Your Palm's Telling Me You Must Let Go Of $27,000

Organizations linked to Tvind come under scrutiny

The New York Times/May 13, 2011

Can psychics see their own futures? If so, Sylvia Mitchell, 36, peering into her crystal ball on a busy corner of Greenwich Village, might have caught a glimpse of her driver's license photo, blown up and attached to an unpleasant poster saying "Wanted" and "Grand Larceny" and "$28,000." And so she apparently took off.

This city is up to its third eye in psychics and palm readers, and yet little is known about them. Called gypsies by the police, they are as structured as the Mafia, with a council of elders to solve their disputes over turf. The families are not named Luchese, Gambino or Genovese, but the relatively anonymous Eli, Evans, Miller and Johns.

"The scam is tremendous," said Lt. Manny Hernandez, of the detective squad at the Sixth Precinct, in Manhattan. Adam Brown, a lawyer suing Ms. Mitchell, called the business "organized psychic crime."

Grand larceny is historically a clear-cut crime, like stealing a purse in a bar. Some psychic cases would seem harder to prosecute: The squad is also looking for a psychic named Angela from a West 18th Street parlor who detectives say persuaded a client to give her $9,000 for some magic coins that the two, in a cleansing ritual, later threw into an upstate lake.

Ms. Mitchell is wanted for questioning in a case that began unfolding in July 2008, when a middle-aged Manhattan woman entered the door marked "Zena" on Seventh Avenue South and Bleecker Street, a parlor far more elegant than the usual table-and-two-chairs setups for psychics. There were beaded curtains and hanging plants and lanterns, and a sign that said Zena kept offices in New York and Cannes.

Ms. Mitchell greeted her and read her palm and, $70 later, told her that there was "very important information that could help her change and better her life, but it would cost her $1,000," a detective later wrote. The woman was going through a breakup and a job change, and, hungry for good news, paid up.

Her problem, Ms. Mitchell explained, was her attachment to money.

And here we pause for a guilty little chuckle. Not to kick the victim while she is down, but who would fall for such a thing?

Therein lies the trade secret, Lieutenant Hernandez said: finding a vulnerable person with a good-size wallet. "They gain your confidence," he said. "And then you're scammed."

Ms. Mitchell told the woman that this attachment-to-money problem could be addressed by the woman giving her $27,000 to "learn to let go." It was just an exercise, Ms. Mitchell told the woman, promising to return the money at any time, the police said. The client paid with a check but awoke the next day and realized that her "judgment had been clouded," she told detectives. When she asked for the money back, Ms. Mitchell said it was no longer "available," the police said.

It was not Ms. Mitchell's only run-in with a dissatisfied customer.

A few months after she took the woman's check, another woman, distraught over a breakup, entered Zena's store - or as she called it in a later lawsuit, a "lair" - and, after a $60 crystal reading, Ms. Mitchell came up with a plan to remove "blockages." The woman was to wear white to bed all week, and write a "prayer list" of goals, wrap it in $900 cash, put it in a jar, add water and a little spit, and sleep with it under her pillow.

At the end of the week, and dressed all in black, the woman was to bring the jar to Ms. Mitchell. She did, and the psychic asked her to step out of the room. When she returned a short while later, the water in the jar was red. "Impurities," Ms. Mitchell explained, and she kept the jar, the lawsuit says. She also spent over $9,000 on clothes one day after taking the woman's credit card.

A process server has yet to find Ms. Mitchell. Where is she? Her old boss, Zena herself - her full name, she said, "like Cher" - said she had no idea. "I fired her," Zena said this week.

Last she heard, Ms. Mitchell was in France (and not at the Cannes office). Zena is not a suspect, and incidentally is open for business, reading a certain ink-stained palm last month and seeing a long life and a sunny vacation soon.

Back to Ms. Mitchell and the client with attachment-to-money issues. She threatened to go to the police, and Ms. Mitchell, in an unusual about-face, returned $10,000 in a series of payments. But they abruptly stopped one year ago.

Anyone who knows Ms. Mitchell's whereabouts is encouraged to ask her to write "Don't get arrested" on a prayer list, spit on it and hand over $900.

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