Elie was just looking for guidance. Last April, the California resident was trudging through a rough patch. The COVID-19 pandemic had closed down much of the country, he was reeling from a difficult breakup and he had recently been laid off twice. He soon came across an Instagram post that caught his eye. The account, @psychicuniverse1111, boasted of being a prominent spiritual advisor and psychic medium.
The posts advertised 10-minute readings for $10 and a flat $35 rate for a “full twin flame reading,” a process in which a supposed psychic communicates with a spirit. A twin flame, according to psychic lore, isn’t just a soul mate. The concept refers to the notion that your soul is split in two upon creation. The person with the other half is your twin flame, they say.
Elie decided to reach out, and when “Psychic Ann” replied, she told him she could speak that same evening. During that first conversation, Elie told Psychic Ann about his breakup and his ex-girlfriend.
The $35-rate was standard for a run-of-the-mill psychic reading, but the conversations between the two escalated quickly. Over the next few months, $35 turned into $90,000 and led to a tangled web of psychic networks and a desperate search for answers. Now, Elie and his lawyer, Paul Green, have filed a lawsuit against the psychic and a shadowy Texas network they say defrauded the man. (Elie agreed to an interview on the condition we don’t publish his full name.)
Psychic Ann told Elie that getting him back on path to fixing his relationship would require a lot of work. She told him “negativity was the culprit.” She needed to perform an assortment of rituals and spiritual prayers, she insisted. The cost of these rituals and prayers was $5,500.
It was a steep price, but Psychic Ann struck him as a legit. He wondered if she might have real psychic abilities. After all, she knew that his ex-girlfriend had started dating someone else, a fact he had only recently learned from friends. “They just immediately reeled me in and played on my emotions,” he told me. “I was completely consumed by this.”
Plus, she offered a money-back guarantee: Elie would receive a full refund if he wasn’t reunited with his ex within 10 days, she promised. Elie sent the money across multiple mobile payment apps. Two of those payments went to someone named Sonya Adams, according to the lawsuit.
The 10 days came and went, but Elie remained single. But instead of returning the $5,500, Psychic Ann and a business associate named Samantha told Elie they felt more work was required. Starting the next week, they would set up three daily “prayers” to try to remedy the situation.
The fraud and extortion only continued from that point onward, according to the lawsuit. Psychic Ann insisted that Elie needed to spend $25,000 on a “precious stone” from a church on which he should meditate. If he didn’t, she said, his mother would soon have terminal cancer. They also told Elie to not let anyone know about their supposed work to save his mother; if he didn’t keep it a secret, the treatment wouldn’t work. Fearing the worst, Elie rushed to a bank.
Psychic Ann and Samantha saw an opening to push for more, the lawsuit alleges. While he was on the way to the bank, they told him he actually needed two stones, a purchase that would run him $55,000. Sure, it was a lot of money, but it was the only way he could save his mother. On top of that, there would still be enough leftover energy to win back his girlfriend.
Ignoring the request also came with a price, they said. His ex-girlfriend would shack up with another man. Worse still, her new partner would abuse her and impregnate her against her will. Not to worry, they said: the $55,000 was only a deposit, and the sum would be returned to him once the work was completed. In the meantime, though, he needed to wire transfer the money to a bank account under the name of Dillion Evans.
“Every day they would fill me with this hope that I was going to get back with my girlfriend and that my family’s health was going to be OK and [would say], ‘We just need some more money so we can get another crystal so we can pray for this and pray for that,’ and they had me for way longer than I would’ve liked and they took everything I had,” he told me.
Elie didn’t know it yet, but psychic scams are common, according to Amy Nofziger, director of fraud programs for the AARP, an interest group that focuses on issues facing people older than 50. Before the COVID-19 pandemic closed down much of the country and saw a rise in mental health issues, AARP would usually receive a single complaint about psychic scams every four months on their helpline. Now, they’re fielding one or two calls a week from people who have been swindled by self-described psychics.
Meanwhile, the FBI says more people are reporting these types of fraud cases to their Internet Complaint Center, or IC3. “Although IC3 does not see many of these types of complaints, there has been a slight uptick in reporting this year,” the bureau said in a statement to AARP. “Most of the complainants reporting these scams have not been victimized, but are being vigilant in reporting potential frauds they see on social media networks or receive via email.”
Complaints reported to AARP include a 54-year-old Canadian woman who gave a psychic $24,000 after being promised to be reconnected with a loved one. Another woman, a 72-year-old in Seattle, handed $20,000 over to a psychic who said they could gather information about a new relationship. The list goes on, one grift after another, the number of people conned piling up.
In recent years, I’ve received a handful of tips about similar stories in North Texas, but most times, the victims are too embarrassed to speak on the record. Sometimes, they still fear the psychic’s abilities and don’t want them to know they spoke with a reporter.
At one point, someone from New York reached out to me saying they’d been conned out of more than $2,800 by a psychic they believed was based in North Texas. They tried to cut ties, but the psychic would call from different numbers, harassing the client and threatening to contact family members to tell them they were hired to cast spells on them.
