti-Romani stereotypes.

One client has even sworn in an affidavit that he wasn't swindled, despite paying her over $500,000 in 12 years. "I rely on her advice and counsel and believe it has enabled me to live a very productive life," he says. He also claims officers tried to pressure him into testifying for the prosecution.

In fact, among the troubling aspects of this case is that federal investigators admittedly visited a number of clients on multiple occasions, asserting that they had to "hit them on the head" to "break the spell they were under" before some of them agreed to file charges.

Prosecutors claim the psychic is a criminal mastermind over her family and should be held responsible for any illegalities the family committed. Eight family members have pled guilty to lesser charges, but none is expected to testify against her.

The federal charges are that she deprived clients of $25 million, $17 million of which came from a 17-year relationship with a best-selling romance novelist. However, the psychic says the novelist employed her -- at a high salary for exclusivity -- as a personal assistant and Romani cultural advisor for her books. Indeed, the novelist's accountant listed her fees as business expenses on tax returns.

The novelist also has disquieting financial ties to Fort Lauderdale police officers involved in the investigation, including loans and other payments nearing $50,000. A local prosecutor also helped her during an unrelated lawsuit.

"If you believe that someone waited 17 years to ask for their money back after paying $1 million a year, then my client maybe has a problem," her defense lawyer says. "We think it's a little late to ask for a refund."

Source: South Florida Sun-Sentinel, "Psychic fraud trial starts Monday, pits fortune teller against former clients," Paula McMahon, Aug. 25, 2013

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