Psychics suspected of shady dealings

February 5, 2009 12:00:00 AM PST
A psychic from San Mateo County is scheduled to appear in court Friday, facing charges of elder theft. Janet Adams was arrested right in the middle of an I-Team investigation in December. She pleaded not guilty.

From that story, the I-Team has received many more tips which lead us to other psychics around the Bay Area. They all seem to use the same technique -- you have a curse on you, or some bad energy, and only they can help it go away, at a price. All sorts of people fall for this, some losing six figures.

This Oakland psychic goes by the name of Anthony... just Anthony.

Anthony: "I don't like to use a last name."

Noyes: "Like Fabio or Cher?"

Anthony: "Yeah, it's more of a privacy thing."

He's quite pleasant when you first meet him. Anthony will explain his special talent as a palm and tarot card reader who can see the future.

Noyes: "Is this real?"

Anthony: "It is. It's 99.9 percent accuracy on all of our readings."

But if you dare to ask serious questions about what he tells clients in his two psychic shops, watch out.

Anthony: "Either get off of our f***ing properties and get the f*** away from us before I, before you get hurt."

Noyes: "Really, how so Anthony?"

What could have gotten him so angry?

Noyes: "I'm going to get hurt? How so?"

Anthony: "Come inside and I'll show you."

A rival family of psychics hired a private eye who sent in a decoy to document Anthony's techniques.

Decoy (on recording): "My husband is very ill. He's not expected to live."

The decoy says her husband has colon cancer, but Anthony sees something else in his tarot cards.

Anthony (on recording): "The sickness that your husband has is not cancer. It's something on a spiritual level that has been sent towards you. It's something that has to do with the spiritual path that he's followed, and yes, it is curable."

With his help, Anthony says the cancer can be gone in two to three months. He urges the decoy to come back later. When she does, she meets Anthony's associate, Gina, who proposes a way to get rid of the cancer.

Gina (on recording): "And I have to sculpture him, me and Anthony will have to sculpture him."

She and Anthony will build a wax candle -- a life-sized replica of the decoy's husband -- set it on a mountaintop, and light it. By the time the candle burns down, the cancer will be gone.

Decoy (on recording): "And how fast can we do this?"

Gina (on recording): "Within seven days. Do you understand?"

Decoy: (on recording): "So, in seven days, he'll be all the way better?"

Gina: (on recording): "All the way better."

Then, of course, there's the issue of payment.

Gina (on recording): "What you're going to need is about $5,000."

Decoy (on recording): "OK."

Gina (on recording): "Is there any way that you could do this?"

The decoy didn't pay. We played the secret recording for Anthony after he told us on camera that he can't cure cancer, would never disagree with a doctor's diagnosis, and would never charge a client more than $70.

Noyes: "Explain that."

Anthony: "I have no comment on it."

Anthony ended the interview.

Noyes: "Is this all about helping people or about taking people's money?"

Anthony: "Have a nice day."

He could only hold back his temper for so long.

Anthony: "You're a son of a b**** and mother f***er, get the f*** out of my businesses."

Anthony put what he called "a gypsy curse" on me and said, "you're going to die."

Anthony: "Get the f*** out of my business."

Gypsy curses are something of a badge of honor among law enforcement professionals who investigate psychics.

"I have several curses on me... and I'm still here, yes. When they put a curse on me, that means I've been successful," says Kathy Boyovic, an undercover investigator for the Alameda County district attorney's office who has met many psychics over the past 15 years.

She has found all sorts of people who fall victim to these scams, even the most educated.

"If somebody robs a bank, they walk in with a gun and they hold everybody up. These people found out they don't have to use weapons. They use their words, and it works. and it works actually more successfully than robbing a bank," says Boyovich.

Patricia Carpenter knows firsthand. She was going through a career change and was worried about her daughter's divorce. So, she went to Madame Vivian in Hollister. She thought, what's the harm?

Carpenter: "Before I left she asked for $400? wrote her a $400 check."

Noyes: "For what?"

Carpenter: "Well, she said, I can help you with your problems, you know, and I can make your life better."

Madame Vivian kept demanding more money. The psychic told Carpenter the important work would end if she stopped paying and that harm would come to her granddaughter.

"I'm disappointed and I'm feeling, you know, foolish and I'm feeling like a big dope and as you will see in those statements, my bank account quickly got emptied out," says Carpenter.

That first few hundred dollars turned into checks for $2,000, $6,000, $9,000, even $14,800. In all, Carpenter paid Madame Vivian more than $130,000.

"As a sociologist, I'm not surprised. I don't think any of us are really above superstitious belief or being conned by con artists, especially really, really smart ones who are really clever with their tactics," says UC Berkeley sociologist Robb Willer.

Willer says no one likes to admit a mistake, so victims of psychics often continue paying. And psychics use proven techniques, such as keeping the initial amount low.

"The tough thing is getting that first payment, but once you've gotten that, it's much easier to get people to agree to follow-ups that are larger and larger in size," says Willer.

We wanted answers from Madame Vivian, real name Bunny Ann John, so we went to her home office in Hollister. She was happy to meet a new customer -- an I-Team producer -- but she wouldn't open the door for a reporter and a photographer. Business is apparently going well. We spotted two brand new cars in Madame Vivian's driveway.

Later, her attorney called the I-Team and declined an on-camera interview. He then defended Madame Vivian accepting money from clients, comparing her business to a religion saying, "People pay hundreds of thousands to millions of dollars to spiritual causes all over the world."

Madame Vivian -- a spiritual cause?

"I would like to see her never do this to anybody again. I would like to see her in jail and I would like to have, ultimately it would be great if I could get my money back somehow, but... " says Carpenter.

"I think it's horrible what happens to them, and it affects them for life. It affects them emotionally, their ability to trust. It affects them financially. Financially, a lot of them are never able to recover what they've lost," says Boyovich.

After our calls, the Santa Clara County district attorney's office is now investigating Madame Vivian. No charges have been filed at this point.

By the way, Anthony the psychic's real name is Peter George. He has a family connection to a well-known group of psychics with a serious criminal record. We've found no information that George has been convicted of anything. More on that part of the story in a new I-Team blog.

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