On the first page of her recently released HarperCollins book, Miami Psychic, self-proclaimed clairvoyant Regina Milbourne writes:
"Because I believe I got the gift directly from God, I felt I had to do something with it. For more than fifteen years, I dedicated my life to helping anyone who needed help. Seduced by the power and the money it brought, I also took my share of the pie.
"But now I am done.
"With this book I will end my career as a master psychic."
Too bad it isn't true. Milbourne hasn't stopped working as a fortuneteller. In fact, she recently created a website where she recites her supernatural credentials and urges people to "Call Today!" and "Start Building a Better Tomorrow!"
And that's just the beginning of the factual problems in the book, which was co-written with Sun-Sentinel "special correspondent" Yvonne Carey. Miami Psychic is, in fact, a load of bunk. So much so that the name Regina Milbourne will surely be mentioned in the pantheon of recent sham authors like JT Leroy, Nasdijj, and James Frey.
It's not even her real name. According to her driver's license, the author's true identity is Gina Marie Marks. She's part of a notorious Gypsy criminal family that has personally been involved in well-documented fortunetelling scams.
But you wouldn't know that if you read the book, which was released by Regan Books, a HarperCollins' subsidiary run by publishing diva Judith Regan. When initially questioned last month about Milbourne, publicist Jennifer Brunn said that, as far as the publishing house knew, the author was using her real name. Brunn also said HarperCollins would look into the allegations.
They haven't returned my phone calls since, but here's how HarperCollins' website touts Milbourne:
"Regina Milbourne first realized her psychic gift two weeks after almost drowning in an unattended swimming pool when she was twelve. With only a sixth-grade education, and half her life spent as a practicing psychic, she is coming clean to leave her past behind. She lives in Miami, Florida."
Wrong again. Marks doesn't live in Miami (though she may have lived there several years ago). She's actually a Broward County psychic, having lived most of the past decade in Hollywood and Dania.
Guess Dania Beach doesn't have the same glamour as South Beach.
In her meandering and contradictory book, Marks (or Milbourne) admits that the stories about clients are composites, not to be taken as absolute fact. She even goes so far as to refer to Weston as "Reston," the giant developer Arvida as "Vidarva," and Mickey Mouse, no kidding, as "Mutton Mouse."
Fair enough. The problem is that the entire book hinges on one giant lie: That "Milbourne" is a put-upon heroine, a psychic with a heart of gold who keeps getting dragged down by unscrupulous clients. She complains about racism against Gypsies, likens herself to an "unlicensed psychologist," and makes sweeping claims about the good work she's done for humanity.
"In every case, I am fighting dark forces with my blood, body, soul, and mind. My life and karma are on the line... I give [clients] the confidence to feel like they can have peace. In many cases I'm their last hope."
God help them. The truth about Marks may best be learned not in the pages of her book but in police files in San Mateo County, California. And if those reports are to be believed, Marks is no psychic.
She's an interstate predator.
Here's the story, according to reports: Back in 1999, Marks did a call-in radio show that aired in San Francisco. She simply phoned it in from her fortunetelling shop in Hollywood and paid $300 for the airtime.
A woman in California heard the show and called a 1-800 number for Marks. The "psychic" then convinced her that all her problems were the result of "dirty money" that needed cleansing. She persuaded the woman to withdraw $9,900 from the bank each day until she had $75,000 in hand.
On January 5, 2000, Marks told the victim to put the cash in a pillowcase and meet her in a hotel room in California. In the room, the future Regan Books author proceeded to rub cream on the victim's chest and pray over the money. "Marks convinced the victim that she had to take the money to a secret shrine in San Jose in order to continue cleansing it," according to reports. "Marks took the $75,000 and subsequently refused to return it."
It's a little anecdote that somehow didn't make it into the book. The victim went to the police.
During the same period, another of Marks' marks complained to detectives that the master psychic had ripped off another $45,000 in a similar manner, only this time the victim flew the money to Fort Lauderdale and handed it over to her in Plantation.
When police began an investigation, Marks' Fort Lauderdale attorney, Jim Lewis, arranged that full restitution be paid to the victims. When the money was paid back, the San Mateo County District Attorney's Office agreed not to file charges, saving Marks from criminal prosecution.
