Pure Fraud

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

It started innocently enough, with a reading at Marks' beautifully maintained Plantation Isles home, where Carlo remembers a Hummer sitting in the driveway. The fee was $100. During a second reading, Marks laid it on thick. Jill Dahne, she told Carlo, had put a curse on her, and it was going to take every bit of both of their otherworldly energies to lift it.

The Gypsy told Marks to bring a sack of 50 fifty-dollar bills and 50 twenties (for a total of $3,500) to her house. Carlo did so, and Marks took the money, saying she would return it after blessing it at her altar. This would be repeated six or seven times.

Marks also told Carlo about her book project and asked her if she would serve as her personal assistant for the publicity tour. Carlo agreed and actually signed a contract, though in the end she never did any work on the tour.

For Teresa Carlo, the way to cosmic serenity led through the jungle of bad intentions.
c. stiles
For Teresa Carlo, the way to cosmic serenity led through the jungle of bad intentions.

Those first sacks of cash didn't mean much to Carlo; she had plenty and never put a high premium on her earthly possessions. She and her first husband had two children and ran a prosperous nursery and land business in Davie. After their divorce in 1997, she got her share of what they built, leaving her a millionaire at least three times over and the owner of a small nursery. The next year, she married a banker named Jim Dougherty, who died soon after at the age of 49 of a sudden heart attack, leaving her to raise her two now-grown children.

Now a youngish 51, Carlo is a friendly, laid-back person, not necessarily someone you'd expect to hand over her fortune to a veritable stranger. But she got sucked into the drama. Believing that Marks was waging an epic battle with Dahne in the world of spirits, she kept acceding to the Markses' requests for more cash to bless at the altar. Marks manipulated Carlo into obtaining a $400,000 mortgage on her home and handing over the money in the form of a cashier's check. Carlo then gave her another $400,000 from her retirement account and life insurance policy, all the while believing it was going to be purified and returned.

Marks told her she would put the money in precious metals like gold and hold it for her until the curse was lifted. But that wasn't enough. Milbourne also told her she needed to purify her jewelry, so Carlo handed over about half a million dollars worth, including a top-of-the-line Rolex watch.

Marks even snookered Carlo into buying her husband, Sunny Miller, an $18,000 watch at the Cartier store in the Town Center Mall in Boca Raton. And Marks took almost half the money from the sale of Carlo's 2002 Lexus and had her buy gift certificates for her at Saks Fifth Avenue at the Galleria Mall in Fort Lauderdale.

"I would ask her why she needed these things, and she would say, 'I will explain it later,' " Carlo says. "She said that all the time."

As if things weren't weird enough, Milbourne also told Carlo that the only way to truly purify her possessions was through a man named Paul, a Haitian whom Marks dubbed the "Voodoo King." Marks told Carlo that when she met Paul, she would have to have sex with him to seal the spiritual deal. While she says she wouldn't have slept with the Voodoo King, she was curious to meet him. It never materialized. She now wonders if Paul exists and believes Marks was just stalling for time.

Had the scamming psychic stopped there, she might have gotten away with the fortune scot-free. But when Carlo bought a special "Pebble Beach" edition 2007 Lexus 430SC hardtop convertible coupe for $76,000 this past January, Marks wanted one too. She advised Carlo that she needed to have the red car blessed. Carlo gave her the keys in February.

Soon thereafter, Marks told Carlo she needed to sign over the title of the car to her. That way, they could trick Jill Dahne — who supposedly was watching all of this in the spiritual world — and get the car "completely blessed." Carlo signed the title over.

The entire story is patently absurd. But any specialist in Gypsy crimes will tell you that this kind of thing happens every day. It's called a confidence game — and Marks had Carlo's confidence.

As the summer approached, though, her belief in the psychic started to wane. The business with Paul had left her suspicious. And Marks would disappear for months at a time, resurfacing in strange wigs and with an altered appearance. She could also be startlingly cruel, as when she told Carlo to eat dog food.

It was a dicey game for Carlo. She'd given the woman the mother lode, after all, and didn't want to hurt her chances to get it back. But Marks kept stalling, saying she'd moved the fortune to another altar or that the Voodoo King was watching it. Finally, in June, Carlo asked her lawyer to conduct a title search on the Lexus.

Only when the results came back did she know for sure that she was being conned. The Lexus was now owned by a retired couple in Las Vegas. Carlo called Jill Dahne, who wasn't pleased with the news.

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