Psychic Sent to Prison for 5 years for Fraud - So can we jail them all now?

Via Ed I find out about a Psychic in Colorado sentenced to 5 years for fraud.

BOULDER, Colo. (CBS4)- A woman claiming to be a psychic has been sentenced to five years behind bars for stealing more than $300,000 from her clients.

Nancy Marks told her victims she needed their cash and credit card numbers to "draw out bad energy."

In Dec. 2010, a jury in Boulder found Marks guilty on 14 counts of fraud and tax evasion.

Now here is what I find confusing. How is this woman different (other than the tax evasion) from other psychics who claim to be able to predict the future, talk to ghosts, or otherwise lie in order to extract money from their victims?

"One of our victims had a son who was thought to be dying within less than a year. All of them were desperate. She in particular was desperate to find some way to save him," said Deputy District Attorney Mike Foote.

Foote said Marks' fraud was deliberate. She groomed their victims, he said, and then ruined their lives. She convinced them to turn over cash, bank account numbers and credit cards so she could "scare the evil out of them."

Foote told the judge the only way to protect the community from Marks was to put her in prison.

I agree, the only way to protect the community from fraud is to imprison the fraudsters, but I'm still confused. How is this different from 1-900 numbers? Palm readers? Tarot readers? etc? Her victims were just more gullible? She took more money under false pretenses than is standard? Isn't this really just a matter of degree?

Her lawyer's defense seems particularly poor:

Marks' attorney believes the sentence is too harsh and that the victims the jury believes she scammed, kept returning to her for advice.

"I think the sentence is over the top because I really think that the victims in this case were complicit," said Defense Attorney Stanley Marks.

Marks said the victims may have been duped but no one held a gun to their head. He argued for probation in exchange for restitution.

This is a weak argument. Fraud, simply, is lying to someone in order to extract money or otherwise take advantage of or harm the victim. Just because it doesn't involve guns doesn't make it any less criminal, or any less wrong.

I know inevitably people will show up in the comments and say the victims deserved it, or that it's Darwinism in action. But blaming the victim of fraud is pretty low. Just because someone is stupid, or gullible, does not make it OK to steal their money. And it isn't Darwinism unless it prevents them from passing on their genetic material. No one has demonstrated to me that the stupid are any less fecund than the smart. If anything the opposite is the case.

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Thanks for including that last paragraph about blaming the victim. I agree completely.

As for how other psychics get away with it: time and again with psychics, astrologers, tarot readers and others the defense always revolves around the First Amendment. Complete and utter nonsense is still free speech.

@Krelnik: The First Amendment defense is fine as long as these people can plausibly claim that what they are doing is entertainment. That's why Fox News gets away with what they do: they successfully argued in court that the First Amendment covers what they do. But Fox is not directly asking its viewers for money. At some point there is a line where the psychic (astrologer, etc.) can no longer claim to be doing this for entertainment. IANAL, so I don't know exactly where that line falls, but Marks (an ironic name for someone accused of fraud; that term is usually applied to the victims) clearly crossed it by making unauthorized account withdrawals and credit card charges.

And yes, the reason fraud is against the law is to protect people from predators. Marks was going after desperate people, and somebody who is desperate is unusually likely to do something stupid. That's predatory behavior on her part.

By Eric Lund (not verified) on 29 Feb 2012 #permalink

Jaleesa @3: we await with bated breath the news of your winning Randi's million bucks :-)

By Andrew G. (not verified) on 29 Feb 2012 #permalink

All psychics ARE frauds, Jaleesa - you included.

Now here is what I find confusing. How is this woman different (other than the tax evasion) from other psychics who claim to be able to predict the future, talk to ghosts, or otherwise lie in order to extract money from their victims?

Ah, let's check with the Colorado Daily:

According to police and court records, seven victims told police that Marks said she needed their cash to "draw out the bad energy" and their credit card numbers to see how frequently the number 6 appeared. Marks then refused to return the cash and used the credit cards to make purchases at Macy's, Target and Sears, the police report said.


She probably forgot to put the, "For entertainment purposes only.", sign out, so could actually get arrested for it. Seriously though, people get arrested, and jailed, for this all the time, it doesn't stop morons like Jaleesa from a) believing it, b) convincing themselves, and others, its real, or c) using the same methods that got the last one arrested, while *convinced* its somehow different.

Narad, I'm pretty sure those 1-900 psychics would refuse to return your cash too if you were unsatisfied with their reading.

How is it different to run a 1-900 number and deduct money from people's credit cards for psychic services? She told them she needed their money to draw out evil energy, which must be psychic speak for "line of credit". It's still fraud.

