Last member of South Florida psychic fraud family sentenced

Family of fortune tellers fleeced clients worldwide of more than $20M, prosecutors say

Sun Sentinel, Florida/March 28, 2014

By Paula McMahon

A South Florida "psychic" who admitted she defrauded about $1.2 million from clients – including a mentally ill man who was hearing voices – was sentenced to nearly 3 1/2 years in federal prison Friday.

Cynthia Miller, 36, who ran the Astrology Life store at 2000 E. Sunrise Boulevard in Fort Lauderdale, was the last of nine family members to be sentenced for their roles in a psychic fraud conspiracy that federal prosecutors said fleeced more than $20 million from clients all over the world.

Miller, who advertised as a psychic and "life coach," is a daughter-in-law of Rose Marks, the convicted ringleader of the conspiracy, which operated for more than 20 years out of homes and stores in some of Fort Lauderdale and Manhattan's ritziest neighborhoods.

Miller admitted that she claimed she could communciate with spirits or guides, including Michael the Archangel, and had the power to remove curses and negativity from her clients' lives. She told customers that money or valuables they gave her would either be burned, sacrificed or donated to charity or churches.

One of her victims was a man who heard voices in his head and was grieving the recent death of his father when he sought help at her Fort Lauderdale store.

He eventually gave her $400,000 worth of gold coins in the belief that she could fix his problems, prosecutors Roger Steffin and Larry Bardfeld said.

Though Miller asked the man if he was taking his medication, she continued to take gold coins from him and told him that his "lack of faith" was the cause of his troubles.

When he later asked her to return the coins, Miller told him they "were buried in a cemetery and she could not remember where ... that only Michael the Archangel would know" how to find them. The man later received psychiatric care in Mexico and his native Turkey.

Prosecutors said some of those gold coins were later found in a safety deposit box controlled by Miller's husband, Michael Marks.

Miller also admitted that she took a huge amount of money from a Japanese woman who underwent multiple surgeries for brain tumors while seeking guidance on romantic and other life matters from her. The woman gave her life savings – about $500,000 – to Miller and is now losing her home, in Japan, to foreclosure, according to prosecutors.

Miller, who has three children ages 11, 15 and 18, wept in court as she apologized.

"The first thing I want to say is that I'm sorry to my clients," she said. "There's not a day that goes by that I don't punish myself in praying that one day they will be able to forgive me. I did, and still do, care very deeply for them and pray for them and feel horrible for my actions."

Miller also offered what she said was a sincere apology to retired Fort Lauderdale Detective Charlie Stack and federal agents from the IRS and Secret Service who were publicly accused of misconduct by the family. Miller told them she understood "they had to do their job." Miller pleaded guilty to mail and wire fraud conspiracy last year.

U.S. District Judge Kenneth Marra said that while many of the psychic fraud victims were "foolish and naïve," they were also preyed upon and that Miller knew that at least two of several victims she defrauded were struggling with mental and physical health conditions. He said they were especially vulnerable and particularly susceptible to her brand of fraud.

Though it went unmentioned during Miller's sentencing on Friday, it emerged during Rose Marks' jury trial last year that Miller played a bizarre role in perpetuating Marks' exploitation of best-selling romance novelist Jude Deveraux. Deveraux had proof that Marks took at least $12 million from her, starting in the early 1990s.

Marks is serving more than 10 years in federal prison after being convicted of masterminding the family-run fraud.

Deveraux testified in the trial that, after her 8-year-old son Sam died in an accident in 2005, Marks convinced her that she had the power to swap people's souls between bodies.

Marks tormented Deveraux with claims that her child was not in heaven but that Marks could transfer his soul or spirit in to the body of another person, Deveraux said.

Marks even convinced Deveraux that a virgin, who looked like the late Princess Grace of Monaco, had used a leftover embryo to give birth to a child who was the full-blood brother of Sam, Deveraux said.

Deveraux said that Marks predicted the author would die, assume the body of this woman, marry the actor Brad Pitt and be reunited with her son.

Deveraux later identified Miller as the zombie-like woman that Marks sent her to observe on more than one occasion — including one encounter on the beach in which Miller was accompanied by a young boy.

Marks told Deveraux that she couldn't speak to the woman because she was in a kind of vacant, soulless state, the author said. Investigators said they had proof that Miller knew the role she played in that hoax.

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