Skeptics got to celebrate a major legal victory for rationality last week when Florida psychic Rose Marks, was convicted on 14 counts of her criminal prosecution for fraud.
Prosecutors were able to establish beyond a reasonable doubt that Marks was the head of a larger Romani family ring of psychic con-men-and-women operating in both New York City and South Florida. The jury was unaware of the fact that Marks’s two sons and their wives, her daughter and son-in-law, along with her sister and granddaughter had all previously been charged in the original indictments, but none had gone to trial as all had pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit wire/mail fraud.
The charges Marks was convicted of included:
- 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
Marks is due to be sentenced on December 9th; although her family members have yet to be sentenced, they will learn their sentences prior to that date.
Although in theory Marks could be facing up to a total of some 250 years if she received the maximum sentence for every count, to then be served consecutively, court watchers speculate that she will likely receive a sentence of between 15 and 25 years, a potential life sentence for the 62-year-old organized crime leader, who claims to be in poor health.
A look at the charges reveals that she was not prosecuted for fortune-telling, because fortune-telling is not a crime. Rather, as the Palm Beach Post reports, it was necessary that:
“… 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.”
So along with tax fraud, Marks was prosecuted on the grounds that she took money and valuables, which she promised she would return, and then did not return them. No wonder psychic fraud is so difficult to prosecute.
Although it is excellent news that Marks will be going to prison, I hope that this case helps to encourage prosecutors nationwide, but particularly in New York City and South Florida, to aggressive prosecute such cases, rather than either ignore them, or allow psychic con artists to repay their victims and thereby avoid prosecution, as is too often the case.
Then too, maybe it’s time that the skeptic movement press these municipalities to criminalize retail fortune-telling establishments, and deny such professional bullshit artists the convenient cover of practicing their religion, when in fact the only they worship is the mighty dollar – dollars they steal by deception. I confess that freedom of speech may be a valid protection for folks who want to tell fortunes just because they believe they can – as is often the case in the New Age market rather than among the criminal Gypsy subculture – but I wonder if perhaps we could not amass some legal and law enforcement experts to try to synthesize a more nuanced definition of prosecutable psychic fraud.
Finally, note this comment from one of Marks’s victims, as reported in the same Palm Beach Post article:
“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.’
I’ve commented frequently on the role that cognitive dissonance plays in protecting victims of professional con artists from seeing the error of their ways, and indeed helps to keep them pouring good money after bad. Poor Ms. Wolfe is speaking directly from that part of her brain, just as many of Bernie Madoff’s victims wanted to believe that Madoff began his historic Ponzi scheme because he was trying to make up for losses suffered through his legitimate funds and intentions.
Bullshit. It’s just hard for most folks to believe that charming criminal sociopaths like Rose Marks and Bernie Madoff can look you in the eyes and seem so sincere when in fact their sole purpose in life is to destroy you so they can buy another car or house.
In the words of Robert Ripley: “Believe it, or not.” But if not, prepare to be the next victim.
Jamy Ian Swiss is Senior Fellow at the JREF. He blogs regularly at randi.org.