DENVER (CBS4) - One Denver psychic has been convicted of theft, a second was arrested this month in California and Denver prosecutors are still seeking to arrest a third psychic accused of convincing clients she was a "witch doctor."
Ralph Stevenson, an investigator with the Denver District Attorney's Economic Crimes Unit, said victims have described the psychics as being akin to "witch doctors," making grapefruits bleed, tomatoes taste like salt and cracking eggs open and producing gooey black yolks.
"In these cases, where after they've paid money for services rendered, they take additional money, I believe through theft and deception, through magic and things like that and then don't give money back to the victims ... that's when we get involved," said Stevenson.
Denver psychic Cathy Ann Russo is currently on probation after being pleading guilty last August to felony theft and misdemeanor theft. Over the course of five years, beginning in 2007, Russo conned a Hispanic man out of $35,250. according to court records.
She told him his money had "evil spirits" and that she needed to pray on his money to rid the cash of its evil spirits. She promised the man she would return the money to him as soon as his cash was cleansed. At one point, she told the man she had buried his money in a graveyard.
To convince him of her powers, the man said Russo would cut a grapefruit open and it would "bleed blood."
Other times, he said she would crack open eggs and the insides were "dirty, black," indicating the presence of evil spirits.
"They are using, I think, whatever is handy in the kitchen to convince the victims that the psychic reader has some power and knows something in order to extract money from them," said Stevenson.
"I don't think there' any magic involved," said the DA's investigator.
Russo is serving two years probation and has repaid her victim the entire $35,250 that she took. She is still acting as a psychic, although when a CBS4 producer went to see her for a tarot card reading, she identified herself as "Miss Anna."
"I do spell casting, spell work, spell removals," Miss Anna told an undercover CBS4 news crew.
When CBS4 attempted to ask her about the bleeding grapefruits and unusual egg yolks, Russo declined to answer any questions and sent her husband to the door. He, too, refused to answer questions.
"Generally speaking, from my experience, these psychics will pick on a vulnerable population," said Stevenson. "In these instances, it's the Hispanic community. Many of these individuals still believe in certain black magic or things of that nature, due to their culture back in Mexico."
Earlier this month, authorities in California arrested Denver psychic Isabel Costello on an arrest warrant for theft and conspiracy to commit theft issued by the Denver DA's office. According to an arrest warrant, Costello and a second "psychic reader," Violeta Johnson, lived at a home on South Utica Street. Authorities are still seeking to arrest Johnson on a theft charge.
They say the two women conned at least four victims out of thousands of dollars by convincing them their money was cursed, and the more money turned over to the psychics, the easier it would be to remove the curses. One victim turned over $15,000. In those cases, investigators say the women also cracked open eggs that "appeared to have mud in them," to convince customers of their powers.
They would tell the customers they needed to pray over the money, but that it would be returned when it had been cleansed and the curses removed. When victims eventually returned to the home on South Utica, the psychics had vanished.
"It sounds crazy but there are individuals who still believe in this who fall victim to this," said Stevenson. "These are cons that have been going on for years or generations. They are just really good at what they do."
Neighbors on South Utica Street have told investigators that they would typically see as many as ten to 15 people trek into the home of the psychics on an average night. Investigator Stevenson said he believes there are even more victims who have not been identified, but who don't want to come forward due to embarrassment.
- Written by Brian Maass for CBSDenver.com
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