|Accused: Nancy Marks|
Police in Fort Lauderdale, Florida say the nine fortune tellers from the same family of Romani people, or gypsies, told customers that they had to hand over their valuables or they would be haunted.
The family, led by ringleader Rose Marks, refused to give back money and jewelry given to them by customers convinced that the fortune tellers could remove evil spirits and curses, authorities said.
But the psychics were only trying to help others through their religious beliefs, said an attorney for Nancy Marks, 42, in a 24-page legal document
The woman was only trying to help others through her religious beliefs, attorney Michael Gottlieb wrote in a legal document supported by attorneys for other psychics involved in the case.
Gottlieb went on to write: 'Nancy Marks' conduct is rooted in her religion and spirituality. Based upon this prosecution, the defendant has lost her livelihood and has been unable to make a living using her historical religious and spiritual gifts.'
The family was arrested last August after police were told a client lost $3,000.
Through investigations, authorities determined that the family targeted vulnerable people going through difficult times.
The fortune tellers would tell their customers that they could conduct psychic healing on them, including curing diseases and cleansing souls if the clients gave up their valuable items.
|Victim: Jude Devereaux|
Jude Deveraux, who has written bestselling romance novels, was one of the clients police say was defrauded after she suffered several miscarriages and the traffic death of her 8-year-old son.
If the customers were unhappy, they were told they had a money-back guarantee.
However, the psychics would keep the cash and other valuables given to them and use it to support their lavish lifestyle, authorities said.
Luxury cars, an extravagant home and $1.8million in gold coins were among the items federal agents say the family purchased after they defrauded their clients.
It is not illegal to tell fortunes, police said. The family, though, performed criminal acts when they would not return any items they took from their customers, according to authorities.
The psychics' lawyers argued that the family's practices were consistent with other religions that hold services and accept money to keep up with operational expenses.
Their rights are protected by the First Amendment because it is legal to have spiritual beliefs that aren't 'consistent or comprehensible to others.'
Gottlieb, the lawyer for Nancy Marks, said the family is being mistreated because their religious beliefs are not considered mainstream.
'Yet none of these individuals,' Gottlieb said of other types of preachers and healers, 'endure the constant derogatory label of being called a Gypsy for simply exercising their faith or practicing their chosen profession.'
A judge will likely decide on the issue in upcoming weeks.
The psychics were released on bail pending trial.