Professional con artist and pseudo-psychic Rose Marks was sentenced on March 3rd to more than ten years in prison following her conviction last September on charges of defrauding clients of more than $17 million.

The sentencing brought to a conclusion a lengthy process that began with the charging of Marks along with eight other family members in August of 2011. Eventually the eight others reached plea bargains, and have gradually been sentenced over the past six months. Rose Marks ended up going to trial as a sole defendant.

I have written previously about the various stages of the trial in a number of blog pieces. Here is the “Sun-Sentinel’s” story about the sentencing of Rose Marks:

It is worth taking a close look at several elements of the finale events.  The article summarizes elements of Marks’s predations, as testified to at trial by her victims, and of “how she exploited them during vulnerable times in their lives,” including how Marks victimized famed romance author Jude Devereaux and “exploited her grief after Devereaux’s 8-year-old son, Sam, died in an ATV accident…”


These are clearly the willful and deliberate predations of a predator, despite Marks’s claims that “I didn't realize what I was doing was wrong,” along with her attempt to blame “many of her crimes on alcohol and prescription drug abuse as well as a gambling addiction.” 

However, it bears taking a close look at remarks from the presiding judge, U.S. District Judge Kenneth Marra, who barred testimony in the trial from an expert investigator.  Quoting at length from the story:

The judge said he didn't believe the fraud was sophisticated and, responding to the defense's argument that the Roma, or Gypsy, family was following a centuries-old tradition of fortune-telling, said he believed the fraud was operated more like "a family tradition."

He wondered aloud about the "outlandish" nature of the tales Marks and her family told their clients and why anyone would fall for the absurd promises and predictions they made.

"I'm certainly not a psychologist and I can't try to figure out why any rational human being would have believed any of the representations being made," Marra said. "These people, for whatever reason, wanted to believe these crazy stories that were being told to them. …There's something else in their mental makeup, their psychological make up, that caused them to want to believe in this." 

Collectively these comments address why the judge elected to sentence Marks to far less than the recommendations of the prosecutors, recommendations that ran between 22 and 27 years. There is nothing unusual about prosecutors asking for longer sentences and judges choosing not to comply, however in this case the judge’s reasoning is what is of interest. I’m not sure what is meant by whether or not the fraud was “sophisticated,” for example. It is commonly known that these Roma storefront psychic families cooperate and share information about clients, for example, in their operations in both New York City and South Florida. So what does “sophisticated” mean?

That this kind of psychic fraud is a “family tradition” in the Roma culture, where women are frequently raised to assume roles as storefront psychics in the family business, while men are often trained to become felons who practice home invasion and phony roofing scams, is certainly a fact. How this somehow reduces their responsibility is mysterious to me, however. Loan sharking, protection, drug distribution and murder for hire are all common in the mafia, another kind of organized crime which is sometimes, especially in its past origins, family based, but I never heard of this being used as a defense.

But most significantly for skeptics, note the judge’s mystification at the apparent credulity of the victims. Note that further in the story:

Though prosecutors argued that the victims were almost all particularly vulnerable because they were coping with bereavement, bad relationships, personal or family illness and other challenges, Marra pointed out that many of the victims were well-educated.

And so thus, while the victims were “well educated,” their education did no protect them from the skills of the con artists, yet somehow this demonstrates to the judge that the victims deserve to share the blame for their own destruction. This is classic blame-the-victim thinking that so often is brought on such sufferers, and another reason among many that they so often refuse to go public and press charges.

Although I was relieved to see Marks convicted at trial, it was cause for concern when the judge barred testimony from detective Bob Nygaard, an expert investigator in gypsy and psychic crime, on the grounds that the jury could make up their own minds as to whether crimes had been committed. But I have little doubt that Nygaard could have helped to shed light on the workings of these criminals, and how skilled their predator techniques and relentless their operations are. Also, perhaps Nygaard could have helped to provide insight into the many reasons these psychological techniques work on victims, and the role played by cognitive dissonance.

At least one con artist has now been taken off the streets, protecting future victims. But crimes such as these will hardly be slowed by this prosecution, successful as it was, and law enforcement professionals need to stay both informed and aggressive if we are to ever have a significant impact on such “family business.”  As I say in my 2013 TAM talk, (as well as in my next Honest Liar video), skeptics should not blame the victims – rather, we must always, credit the con man.