The New Jersey Psychic With a Box of Swiss Gold

The New York Times/September 4, 2015

By Michael Wilson

Detectives entered a Wells Fargo branch in Cliffside Park, N.J., in April with a search warrant authorizing them to open safe deposit box No. 679. The box’s contents led them to Manhattan’s diamond district, uptown to a frail woman’s apartment in Washington Heights, then back across the river, revealing a multilayered, multistate network of deception and crime.

The box belonged to a 27-year-old man from Fort Lee, N.J., with no known job or source of legitimate income, but with a father suspected of organizing schemes designed to defraud older adults. So it was with some surprise that this safe deposit box revealed treasures generally favored by Bond villains.

Beside a stack of cash were 15 ingots of solid gold, a cache worth $40,000. They were molded into small bars bearing the face of the goddess Fortuna.

The bars were marked PAMP Suisse, using an acronym for the company that made them: Produits Artistiques Métaux Précieux, or artistic precious metals products. The company is based in Switzerland, and in North America, its gold is sold exclusively at a single location: the offices of Manfra, Tordella & Brookes, in the diamond district on West 47th Street.

Detectives visited the store later this spring. It is on the third floor of its high-security building, and visitors are required to provide identification and to scan their fingers on biometric readers before entering a metal detector and any elevator.

Who had bought the gold? Every transaction is on video, from the faces of the buyers to close-ups of the gold bars. The dealer reviewed hours of video before finding the right serial numbers and identifying the buyer: Two women, one young and one in her 60s, had come together for the gold, the older woman paying for it in a sales booth behind bulletproof glass. She lived in Washington Heights.

A New York City detective visited her apartment. The woman said she had recently been diagnosed with terminal cancer. Grasping for hope, she had visited a store in Fort Lee marked “psychic” on the awning. There she met the younger woman, who said she had healing powers and could help, but she needed cash and gold, according to a racketeering indictment released last week in Somerset County, N.J., and in other court documents.

The psychic had driven the woman to West 47th Street that day, and they had left with $128,000 in gold bars.

The psychic was identified as Sable Edwards, 26, the wife of the man whose safe deposit box yielded the gold. Detectives searched the couple’s home in Cliffside Park and found a notebook — a diary, really — that suggested Ms. Edwards was doing more than telling fortunes.

The diary listed the names of nine women. Beside each was the name of a store. “Adel Wilson, Victoria’s Secret,” “Angela Cohen, Walmart,” and so forth. The address of the store, a date, the birth dates of the women and other facts were included.

Investigators contacted the stores and pieced together a pattern. The list was a record of slip-and-fall incidents in New York and New Jersey, apparently coordinated by Ms. Edwards and pulled off with the help of two of her cousins.

“They go to a store such as a Walmart or a Target or Victoria’s Secret,” said Bryan Stillwell, a special agent with the National Insurance Crime Bureau who worked on the case. “They’ll wander around, mingle around. They’ll always have someone with them so they have a witness.”

Wearing heels, the women would find a little crack in the floor. Then they would fall down. The witness would summon help, and store workers would fill out the required paperwork. The woman would give an assumed name — the ones in the diary — and address. Then she would visit an emergency room in New Jersey, complaining of neck and back pain, vomiting and often a broken nose — actually from a past injury.

The hospital would run tests and give the woman a bill, usually for $3,000 to $5,000 but sometimes rising to $6,000 or more after X-rays. The woman would submit the bill to the adjuster who handles injury cases for the store.

“A lot of these claims are denied,” Mr. Stillwell said. The women often aroused suspicion by declining to meet in person with the adjuster. They moved on to another store, he said. “They just keep submitting them,” he said. “Eventually, they’re going to get paid for something.” When they did, they kept the proceeds for themselves, leaving the medical bills unpaid and the hospitals with a fictional name.

On Jan. 11, a woman going by the name Theresa Lordes entered the Victoria’s Secret store in Herald Square and fell down. She went to the Hoboken University Medical Center and left with a bill for $6,625.80. She also visited a plastic surgeon, who gave her an estimate for a $17,000 procedure to fix her nose.

The woman was identified as Teresa Butch, 28, a cousin of Ms. Edwards who remains at large. Ms. Butch’s claim was denied. Similar claims were made at the Henri Bendel store on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan and a Food Emporium in Brooklyn. Ms. Edwards and several others were arrested and charged with racketeering.

In all, prosecutors said, the women submitted claims for $150,000 and were paid $36,000. A chunk of that came from another cousin, identified as Ericka Mitchell, 32, in a 2013 claim against a Walmart in New Jersey. She submitted a bill and was paid $12,500.

These scores paid out far from the bright booths of the diamond district and its gold ingots, instead bringing the women to check-cashing stores with fake identification where money, not questions, came easy, as Ms. Mitchell’s ID proved. It listed a different sort of exotic address, in Hartford, N.J., on a street that doesn’t exist and with a Connecticut ZIP code.

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