FORT LAUDERDALE Fla. - A family of fortune tellers was charged Tuesday with swindling $40 million over two decades from people who came to them in extreme desperation, begging for divine help to cure a terminal illness, save a dying marriage or end a tragic streak of bad luck.
The family's dealings however, went beyond offering hocus pocus and false hope, with federal authorities alleging the nine self-described psychics told victims they and their families would be cursed if they did not continue to hand over money and valuables.
The suspects were linked to several Fort Lauderdale businesses, including Astrology by Nancy, run out of a home in Fort Lauderdale's Coral Ridge neighborhood; Astrology Life, at 2000 E. Sunrise Blvd.; Joyce Michaels consulting at 1130 S. Federal Hwy.; as well as a Davie psychic shop at 4252 Davie Road Extension.
Also charged was Peter Wolofsky, 84, of Boca Raton, who authorities said laundered money for the family through his home financing and luxury vehicle and boat financing businesses.
The indictment outlines what authorities allege was the fortune-tellers' scheme: "Often times, these defendants represented to their clients that in order to excise a curse or evil spirits and the illnesses they caused, the clients had to temporarily give large sums of money so they could cleanse the money of the curse or evil spirits, with the promise of returning the money and other valuable items to the clients. The defendants never returned the money."
The fortune tellers allegedly told clients that cash was the "root of all evil."
The money trail, however, ended up becoming the fortune tellers' misfortune.
Investigators traced the victims' wire transfers from around the United States and worldwide to the fortune tellers and Wolofsky, amounting to 47 counts of wire fraud in the case, according to the indictment.
Another complicated facet to the case is the suspects' identities. Most juggled several aliases. All are related by blood or marriage.
Arrested Tuesday were Rose Marks, 60, who uses the name Joyce Michael; Cynthia Miller, 33, who also goes by Cynthia Angel Miller or Cynthia Angel Marks; Rosie Marks, 36, also known as Rosie Eli; Vivian Marks, 21; Michael Marks, 33; and Donnie Eli, 38. All are from Fort Lauderdale.
They made their first appearances in federal court in West Palm Beach on Tuesday and have a pre-trial detention hearing there, scheduled for 10 a.m. Friday.
Arrested Tuesday in New York, where the family also resides and has fortune-telling businesses, were Nancy Marks, 42, also known as Nancy Michael; Kate Michael or just Vivian; and her husband Ricky Marks, 39. They have a court hearing scheduled in New York on Thursday.
Wolofsky has a scheduled court appearance next week in West Palm Beach.
Authorities on Tuesday were still trying to track down another member of the family, Victoria Eli, 65, who resides in Fort Lauderdale and Secaucus, N.J.
Should the family members be convicted, authorities aim to acquire some of their assets through forfeiture, including luxury vehicles, a condo along the Intracoastal in Fort Lauderdale -- and $1.8 million in gold coins.
It was not too long ago federal authorities brought forth a similar case in South Florida.
In 2005, a self-described psychic by the name of Linda Marks was convicted, along with former Delray Beach police Detective Jack Makler, of scamming Marks' clients. Makler also had shielded Marks from criminal charges after several of her clients filed complaints with the Delray Beach police department.
Both Marks and Mackler were sentenced to federal prison and have since been released.
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