And so it was remarkable that on Monday, fortune teller Rose Marks, pictured, second from right, found herself on trial for allegedly organizing an elaborate $25 million fraud in which clientele gave her millions in "gifts" and loans, according to the South Florida Sun Sentinel. Marks, 62, was no ordinary $20 palm reader either. With her family members, she operated shops in Fort Lauderdale and New York City and had an impressive client list, including Jude Deveraux, the 65-year old romance novelist and author of 37 New York Times best-sellers.
Deveraux has said she alone lost $20 million and that Marks, who calls herself a spiritual advisor and clairvoyant, preyed on Deveraux's problems, including the death of her son, and difficulty having children, according to ABC News.
In speaking to ABC News, Marks's attorney Fred Schwartz says his client claims psychic powers have run in her family for over 1,500 years. Marks adamantly has denied the charges. "I gave my life to these people. We're talking about clients of 20 years, 30 years, 40 years. We're not talking about someone I just met and took all their money and ran off," she said, claiming she helped Deveraux write some of her novels. "I was her inspiration and gave her insight on Romani mysticism." Marks said she charged her $1 million a year in exchange for giving up her other clients to focus on Deveraux.
According to authorities, Marks and her relatives instructed clients that they needed to make "sacrifices" in the form of payments so their problems could be resolved. Clients were also told they needed to lend the seers money and jewelry so their objects could be used in rituals, even though the clients say their personal property was never returned, according to a complaint filed by the U.S. Attorney's office.
In the U.S. Attorney's complaint, Marks and her fellow seers were depicted as seeking out "emotionally vulnerable, fragile ... or gullible" clients. And once they had their clients, Marks and her fellow fortune tellers employed a number of tactics, according to the complaint:
- Telling clients "curses" had been hurting their families for centuries, sometimes because their ancestors were witches;
- Instructing clients they had to get rid of their money because it was "the root of all evil;"
- Refusing to refund payments of gold coins when promises like stopping voices inside a client's head went unfulfilled because only "Michael the Archangel" knew where the coins were located.
The government's investigation has been riddled with problems. Schwartz, Marks's lawyer, has accused the investigators of approaching former clients of Marks to tell them they'd been cheated, and if they helped the lawsuit, they could get their money back. Finally, one client who was originally listed as a "victim" by the government filed a sworn affidavit saying he had not been cheated, but was in fact a satisfied client, as ABC reported.
Marks's family members have all agreed to plea bargains for lesser charges. But in speaking to the Sun Sentinel at the opening of the trial earlier this week, Schwartz defended Marks. He said his client is the victim of racial bias because of her Roma background. And he says Marks's former clients are just suffering from "buyer's remorse."
Seeking advice from a fortune teller is a huge phenomenon in America; one out of seven Americans said they have visited a fortune teller or psychic in their lives in a landmark Pew Study from 2009. And there's a lot of money at stake; fortune tellers can "easily" make $200,000 to $300,000 a year, as Gregory Ovanessian, former San Francisco police detective and director of the National Association Association of Bunco Investigators, which focuses on non-traditional organized crime, recently told the Broward Palm Beach New Times.
Correction: This post previously said that there were no laws against fortune tellers. That was an error. Some localities, including New York state, do have bans on the books against fortune telling.