‘Psychic’ Sentenced to Prison for Fraud


A Colorado woman who defrauded her clients of hundreds of thousands of dollars was sentenced to five years in prison last week. A local TV station in Denver has a full report:

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.

As part of her sentence, the judge ordered Marks to pay back her victims.

“You people never give up, do you?” said Marks to the waiting media outside the courtroom before her sentencing on Friday. “Leave a person alone.”

Obvious response: Why didn’t she see this coming? Less obviously, how can we distinguish between this and every other instance of a “psychic” taking money from some poor sap?

Comments

  1. anandine says

    Less obviously, how can we distinguish between this and every other instance of a “psychic” taking money from some poor sap?

    Easy. Ask a psychic.

  2. Didaktylos says

    There’s a famous joke isn’t there:

    Clairvoyants Convention cancelled due to unforseen circumstances.

  3. whirligig says

    Her mistake was claiming the wrong power source. She should have said she needed the numbers so God could drive the “root of evil” out of their bank accounts. Then it would have been tax free.

  4. Chiroptera says

    Obvious response: Why didn’t she see this coming?

    Especially since you don’t need psychic powers to have seen this one coming.

    I wonder: suppose that someone comes up with wrong predictions significantly more often than can be explained through chance. Would Randi still give out the million dollars?

  5. Hercules Grytpype-Thynne says

    Her mistake was claiming the wrong power source. She should have said she needed the numbers so God could drive the “root of evil” out of their bank accounts. Then it would have been tax free.

    And it never hurts to say that a 900-foot Jesus told you so.

  6. Irreverend Bastard says

    Less obviously, how can we distinguish between this and every other instance of a “psychic” taking money from some poor sap?

    The same way we distinguish between dihydrogen monoxide and water.

  7. marcus says

    “Psychics” got away for a long time claiming that their “performances” were for entertainment purposes only and by often not “charging” for the service but only “accepting donations”. As abhorrent as this may be to some I don’t think it is necessarily the State’s obligation to keep every fool from being separated from their money (there are also First Amendment issues involved). However I am please that when the line is crossed into obvious fraudulent activity that the legal apparatus acts appropriately, such as such as the above.

  8. says

    how can we distinguish between this and every other instance of a “psychic” taking money from some poor sap?

    I bet the bit about “tax evasion” had a lot to do with it.
    Why else would ch-urk-ches be tax exempt?

  9. d cwilson says

    whirligig:

    Nah, what she should have done was tell them to give her 10% of their income and they’ll go to heaven. That way, she’d make tons of money and it would be tax free!

  10. Ben P says

    Less obviously, how can we distinguish between this and every other instance of a “psychic” taking money from some poor sap?

    Although not quite the same thing, I think this is a close question to “honest services fraud” questions in the law. Psychics typically have to classify what they do as “entertainment” to get around customer fraud laws.

    under the law I’m free (and I think I should be) to decide to pay someone $100 to babble at me for 20 minutes if I want to do that. The really sticky questions come into place where we consider what a person can claim the babbling provides a “benefit” before they’ve committed fraud.

  11. Chiroptera says

    Ben P, #11:

    Hypothetical question:

    Suppose that I really was psychic and could predict the future reasonably precisely and accurately.

    But suppose my stage show was boring.

    If I billed this as “entertainment,” would I be guilty of fraud?

  12. Ben P says

    Suppose that I really was psychic and could predict the future reasonably precisely and accurately.

    But suppose my stage show was boring.

    If I billed this as “entertainment,” would I be guilty of fraud?

    Did you misrepresent specific material facts?

    Things like “The best show on earth” aren’t statements that are really susceptible to fraud, it’s just puffery. You typically can’t sue saying “that’s not the best show on earth, I want my money back.”

    On the other hand, if I advertise a concert saying the Rolling Stones are performing, but then reveal at the last minute that it’s not the Rolling Stones, but actually the Trolling Stones, a cover band, I’ve made a specific material misrepresentation of fact and can probably be sued.

    Applying it to psychics is tricky. if someone wants to get on stage and advertise that they will do cold readings, are they doing anything wrong? If a psychic says they can “read the future” but clearly disclaims on the ticket that they are “providing entertainment only,” are they doing anything wrong then?

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