Lewis, who is known for representing young killer Lionel Tate, confirmed that he'd arranged for restitution to be paid in the two cases. He also confirmed that Marks and Regina Milbourne are the same person (Milbourne is her "stage name" in the fortunetelling business, he said). Lewis hadn't read Miami Psychic but said he knew it was coming out.
"I've represented her in a number of matters," Lewis said.
Has she been accused of more swindles?
"I can't answer that question right now," he said. "I'll have to speak with Gina first." He called back later to say that Marks would not speak to me, and he stressed that Marks had never been charged with a crime.
Evidence of Milbourne's true identity is plentiful. At her former psychic office in Weston, where she used the name Regina Milbourne, the occupational license was in the name of her Gypsy husband, Sunny Miller (who is called "Romy" in the book). Sunny and Gina have left a trail of public records behind them, and a police mugshot of Marks clearly matches the photographs in the book.
Marks belongs to the Uwanawich tribe of Gypsies, which is led in South Florida by John Uwanawich, a convicted felon. He was close to former Palm Beach County Sheriff's Deputy John Nicholson, himself a Gypsy known as "Nick the Cop." Nicholson was forced from the department because of his corrupt relationship with Uwanawich.
An anonymous Miami Psychic reviewer on Amazon.com who claimed to be a police officer wrote that the author is actually the daughter of John Uwanawich, who uses the alias Johnny Gee. Although that couldn't be confirmed, Broward County Property Appraiser records show that Marks and her husband did quitclaim their house in Dania Beach to Uwanawich and his wife, Betty Jo Ephraim, in 2001. Ephraim also goes by the names Helen Uwanawich and Estee Lee and has been convicted of fortunetelling swindles in the past. Ephraim's sister, Krista Unich, was recently convicted on theft and conspiracy charges in Delaware.
In other words, Marks is tied to a long tradition of swindling Gypsy fortunetellers, no matter what romantic notion she might want to touch it up with in her book.
When told that Regan Books is marketing Marks as a true psychic who attained her "gift" after a near-death experience, former fraud investigator Jon Grow laughed.
"She was trained to be a fortuneteller from the time she was a little girl they all are," said Grow, who is executive director of the National Association of Bunco Investigators, the leading clearinghouse of law enforcement information on Gypsy crimes in the United States. "And they all say they have a gift from God."
True, you would think someone with such a gift would come up with better insights than Marks (on the topic of sexual abuse, for instance, she writes: "Children aren't meant for sex. It robs them of their childhood."). Even other Gypsy fortunetellers in South Florida say the book is nonsense.
"I thought it was the stupidest thing I've ever read in my life," says Gina Johnson, who asked that her location not be revealed. "I feel sorry for the woman who she wrote the book with. That could really hurt her reputation, couldn't it?"
Johnson is speaking of Carey, Marks' co-author and a longtime freelancer for both the Miami Herald and the Sun-Sentinel. The book sprang from an article Carey wrote in the Herald that was published in 2004. Here's the beginning of that story:
"Curiosity doesn't necessarily kill cats or people, according to Regina Milbourne.
"In fact, a near-fatal accident at age 11 turned into a psychic gift, she said. A curious girl, she went swimming without telling her family and nearly drowned. She figures she was dead, without a heartbeat, for five minutes.
"'I saw a white light but was told not to enter. I heard angels talking. I had a duty to fulfill on Earth,' Milbourne said."
And there it was: the bogus basis for a book. In Miami Psychic, Marks relates that Carey is a "believer" who paid for a "reading" after the interview. The pair soon joined forces, signed a partnership agreement, and somehow convinced Regan to publish their book. Attempts to contact Carey failed, and messages left at the Sentinel went unanswered.
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Miami Psychic is an abhorrent book, but it does manage some moments of apparent honesty. Even as Marks sets herself up in grandiose terms in the book, she reveals her true feelings at turns. She writes, for instance, that her clients are "bloodcurdling" and "fucked-up people." She can't help herself from laughing when one customer complains that she's ruined her life. She reveals tricks to gain her clients' trust.
Marks is also open about her own rather grotesque shallowness, materialism, and vanity. In the book, she constantly brags about how much money she has, mentions early and often that she drives a Bentley, constantly drops brand names (Louis Vuitton, Chanel, Cartier), and writes about her own beauty at times as if she were Helen of Troy.
In fact, she indicates to the reader, over and over, that she despises her clients and loves only their money.
And that just may be the truth.