We recently discussed the crackdown on sorcerers in Muslim countries. Mystics are finding themselves targeted in the United States as well in recent weeks. In New York and Florida, clairvoyants have been prosecuted for fraud and some cities and states are moving to ban soothsaying.
While I have little respect for fortune tellers, I do view such activities as protected by both free speech and free association principles. Indeed, laws requiring express disclosures that soothsaying or medium work is “for entertainment only” requires speech that clearly runs against the views of both mediums and their clients. Many believe in the supernatural and I fail to see why they have to post “entertainment” warnings but not mainstream religions that encourage prayer to Earthly rewards. Indeed, some televangelists assure their followers that faith can bring answers to their prayers for money and success.
Obviously, there are many fools who are easy to part with their money. For example, well-known romance novelist Jude Deveraux paid psychic Rosa Marks about $17 million over 17 years and later testified against her in a fraud trial in Florida. She says that she was duped into believing that Marks could transfer the spirit of Deveraux’s dead 8-year-old son into another boy’s body and reunite them. Putting aside Deveraux’s willingness to use another boy for such a transfer, she is an adult who decided to pay for the supernatural service. She now says “[w]hen I look back on it now, it was outrageous. I was out of my mind.” Well, yes, yes you were, but why is that a crime because someone sold you on a fantasy? A casino can take the same amount in gambling without recourse and a church can take it on the promise that she will be rewarded in the afterlife by reuniting with her son.
Marks, 62, of Fort Lauderdale, was found guilty of fraud and money-laundering conspiracies, mail and wire fraud, money-laundering and filing false tax returns. The Roma gypsy family was targeted in “Operation Crystal Ball” which led to the arrest of 10 family members. The Justice Department stated:
used magic tricks and false statements to frighten their victims into giving them large sums of money and other valuables, including jewelry and gold coins, to be “cleansed” of the evil spirits. The defendants told victims that they and their family would suffer terrible consequences, including diseases, hauntings, and financial hardships, unless they turned over their money and valuables for “cleansing” by the defendants.
In 2011, another psychic named Nancy Marks was convicted in Colorado of bilking clients. She allegedly told clients that “money is evil” while convincing them to give her $300,000.
Sylvia Mitchell, 39, a psychic in Grennwich Village, was also convicted of grand larceny in swindling two women out of nearly $140,000. She told Debra Saalfield, a professional dancer, that she was once an Egyptian princess and convinced Lee Choong to given her $100,000 as a way of improving her love life. To make matter even worse, one female juror told the media that she was afraid to give her name because Mitchell would “put a hex on me.” She said that Mitchell stared at her in a menacing supernatural way. The free speech concerns of the case were magnified by the allegations of promises of improved lives. However, there were specific allegations that money was taken to be held but not returned or used to buy charms. That brings elements of conduct that mitigate some free speech concerns.
I remain unclear on why some supernatural promises are protected while others are not. Consider such religious pitches below: