Lafayette gives psychic business evil eye

Journal and Courier, Indiana/February 26, 2011

Lafayette city officials are dusting off a little-known municipal code in an attempt to shut down a self-proclaimed psychic who police say misled customers into giving up thousands of dollars.

On Thursday, the city issued a cease-and-desist letter to Patricia Johns, owner of Astrology Gallery on South Street, said Ed Chosnek, the city's attorney. If she doesn't shut down the business soon, the city will consider legal action.

"Not within hours, but within days of the receipt of the letter we expect her to be in compliance with the ordinance," Chosnek said.

He said Johns is violating a code on the books since at least the 1970s. It bans fortune-tellers and clairvoyants from profiting off those services.

Johns came to the city's attention after police heard from two of her former customers. They said they were misled into giving Johns cash or items worth $80,000, said Lafayette Police Detective B.T. Brown.

A third victim, who reported Johns to Frankfort police, said they were misled into giving Johns payments worth $120,000, Brown said.

According to the complaints, Johns told the clients they were the victims of evil spirits, bad karma or curses. She then would offer to remove those ailments in exchange for some form of payment, Brown said.

In some instances, the clients paid in cash. In others, they paid in gold coins, expensive crystals or other objects, he said.

However, because the victims willingly gave up the items in hopes of receiving a service, police and officials with the prosecutor's office said Johns hasn't committed a crime under any state statutes.

"Is what she's doing morally wrong? I think so," Brown said. "Have I seen any results that she's given to anybody for what she's received? No."

Johns did not return a call or an e-mail seeking comment for this story.

After some digging, police learned about the city code banning residents from profiting off fortune-telling or clairvoyant services, Brown said.

Astrology Gallery is known for its neon sign that says "Psychic Reader." The sign was deactivated this week. It's unclear how long the business has been at its South Street location.

The reason officials didn't act earlier to shut down Johns' business, Chosnek said, is because they hadn't received any complaints. Enforcement of city code is a complaint-based system.

Additionally, Chosnek said the applicable code is not a well-known one. It joins several obscure city codes that in some cases, Chosnek said, are outdated.

Given the complaints against Johns, the ordinance banning residents from profiting off clairvoyant practices isn't one of those, Chosnek said.

"We felt that in this particular circumstance, with what appears to be a blatant violation of the ordinance, it clearly justifies us seeking to enforce it," Chosnek said.

"We don't know if there are others (with businesses similar to Johns') out there. ... We'll send out another cease-and-desist letter if it comes to our attention that there are others."

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