Back in California, Elie was already $60,000 in the hole. But Psychic Ann made him feel like a VIP. She gave him an exclusive phone line to contact her, made time to speak to him multiple times each day and even coached him on what to text his ex-girlfriend.
Eventually, Elie reconnected with his girlfriend. The lawsuit says it happened “through no doing of Psychic Ann,” but his relationship with the clairvoyant didn’t end there. Psychic Ann and her partners had nothing to offer by way of mending Elie’s love life, so they shifted the focus back to his mother’s impending illness. He sent another cashier’s check, but it was the last.
Elie became confident about his mother’s health. With everything fine and well, he wanted his deposits back.
That’s when Psychic Ann and the others started to go dark. Reaching them became more and more difficult. When he did manage it, they promised they were close to sealing the energy. They only needed a little more time.
According to the lawsuit, the deflections and delays and promises went on until July, when the reality hit Elie: He’d been scammed. “At that point I knew it was all bullshit,” he said. “I was just in shock.”
Private Investigator Bob Nygaard has seen many psychic scam cases.
Bob Nygaard, a 59-year-old who lives in South Florida, has seen it all before. As a private investigator, he’s made a career out of hunting down fraudulent psychics. Over the years, he’s helped victims collect millions of dollars in damages.
One night in 2008, Nygaard headed to happy hour at a bar and grill in Boca Raton. It was the pickup spot, Nygaard told me, and there he was sitting across from two attractive, single women, a doctor and a nurse. He sipped a Bacardi and Coke, telling the women old war stories from his days working as a transit police officer in New York City.
One of his stories piqued the women’s interest. He told them about a band of five men known as the Parks Brothers in New York. The group had carried out a spate of home improvement scams targeting the elderly, along with other swindles across the country.
“I said that one of the types of crimes that I really took an interest in was con artists,” Nygaard recalled. “I really like to match wits with con artists and cause them to be arrested.”
The trio exchanged phone numbers and left the bar a little later that night. Not having struck gold at the pickup spot, Nygaard didn’t initially think much of his interaction with the women. Ten minutes after he left, though, his phone rang. It was the doctor. She asked if he could meet her at a gas station on the corner. “I didn’t know if she wanted to hook up or what the story was,” he said.
At the gas station, the doctor explained she wanted to tell him something she had been too embarrassed to mention in front of her coworker. A self-described psychic had ripped her off, taking $12,000. Even she couldn’t believe someone of her intelligence could fall for something like this, Nygaard said.
Nygaard closed his eyes and rubbed his temples. He thought on it, and then asked, “Was there a name? Marks?” Shocked, the doctor looked at him and said, “Yes it was. It’s Gina Marks.” She asked how he could have possibly known the name. Joking, Nygaard said, “I’m psychic.”
Nygaard’s work on the Marks case, which ultimately led to her arrest, garnered him a lot of attention from the press. It was as if floodgates had been opened, he said, and they haven’t closed since. His phone rings constantly and his email inbox is full of inquiries from people just like the doctor.
When the conned come to Nygaard, they generally feel just as helpless as they did when confronting their psychic.
Though some of the criminals he deals with are run-of-the-mill con artists, Nygaard said many are connected to a larger network of Romani-American organized crime. He stresses not everyone from this background is a fraudster. It is just a trend he has observed after years of his work.
More often than not, the hardest part of pursuing cases like this is getting law enforcement and prosecutors to take them seriously. The judge in Nygaard’s Marks case said he questioned the mental makeup of the victims and that the crimes were unsophisticated and more like “a family tradition.”
“Therein lies the problem,” Nygaard said. “Law enforcement traditionally doesn’t view self-proclaimed physics and the criminal enterprises of which they are a part as being on the same par or level as traditional organized crime.”
The scammed are being financially destroyed, he said. Most police look at psychic fraud as a joke, turning away people who report it. Police who attempt to take on the cases are often met with reluctant prosecutors worried about ruining their track record. Victims are usually told no crime has been committed because they willingly gave away their money.
“When people gave their money to Bernie Madoff, did he put a gun to their head?” Nygaard asked. “If they’re right, and I’m wrong, they ought to let him go.”
Nygaard and victims of such fraud are still waiting for law enforcement to take them seriously. It’s gotten better in some places, Nygaard said. In others, cops, prosecutors and judges are just as clueless as ever.
Elie may have been wise to the con artistry, but there was still a lot he didn’t know about Psychic Ann. For one, she went by many names: Dorothy Marks, Dorothy Leath, Kathleen Marks and Kathy Leath, to name a few. (It wasn’t the same Marks that Nygaard had worked on. Marks is a common name among such swindlers, as is Evans.)
That first night they spoke, though, Elie only knew that he was talking to Psychic Ann. Psychic Ann, whatever her real name, was also connected to multiple businesses.
As he dug further, Elie found what’s described in the lawsuit as an enterprise of named and unnamed individuals who, for years, committed, promoted and managed fraud and extortion.
According to the lawsuit, the enterprise has an identifiable structure, with each person fulfilling a specific role. It consisted of a referral network to funnel potential victims to different organizations and psychics, people who engage with the client to set up payments, and others who maintain the bank accounts under different names across multiple states.
