A bogus faith healer conned at least £1 million from victims who were convinced she could cure cancer or help them conceive children by sending money to the Amazon jungle, a court heard.
In a fraud case, Juliette D’Souza is accused of persuading 11 people to part with huge cash “sacrifices” of £30,000 or £40,000 at a time, telling them she was a shaman with supernatural powers.
They believed the money was flown to Suriname to be hung from a magical tree in the Amazon rainforest – somehow solving whatever problem they faced.
Instead, it allegedly funded a “lavish lifestyle” in which D’Souza rented three or four upmarket flats at a time, and spent a fortune on Louis Vuitton bags, jewellery, antique furniture and holidays, Blackfriars Crown Court heard.
The 59-year-old, of Perrin’s Lane, Hampstead, allegedly preyed on people at their most vulnerable over a 12-year period and boasted of celebrity clients including Princess Diana and X Factor guru Simon Cowell to win their trust.
Victims, mostly referred to her by osteopath Keith Bender, were so “under her spell” that they sold houses at her say so, the trial was told.
Benjamin Aina QC, prosecuting, said: “Juliette D’Souza told people she was a shaman.
She was dealing with members of the public who had serious life challenges: some were dying from cancer, some had close friends who were dying from cancer, some had physical ailments, some were desperate to have children. In one case, a couple had a child with disabilities who they wished to help.
“The money would be sent in a sealed envelope to Suriname to faith healers Oma and Pa. They would put the money under or on a special tree and as a result of this, the life problem would be solved.
“Instead, she used the money to fund a lavish lifestyle in the UK and in South America.”
Victims allegedly included Ruth Fillingham, who is said to have paid £169,000 from 1998 to 2004 to ward off the evil spirit of her deceased brother, save her partner from a nonexistent tumour and ensure her eye surgery would be a success – which it was not.
Her boyfriend, Geoff Wheeler, handed over £195,000 in the same period, the court heard. Much of the money was supposed to secure his job, but he was still made redundant.
D’Souza is said to have had multiple identities and a litany of addresses across Hampstead, including in Perrin’s Lane, Denning Road, Willoughby Road, Rosslyn Hill and Heath Street, as well as in West Hampstead, Belsize Park, Kensington and St John’s Wood. She would pay up to a year’s rent in advance – in cash.
The jury heard that osteopath Mr Bender “genuinely believed that she had special powers” and was “completely under her influence” for more than 10 years, until he realised she was a sham in 2007.
D’Souza claims she never professed to be a shaman, but that Keith Bender was behind the fraud and has arranged a conspiracy against her involving all of the witnesses, the court was told.
She denies 23 charges of obtaining property by deception and fraud. The trial continues.
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