The Psychic, The Novelist, and the $17 Million Scam

"Take off your bracelet," the fortune-teller commands. That's a test. Do you trust? You'd be amazed at how much you'll hand over, telling yourself that it will return.

By Robert Andrew Powell
Also in Reader's Digest Magazine March 2014

stack of money illustrationIstvan Banyai for Reader’s Digest
The work began. Deveraux handed over one of her writing notebooks, for the energy it gave off. She also put up money. Twelve hundred dollars at first, with the usual promise that the cash would be returned when the work was done. Soon, Deveraux added “a few thousand here, a few thousand there, to give [Marks] more energy.” That energy supposedly helped Marks telepathically enter Deveraux’s husband’s mind, to see what he was planning.

The work drew Deveraux in. She began to believe what she was told. And yes, what she was told does sound ludicrous. That her husband had sold his soul to the devil. That the peaceful divorce she was promised was more difficult to deliver than expected, so she should turn over a cool $1 million, which soon became a $1 million-a-year flat fee. In return for the cash, Marks became Deveraux’s most trusted confidante, dispensing advice about all aspects of life. Advice that, in hindsight, could not have been worse.

For the split from her husband, Deveraux wanted to hire an experienced divorce attorney, but Marks steered her to a guy who had little background in divorce. That lawyer drafted an agreement giving Deveraux’s husband too much, the property, the cars. And Deveraux would have to pay her former spouse’s bills into the future, along with his future taxes. Marks pushed Deveraux to sign off on the settlement, explaining that the terms were irrelevant because her husband was “going to die very soon … within three years.”

Twenty years later, he’s still alive. Healthy. Very wealthy. Marks’s advice was so destructive that prosecutors investigated the possibility she was working in league with the divorce attorney. (No evidence of collusion was found.)

Still, Deveraux stayed with Marks, even after the divorce. The novelist wanted a baby. Marks told her she couldn’t have one without the psychic’s help. She also told Deveraux that if she had a child, it would fall over her New York apartment’s balcony railing. So Deveraux sold the apartment, giving Marks all the proceeds so that the money from the sale could be spiritually cleansed. “She was fierce about asking about it,” Deveraux testified, referring to the hefty checks she regularly signed over to Marks. “Money was extremely important to her.”

Deveraux suffered eight miscarriages. When she finally gave birth in 1997, Marks told her that she needed more money to keep the baby from harm. “I would have paid anything to protect my son,” Deveraux explains. “Anything.” The protection didn’t work. Deveraux’s young son died after being hit by a truck. Marks warned that he was going to hell without spiritual intervention. “I gave her some hair I had cut from my son, and she said all she saw were flames,” Deveraux says, her voice wavering for the first time since she’s been on the stand. “She said I had to write books. I was crying all day long. She said she had to have money to keep my son out of the flames.”

With her son dead and her divorce still on her mind, the quality of Deveraux’s books deteriorated, the author admits. The amount of money left to take from her dwindled in lockstep, and Marks became harder to reach, Deveraux says. That’s pretty much the way these relationships conclude. There’s a script for that too.

The end is so inelegant. All your money spent on those diamond-encrusted watches and sterling silver bracelets stashed at Marks’s home. That Ferrari, too, and all those other cars. Also, it will come out, there’s Marks’s gambling addiction. Court testimony reveals that Marks poured millions of her clients’ dollars into slot machines at the Seminole Hard Rock casino in Hollywood, Florida.

You don’t know this yet. You will call Marks repeatedly, begging for the return of your savings. (You’ll be having significant financial problems by now, to say the least.) She used to take your every call. Now she picks up selectively. When you do reach her, she’s brusque. Abrupt. She tries to talk you into showing more faith, sticking with it a little longer so she can complete the work. You ask, again, and then again, for your money. Finally, Marks cracks. “There is no money,” she snapped at Andrea Walker, another client. “You want to sue me, sue me.” She hangs up. The end.

Except now you’re cooperating with the police. You’re taping the phone calls. They will be played in court for jurors, who take less than five hours to deliberate and convict Marks on all 14 criminal counts. Marks, who opted not to testify, nods her head each time the foreman says the word guilty. That morning, she’d arrived at the courthouse in comfortable tennis shoes and pants, a clear change from the sharp outfits she’d worn throughout the trial. It’s as if she can see the future, and she’s ready to be taken into custody, which is what happens.

“I love you,” she says to her distraught family as she’s led away. “It’s going to be OK.”

Marks will likely receive up to 20 years in jail. Prosecutors have filed a motion to get $25 million of the victims’ money returned, a maneuver unlikely to bear fruit, since her attorney, who was paid for his services in part with a used Rolls-Royce from the psychic, claims she no longer has any assets. That doesn’t upset Deveraux.

“I will accept no money from this [prosecution],” she’d earlier testified. “My only goal here is to make Rose Marks stop doing this.”

The guilty verdict is being appealed. Marks is too frail to survive incarceration, her lawyer insists. Even with a sentence as short as four years, “the wear and tear on her body from working since she was eight or nine” would kill her. Regardless of her sentence, she has entered custody with a project to work on. She intends to write a book about her life, she has said. She believes it’s a story people will want to read and, more important, buy. She thinks there’s a way she can still make some money out of this.

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