Novelist may have been victim of psychics' $40m scam, court told

 

A best-selling romance novelist whose books sometimes explore themes of the paranormal may have been among the victims of a Fort Lauderdale-based fortune-telling scam.

Police in Florida arrested several members of one family last week as part of an investigation – dubbed "Operation Crystal Ball" – into the alleged criminal activities of a clan of US-born Romanian gypsies who ran fortune-telling business, some out of shops in well-to-do neighbourhoods of Fort Lauderdale.

Prosecutors told West Palm Beach courthouse that the family had defrauded clients out of $40m (£24m) over 20 years, taking money and property with promises that it would be returned once their work was done.

That, the prosecutors said, never happened. Clients were allegedly also warned of terrible things that might happen to them if they did not do as the fortune-tellers requested.

One victim, who had handed over an estimated $20m to the gypsy family, was described as a best-selling author who sought help from the defendants after losing her eight-year-old son in a motorcycle accident.

Prosecutors did not name her. However, The Sun-Sentinel newspaper yesterday identified her as Jude Deveraux, a prolific novelist who has had 36 books listed on The New York Times best seller list.

The writer "was under, for want of a better word, the curse of Rose Marks", Assistant US Attorney Laurence Bardfeld said at the hearing on Friday. The fortune teller she had contacted allegedly told her that her son was "somewhere between heaven and hell".

There was no public comment available over the weekend from Ms Deveraux, 63. On her MySpace page, however, she had previously revealed: "My son died at age 8 in a motorcycle accident. It was a horrible accident I will never forget in my life. After it happened my books became more about family instead of romance."

Among those arrested in the round-up of clan members last Tuesday was Rose Marks, 60, who uses the name Joyce Michael; Cynthia Miller, 33; Rosie Marks, 36; and Vivian Marks, 21. Prosecutors said victims of the fraud included a person from Denmark and another from Japan who gave them almost $500,000.

Prosecutors face the tricky task of differentiating sheer gullibility on the part of the victims who saw fit to part with so much money and actual criminal exploitation by the defendants.

"If you understood the severity of what these victims were going through, it makes more sense," Mr Bardfeld told the court.

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