Nov 18, 2016

Fraudulent psychic sentenced to 30 months

November 18, 2017

Sandra Marks is driven from federal court in Charlottesville after being sentenced for fraud.

A woman who operated a psychic readings business in Albemarle County was sentenced Friday to 30 months in prison and ordered to pay $5.4 million in restitution to the clients she defrauded.

More than two years after authorities raided her business, Readings by Catherine, on U.S. 29, 42-year-old Sandra Marks appeared in federal court in Charlottesville on Friday to be sentenced after pleading guilty to fraud and money laundering.

According to her April 2015 indictment, which originally charged her with 31 counts of wire fraud, two counts of mail fraud and one count of money laundering, Marks’ business offered services such as astrological and spiritual readings to clients who had “suffered from emotional distress and mental disorders” and, based on false promises, obtained money, jewelry and other valuables from those clients in the process.

Marks would tell her clients that she had spoken to spirits and learned of a “curse” or “dark cloud” surrounding the clients’ families, according to the indictment. She would then bury a box of the clients’ money or valuables and “cleanse” the box through prayers, rituals or meditation, telling the clients that “money was the root of all evil.”

Prosecutor Ron Huber said Friday that while Marks promised the money and valuables would be returned to the clients once they were “cleansed,” that end of the deal was never kept, with her instead using the money to fund a “lavish lifestyle.”

“Providing relief was never in Ms. Marks’ plans,” Huber said.

In court, Huber spoke about the victims of Marks’ scheme, noting that one who suffered from ALS had been forced to go back to work up until the Friday before she died. Another victim, a senior, also had gone back to work to recoup his losses.

One victim submitted a letter to the court that was read aloud during Friday’s hearing. The victim gave Marks $750,000 under Marks’ pretense that the victim’s parents were evil and that the money would help to cleanse the victim’s bloodline. When the victim asked for her money to be returned, she was intimidated by Marks, whom the victim called “manipulative, cunning and evil.”

“I’m embarrassed to say I fell for her scheme,” the victim said in the letter. “She cannot be trusted.”

Huber said he worried that Marks would return to her fraudulent ways upon release, and said her husband was equally culpable for the damages.

Speaking on behalf of his client, attorney Bill Dinkin said Marks had fully cooperated with police upon her arrest, and had even provided damning information against her husband, with whom she was “extremely close.”

Dinkin also spoke at length about how Marks had come from a “gypsy culture” and that she had a dysfunctional home that limited her to getting only a first-grade education, which she had risen above in order to start a family and make a living.

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He said some clients had contacted him, saying Marks’ service had brought them some “spiritual peace.”

Judge Glen Conrad said Friday that the case was not a “typical white collar offense,” and noted that Marks had done well for herself, considering her background. That said, he shared Huber’s concern that Marks might fall back into her fraudulent ways, because there is “not a Better Business Bureau for palm readers” that could inhibit her from starting a new psychic readings business.

On top of that, Marks had indeed defrauded clients of millions of dollars, he said.

“We’re talking about awfully big chunks of money,” Conrad said.

Ultimately, Conrad sentenced Marks to 30 months in prison and ordered her to pay restitution of $5.4 million. She already has served 16 months at the Central Virginia’s Regional Jail. Upon release, she will be under a strict supervision for three years.

Dean Seal is a reporter for The Daily Progress. Contact him at (434) 978-7268, or @JDeanSeal on Twitter.

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