Three members of a Broward County family of fortune tellers – accused of being part of a $25 million fraud – pleaded guilty to federal charges on Friday, admitting they ripped off vulnerable customers to the tune of more than $200,000.
Rosie Marks, 38, and her niece, Vivian Marks, 23, pleaded guilty to wire fraud conspiracy – admitting they lied to two clients while working as psychics, fortune tellers and spiritual advisers in Fort Lauderdale and New York City. Rosie Marks' husband, Donnie Eli, 40, pleaded guilty to a money-laundering conspiracy charge.
The trio will have to repay the money to victims but may avoid prison sentences. Prosecutors said they will probably recommend probation or house arrest at their May 10 sentencings.
The women promised to clear negativity from the customers' lives by performing "cleansing rituals" on cash and other valuables or giving it to charities that help children in Africa.
They told the clients, a man having marital strife and a woman grieving her mother's death from cancer and seeking guidance about her love life, that "spirit guides" dictated how much money the endeavors would cost.
Instead, the "money was used and spent by the [women] and others for their personal living expenses and entertainment," federal prosecutors said.
Prosecutors said the trio and another family member, Michael Marks, 34, who pleaded guilty to a fraud conspiracy last year, played relatively minor roles in a broader conspiracy led by family matriarch, Rose Marks, 61, of Fort Lauderdale.
Rose Marks and another three family members accused of being major players are scheduled to go to trial on April 1. A ninth relative is scheduled for trial in August.
Defense attorneys for the family have asked a federal judge to throw out the allegations against them, claiming misconduct by prosecutors and investigators. The government denies any wrongdoing but agreed the defendants can ask to withdraw their guilty pleas if the judge sides with the defense and dismisses the indictment.
In her plea agreement, Rosie Marks admitted she received money from a victim, identified as "C.C." who sent money from Virginia between 1998 and 2010.
Prosecutors said she sent about $104,500 but the defense wants more proof of the amount involved before sentencing.
Marks told the woman she could "communicate with the spirits." When she found out the woman had inherited some money, Marks said the inheritance and her family was cursed and filled with negativity and that was why she could not find true love.
She told the victim to make monetary "sacrifices" to remove the curse and that Marks "could not use the money for her personal use and the money would 'come back' to C.C. after the work was complete."
Vivian Marks, who also used her grandmother's stage name "Joyce Michael" admitted claiming she could "contact spirit guides who would provide her with God-given directions" on how clients should live their lives. The spirits instructed the clients to give her money to cleanse it, remove negativity or evil from the victim's life. She promised the money would be used in rituals and sacrifices, donated to charity or returned to the victim, but prosecutors said she and her family kept it.
Vivian Marks met a male victim from a foreign country, identified only as "J.S.," when he was visting New York City in July 2008. She told him "money meant nothing to her" and anything he gave her would go to rituals or charity.
He sent her more than $100,000 from a bank in Denmark over the next six months, prosecutors said. When he became suspicious, she told him the money would be returned to him. The money was never returned, prosecutors said.
Donnie Eli admitted he received close to $30,000 from victims on behalf of his wife and sold gold coins that prosecutors said came from another victim to a coin dealer or pawn shop.
email@example.com, 954-356-4533 or Twitter @SentinelPaula