A grandma who gave $1 million over 30 years to a psychic she hoped would make her romantic dreams come true. A middle-aged woman convinced she'd been a warrior murdered by her "evil" husband in a previous life.
Just the first day of testimony in the trial of a Fort Lauderdale fortune teller could spawn a dozen movie scripts.
Rose Marks, 62, of Fort Lauderdale, is charged with defrauding $25 million from clients of her family's fortune-telling businesses in affluent areas of Fort Lauderdale and Manhattan — including $17 million from best-selling romance novelist Jude Deveraux.
It took two days to pick the 15-member jury panel. Potential jurors were quizzed about everything from "Gypsies, Tramps And Thieves" — the song made famous by Cher — to whether they've read Deveraux's books and if they believe in reincarnation, demons and the spirit world.
Several potential jurors were dismissed after expressing prejudice against Gypsies. Marks and her family, who were all born in the U.S. and are Roma who often refer to themselves as Gypsies.
Though there's nothing illegal about telling fortunes, reading palms or tarot cards, prosecutors told jurors in opening statements Wednesday in federal court in West Palm Beach that Marks was the ringleader of a criminal enterprise that "lied or deceived or tricked [victims] into giving up large amounts of money under false pretenses."
They say she kept other people's money and property after promising it would be returned. They also want her to be held criminally responsible for the actions of eight members of her family who have pleaded guilty to lesser charges. Some of the women, along with Marks herself, worked under the stage name of Joyce Michael or Michaels, and much of the money they earned flowed through Marks' bank accounts, prosecutors said.
Marks is fighting the charges, saying she provided valuable services to people, including some who were very wealthy, who willingly gave her money for spiritual advice.
Some of the people who now accuse her of keeping their money were satisfied clients for 20 and 30 years, said Marks' attorney Fred Schwartz. And many of the dozen or more alleged victims that are expected to testify never met or spoke to Marks, he said.
Among the first prosecution witnesses was Deanna Wolfe, 72, of McLean, Va., who testified that she met Rose Marks, who she knew as Joyce Michael, in about 1980.
The grandmother, who said she's worked as an administrative assistant at the same company for 55 years, told jurors she estimates she gave Marks about $1 million over 30 years.
She testified that about $300,000 of that came from a family friend, now 84, who was "like a mother" to her. Wolfe told her friend she couldn't explain what it was for but assured her the money would "come back" to them.
Wolfe, an unfailingly polite woman with a Southern accent who looked much younger than her years, explained that she had pined for a man she met in 1972, but they had a troubled on-and-off-again relationship. They now live together but the relationship is not perfect, she said.
Wolfe said she went to see Marks after seeing a flier that advertised a "renowned psychic" who could "help solve love problems."
It started with an $800 fee, which Wolfe said was all the money she had saved. Wolfe said Marks was her "spiritual guide," talked about curses passed down through generations and told her she could "channel" through "the archangel Michael" — something Marks has denied.
Wolfe said investigators contacted her after Marks was arrested on fraud charges in August 2011, but until then she gave hundreds of thousands of dollars to Marks by taking cash advances on credit cards, selling inherited property, "borrowing" money from her friend and co-signing for credit cards with Marks. The cards, from Neiman Marcus, Home Depot and other stores, were used to charge designer men's clothing and other expensive items. Wolfe said she didn't know because the bills — presented in court — had not been sent to her and she had assumed it was all for "the work."
Marks told her the money took the place of "human sacrifices" that were made in ancient times and told her repeatedly the money would eventually "come back" to her and she would be gloriously happy, Wolfe said.
"Basically, whatever Joyce Michael [Marks] told me to do, I did," Wolfe told the jury.
Defense attorney Schwartz questioned Wolfe about why she hadn't demanded the money back or stopped sending it, reading aloud from letters and emails Wolfe wrote to Marks and Wolfe's friend who had given her the money. Schwartz said much of the friend's $300,000 was used to buy cars and other items for Wolfe's family, not given to Marks.
Wolfe continued to talk to Marks by phone and send her money after Marks moved to Florida, and she was able to identify Marks in court even though the women hadn't seen each other since 1988.