Psychics to refund $50,000 to woman who paid to vanquish evil spirits

Orlando Sentinel/March 7, 2013

Overwhelmed by problems, Priti Mahalanobis consulted a fortuneteller who told her there was a curse on her family.

After spending nearly $136,000 in cash, gift cards and jewelry to have Windermere psychic "Miss Starr" remove the hex, Mahalanobis came to the conclusion that she had been swindled.

In November 2011, Peaches Stevens — the psychic's real name — was arrested on fraud charges.

All charges were dropped in September after Stevens agreed to give Mahalanobis and her husband a full refund of $135,898.60.

On Thursday, a similar settlement was negotiated and the Orange-Osceola State Attorney's Office agreed not to prosecute Peaches Stevens, 30, or her aunt Sharon Stevens, 45, also a psychic.

Sharon Stevens, professionally known as Sarah Stevens, was arrested last week at her home in Hallandale Beach on charges of scheming to defraud and grand theft. A warrant for the arrest of Peaches Stevens was recalled Thursday.

Sharon and Peaches Stevens will reimburse a 67-year-old woman in full: $50,702.94 in cash, gift cards and unspecified merchandise paid to have evil spirits vanquished, the State Attorney's Office said. Neither psychic admitted civil or criminal liability.

"Both of my clients are excellent people who offer excellent services," their attorney Helene Raisman said.

A Boca Raton private investigator who brought the case to the attention of law enforcement, Bob Nygaard, was dubious.

"A lot of times in these cases, the defendant tries to buy the victim's silence with a monetary payment," Nygaard said. "It's not the optimal resolution because there's no deterrent when that occurs."

The complainant in the current case would not agree to an interview. Like many people in her situation, she's too embarrassed to go public, Nygaard said.

But Mahalanobis is eager to speak out in the hope of helping others. A college-educated mother, she was at a low point when she consulted Peaches Stevens at the Meditation and Healing Center, steps from the Windermere police station. The business later moved to Winter Garden and operated as Zodiac Gallery.

Mahalanobis wanted to believe it would help if she put 11 $100 bills and 11 relatives' names on a piece of paper under her mattress and a grapefruit under her bed while she slept, as Peaches Stevens advised.

She hoped the jinx would disappear if she gave Stevens $19,000 for each of seven "tabernacles," which never materialized. She said she was told that evil spirits would engulf her family forever if she told anyone about efforts to destroy them.

Mahalanobis lost her Quiznos sub shop in Avalon Park after paying Stevens but says she has recovered financially and emotionally.

"I was extremely lucky that I did receive full restitution," Mahalanobis said. "Most people do not."

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