Albemarle psychic pleads guilty to mail fraud, money laundering

Culpeper Star-Component/May 18, 2016

By Lauren Berg

A self-proclaimed psychic formerly based in Albemarle County pleaded guilty Tuesday to committing mail fraud and stealing more than $1 million from her former clients.

Sandra Stevenson Marks, 42, smiled at her husband, Donnie Marks, as she entered the courtroom Tuesday in Charlottesville Federal Court. Calling herself a “life coach” and “psychic,” Marks pleaded guilty to one count of mail fraud and one count of money laundering. For both charges, she could face up to 20 years behind bars, as well as thousands of dollars in fines.

“I’ve talked many people into giving me their money, which I told them I would keep safe,” Marks said at the hearing. “But I was spending it all along.”

Marks was originally indicted on 34 counts, including two counts of mail fraud, 31 counts of wire fraud and one count of money laundering. As part of the plea agreement, the charges were simplified and condensed, with the rest set to be dismissed at a future sentencing hearing, according to court documents.

Marks told the court that through her fortune-telling business in Albemarle County, “Readings by Catherine,” she talked to people in person, on the phone and through the mail to solicit money from them in exchange for “lifting their curse.” She said she often used the money to pay her bills and transferred it to her personal accounts.

“I did it to promote my business,” Marks said.

As part of her plea agreement, Marks will be required to pay back at least $1.2 million to the victims of her psychic scheme, according to court documents. By pleading guilty, Marks also agreed to waive her right to appeal, no matter the sentence handed down to her.

Assistant United States Attorney Ronald M. Huber briefly went over the evidence in the case — to which Marks stipulated — and told the court how Marks would tell her clients she was clairvoyant and could see into the past and future.

Convincing her clients they were suffering from a “curse” and a “dark cloud,” Huber said Marks told them they would need to make a sacrifice of large amounts of money and values. Marks told them she would take those items and bury them in a box to be “cleansed.” Once the “work” was complete, Marks told her clients the money and valuables would be returned.

Contrary to this claim, Marks told the court she did not return the money and, instead, used it for her personal use, Huber said. When Marks needed more money, she would tell clients she needed more to continue her “work.” All told, Huber said Marks took more than $1 million from her clients.

U.S. Federal Judge Glen Conrad accepted Marks’ plea of guilty and also ordered a pre-sentencing report. A sentencing hearing was scheduled for August.

Marks’ husband said he did not want to comment on his wife’s plea until the case was concluded.

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