By David DeKok
HARRISBURG, Pa. (Reuters) - A Pennsylvania woman went on trial on Monday for the rarely prosecuted offense of fortune-telling, accused of persuading a client she could lift a cloud of "spells and curses" in exchange for payments that likely reached thousands of dollars.
April Uwanawich, 38, of Philadelphia faces 55 counts of fortune telling, theft by unlawful taking and theft by deception in the Chester County Court of Common Pleas.
She is accused of approaching Jennifer Gardiner in 2009 at a convenience store, where she identified herself as a fortune teller and said she could rid Gardiner of her "dark cloud," according to a police complaint.
During the following two years, Gardiner met with Uwanawich on a regular basis, "continually paying Uwanawich to work on her life, to rid it of evil and to get rid of spells and curses,” the complaint read.
Gardiner was persuaded to stop taking prescribed mental health medication and to buy candles, oils, perfumes and crystals to help ward off evil spirits, it said.
Her financial loss probably ran into “tens of thousands of dollars” but only about $10,000 could be verified, the complaint said.
Uwanawich has two previous arrests for fortune-telling fraud in Chester County, according to court records.
She pleaded guilty in 2009 to stealing $23,000 from a woman to remove a curse and in 2011 to taking $35,000 from another woman to remove a dark cloud over her head.
She was ordered to pay court costs in the first case and received two years of probation in the second, records showed.
Uwanawich faces a cumulative life sentence if convicted of all 55 counts and sentenced to the maximum on each. The state's fortune-telling statute bans fortune-telling for money as well as the use of "spells, charms, necromancy or incantation" in the perpetration of fraud.
The Daily Local News of West Chester reported that Uwanawich may have more fortune-telling arrests than anyone else in the state in the 21st century.
The newspaper cited legal research saying fortune-telling was so rarely prosecuted that the state's appellate courts have never ruled on an appeal.
(Editing by Ellen Wulfhorst and Bill Trott)