In the lawsuit, Elie said he wants all of his money back. Under federal anti-racketeering laws, the lawsuit says, Elie is entitled to $270,000 and payment of his attorney’ fees.
I tried phoning the people named in the lawsuit. Unsurprisingly, I didn’t have a lot of luck.
The lawsuit alleges individuals named Dillion Evans, Rita Evans, Valerie Williams and Sonya Adams are involved. It includes the business entities Psychic Universe, Psychic Love Center, Twin Flame Universe, Best Texas Psychic Reader and Psychic Readings by Francine. Most of them trace back to a Dillion or Rita Evans.
Williams and Adams didn’t respond to requests for comment. When I first called Francine, who is actually Rita Evans, she hung up. The second time, she snapped, “Don’t bother me,” and then the phone line clicked dead. She didn’t have any publicly available email address, so I messaged her Facebook page. She never responded.
I rang a phone number listed for Dillion Evans, but he didn’t answer. I texted and asked to speak to him about the allegations. When he called, I told him about the lawsuit, how he was named in it, and how it alleges that he’s tied to psychic services in Texas also named in the lawsuit. He was quick to point out that he didn’t live in Texas. “So why would I be a psychic reader in Texas?” he asked.
I explained that a lot of this allegedly took place through social media and that he wouldn’t have to live in Texas to be involved. He replied, “So, what are you after here? You lookin’ for some money? A little news piece?”
It wasn’t money I was looking for, I told him. Rather, I wanted to give him the opportunity to comment on allegations. “You’re going to have to find a different Dillion Evans,” he said. “Sorry, bud.” Then, he hung up. I texted again, but he didn’t respond.
“There are lots of victims that have reached out to me,” Elie told me in one email. “It’s a sad situation that needs to be put on the FBI’s radar.”
Paul Green and his client have slammed up against similar roadblocks, the way Green tells it. “We’ve talked to folks who said ‘Well, look, if someone wants to go to a psychic, whether it’s a form of entertainment or it’s something they truly believe, they should be able to spend their money the way they want to.’ And I agree,” Green said. What makes it different here are the lies that were being told to entice Elie to fork over the cash.
Before taking on Elie’s case, Green had only heard vague stories about these types of fraud. He never took them all that seriously. “My initial thought had always been ‘Well, that was dumb. You shouldn’t have done that,’” Green said.
But Elie came to Green equipped with a trove of information. He’d hired private investigators that gave him access to extra resources, like criminal databases. When he approached Green, he already had an idea of what was going on and who was involved. “When we made contact with each other, he was ahead of the game,” Green said. “He was doing research himself. Being the victim, he quickly decided ‘I need to do something about this. I need to protect myself.’”
Green said, “On the surface, when you say ‘We’re suing an alleged psychic because they siphoned X amount of dollars,’ folks get a smile on their face like ‘Are you kidding?’ But when you dive deep into [the question] ‘Well, how did they obtain all that money?’ I think folks are quick to be more understanding.”
Part of what makes these cases so difficult, Green explained, is how common they have become. After all, there are an unknown number of networks like this out there; Elie had stumbled upon only one of them, but he and Green discovered more like them while researching for the lawsuit. They don’t have a full flow chart of who’s doing what, but they say they know that people have different, distinct roles in this network. “It is being operated like a business,” Green said. “The problem is the type of business that it is.”
It’s still too early to tell how far the network reaches, but they think the people they’re dealing with are based in Texas. Either way, they’re reaching across state lines for their victims through social media. “Social media knows no boundaries in terms of states, so they are trying to contact and defraud whomever they can,” Green explained. “It doesn’t matter where the individual is from.”
In the past, people who know the psychic and mediumship industry told me that psychics who won’t use their full, real names should raise a red flag. If a psychic uses a stage name, they generally have something to hide, Angela Lusk, a local psychic, said in 2018.
Another red flag, Lusk explained, was when an alleged psychic starts trying to extend the duration of a reading to coax more money out of a client. “If they give you a definitive price, for a definitive service, then you can guarantee to some degree that you’re dealing with someone who’s not trying to sucker you,” she said.
Named American Psychic and Medium Magazine’s Man of the Year in 2017, John Cappello said to watch out for psychics who ask clients to come back frequently for additional information. “If they keep trying to use you as a piggy bank, that’s wrong,” Cappello said.
As far as Elie’s lawsuit goes, the people named in the filing have submitted several motions to the courts that would see the complaint dismissed altogether. “It’s been painfully slow,” Green said. “We are at a position where essentially if we don’t start getting responses we are going to have to seek the court’s help in ordering these individuals to start producing documents.“
In the meantime, Elie and Green are still just trying to piece it all together. “We feel as though we’ve been gaining puzzle pieces, which is nice,” Green said. “Now, it’s just a matter of figuring out where they go on the board.”
Elie wants justice, but he also wants to send a warning to others. “It was a very traumatic experience,” he said. “I continue to feel the financial and emotional ramifications, and I want nothing more than to alert other people so other victims don’t fall into the same scam that I did.”