As far as the "entertainment only" nonsense, it's the worst kind of sophistry. If we had a real system of consumer protection in this country, such pathetic defenses would not be protective. We all know that people like Jaleesa really believe this crap, and that other people that really believe this crap will give them money for psychic services, not for entertainment. People base life decisions on this nonsense.

"As far as the "entertainment only" nonsense, it's the worst kind of sophistry."

Worked for Fox!

In the UK, it works for Top Gear.

I tell my students that there is a simple test to use if they need to determine whether someone is or is not a fraud: If the person claims to be a psychic, he/she is a fraud.

How is it different to run a 1-900 number and deduct money from people's credit cards for psychic services? She told them she needed their money to draw out evil energy, which must be psychic speak for "line of credit".

If you give someone physical money to have it spiritually cleansed, presumably you expect getting it back to be part of the service being rendered--otherwise, you could just discard it yourself. Similarly, it appears that the credit card numbers were nominally required for numerological purposes.

@2 Eric: Wouldn't unauthorized account withdrawals make it simple theft?

Of course the other obvious question is what about all the clergy who also ask for money and claim it is God's Will

Jeff makes the most important point. Most people in the world believe in some kind of spiritual or supernatural force. Most societies compensate practitioners of accepted belief systems. In this country, we have freedom of religion and freedom of speech and certainly that should include the freedom to consult and pay a psychic or astrologer. It sounds as if Narad is correct in what line the Colorado woman crossed: she took more than she said she was charging. She lied about how much she was going to take. Etc.

I agree with Margaret. Going to and paying a psychic, just like going to and donating at a church, may actually help because of the placebo effect and the self-fulfilling prophecy effect. These are support systems people invent. Freedom of expression and freedom of religion both dictate we respect those choices. In this case, the fraud was not that she asked to be paid for an ineffective service, but that she took money that was not offered as payment, and which was supposed to be paid back. The problem with laws which restrict such ineffective businesses is that the laws can easily then be extended to cover all activity not in line with orthodoxy. Wouldn't we be able to ban anybody who makes money giving speeches denying global warming? What about anybody who makes money giving speeches denying speed of light is a maximum? Where does that end?

Who would even care if it was Darwinism?

Just because something is natural doesn't make it okay, or gives you a pass to do it.

"Is" does not imply "ought".

By satanfornoreason (not verified) on 13 Mar 2012 #permalink

Margaret's on the right track here. Taking money in exchange for the "service" of providing "insights" from "beyond" is EXACTLY what religion does. Astrology and tarot and suchlike are no different to any other supernatural articles of belief such as the existence of a deity and certain details of the life of Jesus et. al.

I would be happy to regulate all types of financial transactions in regard to supernatural claims, IF and only if, they included established churches in their scope as well, and treated all such cases equally.

Furthermore I'd be happy to see the tax exemptions for churches lifted entirely, such that only the charitable and educational components remained tax exempt along with their secular (nonreligious) equivalents.

As for fraud, what do you call tithing? Give money to the church in exchange for a favorable placement in the hereafter?


Lastly an observation from the main street of a well-known city.

Recently seen, a cheerful new psychic shop, whose signage, all fairly new neon signs, includes the wording "Love, success, happiness!"

It would be interesting to set up another psychic shop on the opposite street corner with a sign that included the wording "Divorce, bankruptcy, despair!"

You would have "the bulls" on one side and "the bears" on the other.

Perhaps someone should try that on Wall Street. It would be fitting of the kind of mentality that has taken over the place in the last decade or so. Or perhaps Goldman et. al. have cornered the market on that sort of thing.

Im not religious, but you guys are really grasping at straws. Psychics et al run a for profit business where you are required to give them money in exchange for their service. Churches encourage donations, but you can attend every day of your life and never pay a cent. Also, as non profits, they generally put that money back into the community where the donor lives, whereas psychics use it for personal gain.

How is this different from 1-900 numbers? Palm readers? Tarot readers? etc?

How is going 2 miles per hour over the speed limit different from going 50 miles per hour over the limit? How is stealing $2 different from stealing $1000? Most good legal systems do take into account both the nature and magnitude of the action. These aren't binary systems.

By tonylurker (not verified) on 22 Mar 2012 #permalink

Those 1-900 number psychics do occasionally get prosecuted or sued. Miss Cleo, for example eventually settled a suit brought by the FTC.

By tonylurker (not verified) on 22 Mar 2012 #permalink

Science makes life really difficult for people who experience future memories.At best, we are told we are mistaken, instead of being assisted with the distress the memories can cause,- unlike past memories the chain of events is often unseen.Thus you can end up trying to help someone, knowing there is nothing else you can do. I believe that, in time, the part of the brain that is involved in this will become known and we may also acquire a better understanding of time.As for financial profit? No, no, no.