The 43-year-old mother and native of Colombia, who asked that she not be named because of a combination of fear and embarrassment, appears to be the latest victim of HarperCollins author Regina Milbourne, whose supposedly nonfiction book Miami Psychic is still on the shelves despite the revelation that it is essentially a fraud.
The victim, whom I'll call Patricia, filed a complaint last week with the Plantation Police Department against Milbourne. She says the fact that the author, whom police describe as a classic scam artist, had just released a well-publicized book made her believe in the self-proclaimed psychic more than anything else.
When Milbourne convinced her that her family had a curse upon it, Patricia says she handed over thousands of dollars to lift it.
"My friend told me that she had a book out and that she had been all over the news," Patricia says. "I really believed in her. I feel so stupid."
Milbourne's wrongdoing apparently isn't confined to fortunetelling scams and duping book publishers. Hollywood police believe she also committed a jewelry theft this past October and, again in that case, she boasted to the victim about her then-upcoming book to help bolster her credentials.
Hollywood police spokesman Carlos Negron says his department sent the jewelry-theft case to the State Attorney's Office in January requesting that a warrant be issued for Milbourne's arrest. A call to the State Attorney's Office found that the case is still sitting in limbo.
Well, actually, the warrant won't be in Milbourne's name that's just a name she made up as part of her scam. Her real name is Gina Marie Marks, and the latest findings come after the discovery that the 33-year-old Gypsy had been involved in well-documented swindles of $120,000 from two Californians six years ago. In lieu of criminal charges, Marks paid restitution to the victims [see "Psych Job," July 13].
"She's a highly trained scam artist," says Aventura police Officer Mark Frieder, who has personally investigated Marks and is regarded as South Florida's top law enforcement expert in Gypsy crimes. "She engages in confidence games, and my experience tells me she isn't going to stop."
But you wouldn't get the idea that Marks was a predator if you read her book, co-authored by Yvonne Carey, the Sun-Sentinel's special correspondent in Weston, and released in June by Regan Books, a HarperCollins imprint run by publishing giant Judith Regan.
Marks, under the false name (which she also used with the victims in her criminal cases), writes in Miami Psychic that a near-drowning experience at age 12 gave her the God-given ability to see the future, and since then, she has used the power to "help" anyone that needs it. She portrays herself not as a viper but as a good-hearted spiritual prodigy who is sucked into the unsavory world of corrupt South Florida.
Everyone involved in the publication of the book including Marks, Carey, and Regan has refused to comment on the findings, though Regan publicist Gregg Sullivan did request last week that I fax him the police reports. Miami Psychic is not only still being sold around the country but is still listed as "nonfiction."
The book, meanwhile, has only given more credibility to Marks, whom police deem a "transient offender," their term for Gypsy con artists.
Patricia was referred to Marks in late May by a co-worker. She spoke with Marks on the telephone, but the fortuneteller was too busy with the release of her book to see her. The new author was looking for someone to help her do her hair and makeup for public appearances, including a television interview on NBC-6.
On June 6, Marks and co-author Carey launched the book at the well-known and well-respected Books & Books store in Coral Gables. There was talk of a possible television series and movie.
About a week after that, Patricia went to see Marks at the author's home in Plantation Isles, a nice suburban neighborhood where houses are generally valued at $500,000 or more. She recalls that the driveway was full of Land Rover vehicles (Marks boasts in the book that she drives a Bentley).
As instructed, Patricia had brought along pictures of her 16-year-old daughter and husband. Marks sat her down at the dining room table.
"She seemed like a regular, pretty, short, nice lady," Patricia says. "Then she looked at me and said there was a curse on my daughter and me and that we were in danger. She told me she was going to meditate about that. I was petrified."