A private investigator hired by the alleged victim said being tricked by a fortune teller is "not a matter of intelligence" and can happen to anyone "at a vulnerable moment."
A fortuneteller accused of tricking an Island County woman out of more than $51,000 was arrested by Mount Vernon police Monday night after the alleged victim brought in a private investigator known for helping victims of con artists, police said.
The suspect had persuaded the woman to give up the money by saying it suffered from an “evil energy” and needed “spiritual cleansing,” according to a statement from the Mount Vernon Police Department.
The suspect told the woman the money would be returned when the ritual was complete, but she then rebuffed the woman’s effort to collect, police said.
The woman initially sought counsel from the psychic because she was at a low point in her life, according to Bob Nygaard, a Florida-based ex-cop who says he helped put away 29 con artists in his career.
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She was depressed, thought her marriage was in trouble and had suffered both a concussion and a serious wrist injury, Nygaard said. She also felt guilty about an inheritance she received that her sister had been left out of, he said.
Nygaard said he thinks the woman was groomed by the suspect to believe that her sister was jealous and had placed a curse on her. She was bamboozled, he said, into withdrawing, at first, a few small sums of money, and then several large ones, by the suspect who told the woman her money needed to be ritually cleansed.
“It’s not a matter of intelligence,” Nygaard said in a phone interview Tuesday. “It’s a matter of running into a professional con artist when you are at a vulnerable moment. You don’t walk in and they say, ‘Give me $51,000.’ They know how to build up your trust, manipulate you psychologically, prey on your vulnerabilities and groom you into a scam.”
In all, the woman handed over $51,200 to the 69-year-old suspect.
The woman sought Nygaard’s help after she went to Mount Vernon police, who initially told her it was a civil matter, Nygaard said.
“The officer thought it was a matter of one person turning money over to another as part of an agreement,” Mount Vernon police spokesman Lt. Greg Booth said.
That’s not particularly surprising, Nygaard said. “Most cops hear ‘psychic’ and roll their eyes or they say you willingly gave your money. But people gave their money willingly to Bernie Madoff, too.”
Nygaard said it didn’t take him long to find out the suspect was the same woman who had been charged in similar crimes in Florida.
In 2006, she worked with a police detective to defraud multiple victims out of more than $2 million and for that she was convicted of wire fraud and sentenced to four years in federal prison, according to media reports.
On Oct. 6, Mount Vernon police detectives met with Nygaard and Seattle police investigators. They learned about the suspect’s previous criminal cases and were provided with financial records from the Island County woman, which helped them build the case, Booth said.
The suspect was arrested on investigation of first-degree theft Monday night and booked into the Skagit County Community Justice Center. The Seattle Times generally does not name people who have not yet been charged with a crime.
Mount Vernon police believe there may be additional victims and are urging them to come forward.
“It’s not uncommon in a case like this for people to feel embarrassed,” he said.