A Woodland Hills psychic has been accused of duping at least five victims out of a considerable amount of money. The alleged scam was exposed by a retired New York cop who now specializes in psychic fraud.
Melissa Lee, 28, was arrested on Saturday on suspicion of theft, according to KTLA. One anonymous victim told KTLA that she met with Lee at a Woodland Hills residence, located on Topanga Canyon Blvd., over the course of several months and disclosed numerous personal issues to the psychic.
"[Lee] said at night that she was doing spiritual work and spiritual practice in order to cleanse me of the negativity surrounding me," the victim said.
The victim said the psychic then told her that to "achieve happiness," she had to sacrifice a certain amount of money, but only temporarily. That money, the psychic promised, would be returned to her. But when the woman asked Lee for the money back, she claims Lee stopped responding.
"I'm not a stupid person, I went to college," the victim said, baffled as to how she could have fallen for the scam.
In total, there are five victims who have reported Lee to local police, and a private detective has been working on the case, too. That detective is Bob Nygaard, who told KTLA, "This was an alleged crime that went on all the way from San Diego to L.A. County."
Nygaard said he thinks there are probably more victims than just the five he has encountered, and that Lee may have used other names, too.
According to Nygaard, Lee worked out of other locations as well, including a storefront in Pasadena, a spot in Escondido and another location in Temecula. Nygaard wrote in a release that Lee, "often appeared to target people based upon their religious beliefs. Lee appears to have specifically targeted victims once she learned they were Christians by playing up the fact that she was claiming to be 'doing God’s work.'" The five alleged victims spent between $4,000 and $43,400 on her services. They included a 42-year-old member of the U.S. Navy, and a 36-year-old mother of two children. The mother was allegedly told that someone was doing "evil work" on her husband, with whom she was having a rough patch. In many of the cases, Nygaard alleges that Lee told her clients that the majority of the sum would be returned, as it was only "symbolic."
Exposing crooked psychics is kind of Nygaard's thing. He once worked as a cop in New York City and got into the business of dismantling the psychic racket after encountering a woman at a Miami bar who later told Nygaard she'd been swindled by a well-known psychic named Gina Marie Marks. According to the Guardian, Marks convinced the woman, who worked as a doctor, that she had been cursed by a co-worker. Marks said she could remove the hex, for a fee. After spending thousands of dollars on Marks, the woman was too embarrassed to contact law enforcement, but asked Nygaard if he could help her. Thanks to Nygaard's investigation, Marks was found guilty of theft and organized fraud and sentenced to 18 months in prison. In total, she was found to have conned various clients out of over $500,000.
Nygaard soon discovered Marks' ruse was a common modus operandi: tell an already vulnerable person they're cursed, then charge them exorbitant fees to remove the supposed hex.
Nygaard also helped a woman who had been conned by Upper East Side psychic Betty Vlado. The victim told Nygaard that Vlado convinced her to buy a rare meteorite for $14,500 that Vlado claimed had been used by the likes of Oprah Winfrey and Donald Trump to achieve success. (In retrospect, that meteorite sure would explain some things that are happening today.) But it wasn't even a meteorite. It was a piece of quartz. And it cost less than $400. Vlado also did some time behind bars, thanks to Nygaard.
Vlado later told a parole board about one of her clients, admitting, "She was telling me her problems, and I pretty much took advantage of that," according to the New York Times. When asked if her tarot card readings were "useless," Vlado responded, "Yes, pretty much."
Nygaard told the Guardian that traditional law enforcement often dismisses cases involving fortune tellers, but that he, at the time, had been able to help 21 victims get back $3 million from fraudsters. The Guardian reporter, Arwa Mahdawi, even tried out a psychic for herself. Sure enough, the psychic told her a curse would prevent her from ever securing the love of a man, but a $500 ritual would probably do the trick. Mahdawi is gay, and wasn't really interested in a man's love. You'd think a psychic could have picked up on that, huh?
In 2015, Nygaard helped a man who spent over $500,000 on psychic Priscilla Kelly Delmaro in the hopes of being reunited with his ex-girlfriend. His ex had died, but Delmaro promised him that she could reunite him with his ex's spirit, which was residing in the body of a different, living woman. Nygaard told the L.A. Times that by the time the victim came to him for help, he was a desperate man who asked if he could crash on Nygaard's couch.
While many are quick to blame the victim for falling for the psychic's ruse, Nygaard told the Times, "It's not a crime to be gullible, but it's a crime to steal from a gullible person."
Even television is starting to pick up on the shady psychic. Hulu has just launched a new show about L.A. mediums called Shut Eye, which stars Jeffrey Donovan as a fraudulent psychic who start experiencing real visions.