Judy, Judy, Judy
I hope you don't mind the public nature of this correspondence. I've never written one of these "open letter" things before, mainly because they're usually hackneyed and pretentious. But in this case, I think it's necessary. So let's get right to the point.
There are people suffering out there because of you, Judith. I know this because they call me on the phone, crying. These people feel great loss and shame. Loss of thousands of dollars and shame because they were gullible enough to let a Gypsy fortuneteller take it from them. Judith, I know you're one of the most successful women in publishing and have millions of dollars, but these people don't have much. They're working people with serious problems, problems that seem insurmountable, problems that make them desperate and afraid.
Help isn't easy to find in the real world, Judith, and these people can't afford trendy New York psychoanalysts. So they went to a "psychic" who goes by the alias of Regina Milbourne. You know Milbourne. Your publishing imprint released her book, Miami Psychic, this spring. You are right now marketing her as a woman with good intentions and a God-given gift of clairvoyance.
I know you're just trying to sell books and film and TV rights, but a lot of people actually believe this psychic nonsense. I suppose if Milbourne were a benign character, little harm would come of it. But she's not benign, Judith she's a cold-blooded viper.
Had you and your assistants done some basic fact-checking, you might have learned that Milbourne isn't at all who she claims to be. Her real name is Gina Marie Marks, and she's an alleged con artist who has been connected to swindles committed from California to Florida, though she's managed not to be prosecuted.
But you know that by now. I wrote in July about Milbourne's true identity and some of her questionable dealings. I'm sure you either read it yourself or someone briefed you on it. I honestly thought you'd pull the book off the shelf immediately after learning that your author was a fraud.
That was naive of me, I know. I suspect you must have seen it as a challenge instead. It's obvious from what's been written about you that you're, um, strong-willed, to say the least. And I have other things to write about, so I was ready to let it go. But then I got the first call. The woman on the other end was obviously nervous and scared; her voice trembled. She told me that a friend had told her about "Regina Milbourne." Then she saw that Milbourne had a book out proclaiming her to be the real thing, a true psychic.
She went to see Milbourne at the fortuneteller's waterfront home in Plantation Isles. There, Milbourne showed her true colors she became Gina Marie Marks and got her hooks into the woman. She told her that there was a curse on her head and that her husband and daughter would be harmed if she didn't "cleanse" her money. By the time it was over, Marks had scared the woman out of $3,200.
I told the woman that she should call the Plantation Police Department. She did, and Detective Joe Quaregna took the case. About the same time, I found out that Milbourne/Marks had been accused of stealing jewelry from a woman's house in Hollywood. Police requested a warrant for her arrest, but the case has stalled in the Broward State Attorney's Office.
I wrote a column about both cases, and Marks paid the first woman her money back on the condition that she not prosecute.
A second time I wrote about it, and again, you chose to ignore it. You're keeping the book on the shelves and maintaining a web page that proclaims that "Milbourne" has had her "gift" since "nearly drowning at the age of 12." You still claim that she stood by her "promise to help anyone who sought guidance" but ultimately "left behind" the psychic's life to write the book.
It's all lies, Judith, and you know it. The only action taken in response to the revelations about your author were a bunch of negative reviews written on Amazon.com regarding a small true-crime book of mine, Florida Pulp Nonfiction. I don't know if they were all written by Marks and her co-author, Yvonne Carey (a special correspondent for the Sun-Sentinel), or if some of your staffers got in the act. Amazon had the decency to remove all but one of the spurious reviews, but the remaining blurb suspiciously plugs Miami Psychic.
Kids' games, Judith. But again, I was ready to let it go. Then last week, I got another call. Another woman was on the phone talking about your author. She was in tears. She said she too had just been swindled by Regina Milbourne.
The woman, Deborah, explained that she and her disabled husband's lives were in a rut. They were worried about health concerns and job opportunities. She wanted help. Then she saw Milbourne being interviewed for her book on NBC affiliate Channel 6. She looked up the fortuneteller on the Internet and called.
"She looked like an honest person in the interview," Deborah explained, adding that the fact that she was on network television and had a book out didn't hurt her credibility. "I didn't get a bad vibe at all."
When Deborah visited Marks' Plantation home, Marks soon had her believing that her husband was going to die if a curse on their heads weren't lifted. She told them to bring thousands of dollars in a pillow case and she would bless it on an altar the same M.O. as the other victims. Deborah told me she handed over more than $10,000 to Marks.
In fact, Deborah gave the Regan Books author so much money that she couldn't afford to pay the insurance bill on a house she'd recently inherited. She told Marks that she needed $2,500 back or she would lose the home. "I believe she didn't want me to lose the house because she thought that when I sold it, she would get the big money," Deborah told me.
Sure enough, Marks gave her $2,500 back and made her sign a paper to prove it. "I couldn't understand why she wanted me to sign something when she was giving me my own money back," Deborah said.
I gave her Det. Quaregna's phone number. Quaregna told her she made a huge mistake by accepting that money. "That makes it a civil case," he explained to me. "Whenever you accept money from anybody who is ripping you off a contractor, anybody it's not criminal anymore. You have to sue. This Marks woman is not stupid. She knows exactly what she's doing."
The detective also informed me that he'd received a call from yet another woman who had recently been victimized by Marks. He told her to try to get her money back through Marks' attorney, Jim Lewis, and if that didn't work to call him back. You see, Judith, most police departments don't know how to handle these kinds of cases, even though they are particularly prevalent in South Florida.
Deborah called me again, crying, paranoid, completely broken. I tried to console her. She still hasn't gotten her money back. Who knows if she ever will. "I feel so stupid," she kept saying between sobs. "I can't believe I let this happen to me. I really don't know what to do."
Listen, Judith, I know you're seen in publishing circles as a pathological achiever who is obsessed with success. I know that one of your former assistants described you as the "highest-functioning deranged person" he'd ever met and that other former employees have said you were terribly abusive. I know the New York Press recently named you one of the 50 "most loathsome" New Yorkers. In other words, I know I probably shouldn't expect you to care about regular folks who are devastated in part because of your actions.
I can't imagine you adhere to any ethical standard (hell, you got your start in media as a reporter at the National Enquirer). But I'm betting that under all that bluster and madness, there's a human being. I point you to your sister Maureen's quote in a lengthy 2004 Vanity Fair profile. She was talking about how you never enjoy yourself, how you have virtually lost your humanity in your drive for bestsellers. Then she said that you were actually starting to loosen up some.
"I think pieces of Judy are coming back," your sister told the magazine. "It's like there's Judith, and there's Judy. I understand Judith and respect her and have the utmost respect for things she's accomplished. But I prefer hanging out with Judy."
I'm appealing to the Judy in you: Please take Miami Psychic off the shelves and warn people that Regina Milbourne is really Gina Marie Marks, a documented con artist who chronically terrorizes innocent people out of their hard-earned savings.
If for nothing else, do it for all of those who have been hurt by Marks and those who will be hurt by her in the future.
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