The woman behind the largest case of fortunetelling fraud ever to hit a courtroom has finally been sentenced. Rose Marks, the Manhattan and Fort Lauderdale psychic accused to bilking her longtime clients using a bag of tricks and mental manipulation common among fortunetellers, will go to prison for a little more than ten years. The conviction and sentencing are significant. Rarely are these kinds of cases prosecuted; rarely are they punished with significant jail time.
For her part, Marks was somehow both defiant and contrite at the end of the legal proceedings. According to the Sun Sentinel, the tearful fortuneteller told Judge Kenneth Marra that she "didn't realize what I was doing was wrong" and that "Now, I realize that I caused a lot of hurt and disappointment."
Which, of course, was a lot of BS. As we documented in our cover investigation last year, psychic scammers know exactly what they are doing -- who they are scamming, and exactly which emotional buttons they have to press to hook their prey.
The art of fortunetelling, and the art of pulling money out of desperate clients, was a family business for Marks, as it is for other members of the Romani people, a European ethnic group popularly known as "Gypsies."
Chased by persecution across the globe, the Romas have become an incredibly insular culture, with each family passing along moneymaking schemes and tactics from generation to generation. In many clans, fortunetelling is how women support everyone else. This was the case in Marks' family.
Prosecutors say Marks and eight members of her family were able to hoover up more than $17 million from clients -- including bestselling romance novelist Jude Deveraux -- over the years.
The author originally came to the psychic after a bad divorce in the '90s. In court, Deveraux testified that Marks ensnared her in a web of outrageous and sad lies -- including that Deveraux was having a secret romance with Colin Powell, that her dead young son was not in heaven but stuck between cosmic planes, and that the boy's spirit had been reborn into a young woman whose body Deveraux would one day inhabit.
Prosecutors had trouble with the case. The "$17 million" says it all. When Marks and eight members of her family were originally arrested in 2011, the government boasted the family was behind a $40 million scam. As the trial progressed, the number was slashed to $25 million and eventually $17 million. Why? Prosecutors made some serious missteps along the way, moves one judge referred to as "shameful conduct." Also, prosecutors had trouble distinguishing which Marks clients considered themselves actual victims and which believed they'd paid for services rendered.
In the end, the Marks verdict and sentencing, thanks to its high profile, may encourage more law enforcement agencies to pursue this stripe of crime. It happens every day. It even almost happened to me.
Send your story tips to the author, Kyle Swenson.