Up in West Palm Beach today, a rare legal case is about to unfold in US Federal court: a fortunetelling fraud trial. Rose Marks, the 62-year-old matriarch of a large local gypsy family, is accused to bilking around $25 million dollars over twenty years from a handful of clients.
Although these scams occur everyday around the world -- and particularly here in South Florida -- they almost never make it to a courtroom. But this one is the Super Bowl of fortuneteller fraud cases, and not just because of the money involved. The prosecutors here have also been accused of shady shenanigans.
According to prosecutors, Marks and members of her clan used their positions as fortunetellers to Hoover cash and other valuables off emotionally fragile clients. The biggest payday allegedly came from Jude Deveraux. A best-selling romance novelist, she and Marks had a twenty-year relationship -- one that left the writer's bank account $17 million lighter.
But when federal prosecutors attempted to hook Marks and her family for the fraud, there were plenty of questionable missteps along the way. The initial grand jury indictment included victims who actually had never been contacted by investigators. Deveraux also had questionable business relationships with two of the Fort Lauderdale cops working the case.
And after Marks gave an interview with the Sun-Sentinel explaining she was only an employee working for Deveraux, the prosecution turned around to file new tax charges against her. "I believe that the tax investigation is a vindictive attempt to punish Rose for claiming government misconduct," Fred Schwartz, Marks' attorney, told New Times in March. "And also an attempt to intimidate her into pleading guilty rather than going to trial."
As we explored in a June cover story, fortuneteller fraud cases happen all the time. When we walked in cold to a couple local parlors, we were even almost scammed. But when people are preyed upon, the legal system usually offers little help.
For one, cops and prosecutors rarely know how to investigate these kinds of crimes. Instead, victims are usually told the matter is a civil -- not criminal -- issue. But the real reason you won't see many fortuneteller fraud cases filling up a criminal docket? It's just too damn embarrassing for the victims.
To pull off these scams, fortunetellers have to pretty much build-up an entire system of belief inside the victim -- everything in their lives is sown into a particularly malignant pattern, one the fortuneteller claims her or he can help control. When that veil drops, it's emotionally shattering for the victim -- which is why Deveraux's testimony this week will be such a blockbuster.
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