Pure Fraud

When somebody offers to "purify" your possessions, call the bunko squad

The house, set back off a private country road in Davie and ensconced in old palms and high-reaching tropical vegetation, has a Sunset Boulevard feel to it. Its dual chimneys seem as if they come from another time and place. The water in the junior Olympic-sized swimming pool is stagnant and green. There's a stillness in the air that suggests abandonment.

Inside, though, lives a once-wealthy blond widow, and she talks of how much she loves living there "almost like a hermit." Teresa Carlo, who describes herself as a spiritual person, loves the privacy of the place, which allows her to sunbathe au naturel and live life precisely as she pleases.

But during the past two years, the bulk of her fortune has been lost, and the 4,200-square-foot home has fallen into foreclosure. Carlo expects to lose the house and the 2.5 acres it sits on, just as she has lost about $850,000 in cash, half a million dollars worth of jewelry, and a new $76,000 special-edition Lexus convertible coupe.

All of it — the "mother lode," as she calls her lost nest egg — went to author and con artist Regina Milbourne, whose book Miami Psychic was released last year by publishing diva Judith Regan when she was at HarperCollins.

Carlo now knows she was tricked by a master manipulator. But her story sounds so far-fetched that even she can hardly believe it. Milbourne, a 34-year-old Rom, or Gypsy, as they are commonly known, conned her into believing that she was cursed by another psychic and that the only way to undo it was to purify her money and possessions at a mysterious altar. She told Carlo she would give it all back.

But she didn't. And Carlo gave her almost every cent she had. At one point, the millionaire called Milbourne to tell her she barely had enough money to eat.

"Eat dog food then," Milbourne allegedly told her.

Milbourne still has Carlo's possessions, and she doesn't talk to her anymore. While this may be Milbourne's largest fortunetelling scam, it is far from her first. She has a long history of taking the hapless and gullible for their money, yet she has managed to stay out of jail, most recently with the help of what can only be described as the negligence of the Broward State Attorney's Office.

But now, Davie police Det. Jeff Corms is on the case, and he says he has drawn up felony-theft and grand-theft-auto charges against both Milbourne and her husband, Sunny Miller, in connection with the Carlo case. He expects to meet with prosecutors this week to file the charges.

"I know if I hit a jury, I'm good," the detective says. "The problem is I got to get past my state attorneys. I need to get a jury... If [Milbourne] isn't stopped, she's going to keep going, and she's going to take as many victims as she can before she's done."

The words sound good to my ears. I've been writing about Milbourne since her book came out last year. That's when I discovered that she was really a member of a notorious Gypsy clan and that her real name is Gina Marie Marks. In 1999, she'd been implicated in two fortunetelling scams that had netted her about $110,000 in California. She wangled out of that trouble with the help of her Fort Lauderdale lawyer, Jim Lewis, who arranged to pay the victims restitution in lieu of prosecution.

In 2005, Hollywood police charged Milbourne-Marks with grand theft after she was accused of stealing $2,500 worth of jewelry from a woman in Hollywood. Hollywood police filed the charge, but the Broward State Attorney's Office, which had not responded to me by presstime, chose not to prosecute.

After I wrote about Marks' history, new victims began contacting me. One had allegedly lost $3,500 to Marks, another more than $10,000. I urged them to go to the Plantation Police Department. A detective, Joe Quaregna, managed to get restitution for the first victim, but the second one had no such luck. Like most cops, though, Quaregna had never worked a Gypsy case before. There are seasoned investigators who specialize in such cases, but they are few and far between. Most cops simply aren't used to victims who give their money to the criminals.

Quaregna helped the victims, but Marks was still on the street — and Carlo had no idea what she was dealing with when a friend introduced her to "Regina Milbourne" in July 2005.

Carlo has long been a believer in psychics. She was a good friend of self-proclaimed clairvoyant Jill Dahne, who lives in Hollywood and is the daughter of famed "psychic" and television personality Micki Dahne. She'd paid Jill Dahne thousands of dollars over the years for readings and says she even invested $25,000 in a proposed TV show that has yet to materialize.

But when she met Marks in 2005, Carlo, who goes by the nickname "Tree," was desperate. She was stressed about sending her then-troubled teenaged daughter to a reform school in Utah, and she couldn't seem to stop losing weight. She says she was down to 95 pounds from 130 and had "one foot in the grave." Carlo was desperate, which made her easy pickings for Marks.

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