[West Palm Beach, FL] Back in August of last year, Sunshine Slate reported on federal indictments that alleged that a fortune-telling family was ripping off clients all the while claiming to ward off evil spirits, financial hardship and the like in exchange for millions of dollars.
$40 million, in fact, say federal prosecutors. The case even ensnared a celebrity author – Jude Gilliam Montassir, who writes under the name Jude Deverau – who forked over $20 million to this tribe of fortune-telling gypsies.
Now, with the court date fast approaching in November, defense attorneys for the family are revealing the cards that they will play in court. They say that the family has done nothing wrong, that their actions are protected by the First Amendment and the freedom to worship any way they see fit.
While the lawyers for ringleader Rose Marks and eight others try to spook prosecutors into dropping the charges, the case brings up an interesting debate: Is fortune-telling free speech, or is it an age-old scam that uses religion as both its hook, and its cover?
If fortune-telling of this type has long been considered protected free speech – as the clan’s lawyers claim, anyway – does that also offer blanket protection to take millions from clients for services when those clients believe a particular job or service is being performed?
The problem is, what these folks offer is bogus, unsubstantiated garbage in the form of spiritual entertainment. They cannot talk to the dead. They do not have special powers. They simply have a gift, and that gift is to coax the gullible into giving them money for something they actually are physically (and spiritually) unable to do.
But try proving that in a court of law. That’s where this case gets interesting. Prosecutors could get dangerously close to saying that none of this is real, and thereby, saying that any belief in the “supernatural” or “powerful beings” is simply not true. You know, like god, the devil, etc. Will they go down that prickly road?
Possibly emboldening prosecutors is their contention that the evidence shows that the fortune-telling family also scared these people into thinking that bad things will happen to them if they didn’t follow their directions which usually involved giving them money and/or valuables, according to the court filings.
Their actions of “spiritual extortion” went far beyond mere fortune-telling and entered the realm of fraud.
The victims would “suffer terrible consequences, including diseases, hauntings, and financial hardships, unless they turned over their money and valuables for ‘cleansing’ by the defendants,” according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office Southern District of Florida release.
And that, prosecutors will no doubt argue, is fraud any way you slice it.
But the case could hinge on the fact that what they were doing wasn’t technically illegal and that no one can prove that they didn’t actually ward off those evil spirits as they claim. Maybe these people can actually do what they say. Maybe they have the spiritual world on speed dial. Maybe they have perpetrated the perfect crime.
The burden of proof is on the prosecution, after all.
By: Mark Christopher/Sunshine Slate