"Where's the crime?" -- that's the unfortunate refrain you hear from law enforcement and prosecutors when it comes to fortunetelling crimes and psychic scammers. As we documented last year in an in-depth investigation, too often these fraudsters construct elaborate schemes targeting emotionally fragile folks. When the veil drops, victims go to police, only to be told no crime has been committed when you willingly hand over money. So for many victims, the only place to turn has been Bob Nygaard, a Boca Raton-based private investigator who specializes in busting fraudulent fortunetellers. Now Nygaard is going prime time thanks to a new gig at ABC News.
Nygaard, a retired Nassau County cop, is one of the few investigators in the country who has encyclopedic knowledge on the ins and outs of these kind of scams. So when ABC News dropped into South Florida to do a segment on the Rose Marks case, it naturally interviewed him.
That segment led to a 20/20 piece featuring Nygaard's work on three major fortuneteller fraud cases -- Sylvia Mitchell, Betty Vlado, and April Lee and Michael Johnson. The spot appeared last April. It was a ratings home run, notching an estimated 8.2 million viewers, Nygaard tells New Times.
"My phone started lighting up, and it hasn't stopped since," he says. "I have people calling from all over the world -- including New Zealand. Now, I can't get much more farther away than New Zealand. But that's how widespread the problem is."
Not only are people calling Nygaard with cases but also with offers for TV series and book deals (he's mulling them over). But ABC News also brought him on as a consultant for segments on scammers. His first piece aired last week on 20/20. It involved a woman named Katherine Underwood who had won a $1.6 million civil settlement against a former boyfriend turned fraudster named Budimir Drakulic.
When it came time to collect, Drakulic went AWOL. "They asked me if I would help them with the investigation," Nygaard explains. "I said sure, and we were able to locate his assets. He was working in L.A. for a company called BioSig Technologies Inc."
You can catch the segment here. Besides his TV work, Nygaard says his cases basically have him trotting across the country, living out of a suitcase.
Unfortunately, despite the high-profile convictions of Rose Marks and Silvia Mitchell and notwithstanding his new TV gig, Nygaard still sees resistance among law enforcement when he tries to get fortuneteller scammers in a criminal court.
"I would like to say that things have changed, but it's like every time I walk into a new place, you're talking to a new detective or prosecutor," he says. "Some have learned about it; a lot haven't. You still see this attitude that, 'They did it on their own free will -- there's no crime here.'"