NYC psychic gets prison in 6-figure scam case

AP News
Posted: Nov 14, 2013 5:46 PM

NEW YORK (AP) — A psychic convicted of bilking more than $100,000 from clients was sentenced Thursday to five to 15 years in prison, as a judge said the self-described clairvoyant was a flat-out con artist.

Sylvia Mitchell also was ordered to pay a total of about $110,000 in restitution to two former clients in a case about the line between selling an unusual service and exploiting people longing to change their lives.

Mitchell, 39, apologized and said a month in jail after her conviction had prompted her to reflect on her behavior.

"I have had a lot of time to think, and I realize that what I have done is wrong," she said tearfully, adding that she wanted to "start my life over again."

But Manhattan state Supreme Court Justice Gregory Carro said she deserved years behind bars for honing in on people who are "having some dramatic stress" and sapping cash from them.

Mitchell's lawyers, Kenneth Gribetz and Deborah Loewenberg, said they would appeal her conviction and sentence. They noted that a probation report had recommended only six months in jail.

Mitchell, who lives in Mystic, Conn., worked from a Greenwich Village storefront where the sign read: "Zena Clairvoyant."

Former clients said they turned to Mitchell at troubled points in their lives, and she persuaded them to part with huge sums after telling them they were blanketed by bad energy or dogged by problems from past lives. Both said they were skeptical but desperate for guidance or alarmed by Mitchell's claims.

"I have always believed in compassion, but Sylvia Mitchell preyed on that to steal from me," former customer Lee Choong wrote in a statement read in court Thursday.

Choong, a Singaporean businesswoman, was grappling with an unrequited workplace crush when she went into Mitchell's shop.

The soothsayer told Choong that her family had harmed the object of her affection in a prior existence, that she had "negative energy" and that Mitchell could help, according to testimony and prosecutors.

Choong gradually paid Mitchell more than $120,000 even as Choong lost her job.

Another client, ballroom-dancing instructor Debra Saalfield, had just lost a job and a boyfriend within a day when she sought Mitchell's advice.

She testified that Mitchell traced her troubles to having been too tied to money in a prior existence as an ancient Egyptian princess. The single mother of three tapped a line of credit on her Florida home to write Mitchell a $27,000 check to hold. Mitchell balked at giving the money back, eventually reimbursing $9,500, Saalfield said.

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"She has taken my self-respect away from me," Saalfield said in a statement read in court.

She is to be reimbursed $17,500 from the restitution money, with the rest going to Choong. Mitchell's lawyers said her relatives had said aside money to pay it.

At her trial, Mitchell's former attorney said that she was hired just to try to assist people and that there was no evidence she didn't.

Her conviction came two weeks after a federal jury in Florida found another psychic, Rosa Marks, guilty of spearheading a multimillion-dollar fraud that counted best-selling historical-romance novelist Jude Deveraux among the victims. Marks denied the allegations; she is to be sentenced in March.


Reach Jennifer Peltz on Twitter at @ jennpeltz.