Like a victim in one of her best selling romance novels, Jude Devereaux was distraught, lonely and "days away from suicide" when the hero came to her rescue.
Devereaux, a princess of the publishing world with more than 50 million copies of her books printed was victimized by fortune telling con artists who fleeced her out of $20 million over a span of 17 years, according to a detective and court documents.
They preyed on Devereaux's fears stemming from her turbulent marriage, difficulty in getting pregnant and then the death of her cherished son.
"Jude was threatened, she was held almost hostage," said Fort Lauderdale Detective Charles Stack who tracked down Deveraux to a hotel room. "When we found her, she had practically no money left to her name."
Romance Novelist Jude Devereaux's Hero Is a Real Life Detective
"He is the true hero in all of this," Deveraux said of Stack in an email to ABCNews.com. "When he found me—after much searching—I was in a hotel room, days away from suicide. No made-up hero in any of my romantic novels is as great as Charlie is. [He] has saved a lot of us from what the gypsies did to us."
The image of a terrified and nearly broke woman is a far cry from the photo of a smiling and perfectly coiffed blonde hair and blue-eyed author on her website. Deveraux is an internationally successful author who has written more than 50 romance novels, 37 of which have been New York Times best-sellers.
Deveraux lost "close to $20 million or more" to the 17 year long con, Stack said. The alleged scam ended with an investigation that authorities have dubbed "Operation Crystal Ball."
Stack said that Deveraux is one of between 15 and 18 victims of the family of fraudulent psychics—so far. He has a list of other potential victims that he spends his days trying to contact and worries about whether other victims may even have committed suicide.
For Deveraux, her path to isolation in a hotel room was a long one that began by chance in 1991 when she walked into a psychic parlor in New York, right next to the Plaza Hotel. Troubled by a turbulent marriage and pregnancy difficulties, Deveraux was looking for someone to help her. There, she met a woman who she believed was named Joyce Michael.
For the next 17 years, Deveraux would trust that Michael was her confidant, friend and someone who could solve her problems. Instead, "Joyce Michael," whose real name according to court documents is Rose Marks, would become the source of pain, deception and fraud while trapping Deveraux with threats and the promise of hope.
Marks, 60, is the matriarch in a family of nine who police say were involved in the swindling scheme, eight of whom were arrested last week. Police are still searching for one family member. A tenth person, Peter Wolofsky was also arrested for allegedly laundering money on the family's behalf.
For 20 years, the family has been telling customers that "money is the root of all evil," according to an indictment released Aug. 16, convincing people to hand over huge sums of money, jewelry and other valuable items that needed to be "purged" before being returned.
"Rose tells me that she and her family believe that they have a gift to heal people," said Fred Schwartz, Rose Marks' attorney. "I don't suggest they didn't profit from their business. Their business was to help people." He compares the situation to people giving money to churches or therapists.