Aug. 17, 2011 -- Misfortune has fallen upon a family of fortune tellers in Florida and New York who have been charged with swindling $40 million over the past 20 years from customers looking to cure illnesses, end spells of bad luck or mend broken relationships.
Since 1991, the family has been telling customers that "money is the root of all evil," according to an indictment released Tuesday, convincing people to hand over huge sums of money, jewelry and other valuables that needed to be "purged" before being returned.
And for 20 years, the alleged scheme worked.
The indictment claims the family amassed a Florida home, a yacht and over $1.8 million in gold coins. The rundown also identifies 14 cars—including four Mercedes Benz, a BMW, a Rolls Royce and a Bentley. Two Harley Davidson motorcycles were also part of the loot list.
Fortune Telling Fraud Netted $40 Million, Cops Charge
The Florida relatives arrested Tuesday were Rose Marks, 60; Cynthia Miller, 33; Rosie Marks, 36; Vivian Marks, 21; Michael Marks 33; and Donnie Eli, 38. In New York, Nancy Marks, 42, and Ricky Marks, 39, were arrested on Tuesday.
Police, who dubbed their investigation "Operation Crystal Ball," are still searching for family member Victoria Eli, 65, who lives in both Florida and New Jersey. A co-conspirator named Peter Wolofsky, 84, was also arrested. Wolofsky was charged with laundering money on behalf of the family through his own business.
The family members are all related either by blood or marriage and many used false names in their practices.
The 61-count indictment includes charges of conspiracy, mail fraud, wire fraud and money laundering.
The allegedly fraudulent psychics performed Tarot card readings, palm reading, astrology readings, numerology readings and spiritual readings.
The indictment alleges that the family "told clients that they and their family members or friends would contract terrible diseases, suffer horrible financial hardships, and endure terrible catastrophes, and that loved ones who were already sick would not recover, and that their lives would remain haunted by evil spirits if they did not cleanse their money of those evil spirits."
Fortune Teller Family Fortune Was Illegal, Cops Say
Identifying victims only with initials, the indictment tells the story of several scenarios where people were taken advantage of.
In one instance, a woman identified as L.B. was told by Nancy Marks that she had to purchase a Cartier watch. Once L.B. bought the watch, Marks told her that "she needed to work on the watch to turn back time and bring love back to L.B." She turned over the watch on a promise she would get it back after the work was done, but never got the watch back.
In another scam, an alleged victim identified as S.K. told Cynthia Miller that he was hearing voices in his head due to extreme stress. Miller told him that she would speak with Michael the Archangel to find out what S.K. needed to do, and the alleged message was that S.K. needed to make sacrifices, "The sacrifice called for 32 gold coins because S.K. was 32 years old and [Miller] needed a gold coin for each year S.K. did not have faith." S.K. gave Miller $400,000 in gold coins.
Numerous other scenarios involve alleged family curses, some as old as 250 years, that could only be remedied by cleansing of money and valuables.
Joseph LoBrutto III is a well-known psychic in Florida who has been featured in newspapers and profiled on television. LoBrutto said it can be easy to be taken advantage of by false psychics and that research or references from new-age stores can be ways of avoiding scams.
"The big red flag is keeping you coming back. It should be just that one reading," LoBrutto said. "And if they say it's a curse or a hex, there's no such thing. Walk out."
LoBrutto is appalled by the behavior of the group. "It's a shame. It really ruins our reputation," he said. "Psychics are made out to be crazy and this doesn't help."
The pre-trial detention hearing for the Florida family members is scheduled for Friday and the New York relatives will be in court Thursday. A court clerk at the federal courthouse in Fort Lauderdale said that all of the defendants are in currently in custody and do not have an attorney yet.