WEST PALM BEACH — Even before the jury’s first guilty verdict was read, stifled sobs filled the courtroom. As the clerk repeated “guilty” 14 times, the quiet sobbing crescendoed.
“Psychic” Rose Marks turned to members of her family and put a finger to her lips, telling them to hush.
But it didn’t help.
Seeing the 62-year-old matriarch convicted of 14 fraud-related charges and immediately slapped in handcuffs on Thursday was too much for family members who were part of and benefited from the multimillion-dollar fortune-telling business that collapsed under the weight of a federal investigation.
Some reached out, trying to touch her. One threw a Bible. One called out to the lead investigator, mocking him. When they realized their beloved mother, grandmother and sister was about to walk through an open door and be taken to jail, shouts rang out.
“Mom, I love you!” one called. “Don’t be afraid!” yelled another.
“I’m not afraid,” Marks responded, as U.S. Marshals surrounded her. “I love you, too.”
The emotional end to the monthlong trial was not as unexpected as the verdict. When the trial began, cynics scoffed at the notion that a psychic could be charged with separating a fool and his money.
But, prosecutors methodically built a case, showing how Marks, her daughters-in-law and even her granddaughter preyed on broken people who came to their storefronts in midtown Manhattan and Fort Lauderdale to deal with tragedies life had handed them. Instead of solace or guidance, they told clients the only way out was to give them money — lots of it — with the promise it would one day be returned. Instead, the psychics amassed a roughly $25 million fortune.
“I’ll be the voice of the victims. Justice has been served,” said Charles Stack, who began what appeared to be a quixotic investigation in 2008 before he retired from the Fort Lauderdale Police Department.
People understood the agony of those who trusted epic Ponzi schemers Scott Rothstein and Bernie Madoff, Stack said.
In many ways, Marks’ victims were more sympathetic. Unlike those who fell prey to Rothstein or Madoff, the psychic’s clients weren’t looking for money. “In this case, the victims were praying for hope, and hope is the unwavering belief in the unseen,” Stack said.
Stack, who said he understood why Marks’ family lashed out at him, is a hero to the victims, including best-selling romance novelist Jude Deveraux. He befriended the writer, helping her get over the shock of learning that her nearly 20-year relationship with Marks was a sham and she was unlikely to ever recover the $20 million she had given the psychic “to cleanse.”
“I’m glad she’s going to be taken off the streets and out of the business and she won’t hurt anyone else,” said Deveraux, 66, who splits her time between New York City and Southwest Ranches near Fort Lauderdale.
Deanna Wolfe, who lost nearly $1 million during her three-decade relationship with Marks, expressed mixed feelings about the verdict. “I don’t know if she started out meaning to do this or if the greed and the money just took over,” said Wolfe, 72, who lives in Virginia. “It’s a sad thing for everyone involved, including her family.”
Deveraux, who sought Marks’ help to deal with an abusive husband and the death of an 8-year-old son in a 2005 ATV accident, expressed no such ambivalence. “It was never a friendship,” she said. “There’s no sadness. None.”
Unlike other victims, she said she doesn’t care if she gets back any of the money she lost. Wolfe, who ran up huge credit card debts and borrowed money from a wealthy friend, said she is hopeful some of the money will be returned.
Attorney Fred Schwartz, who defended Marks, said the government seized all of Marks’ assets — including cars, a boat, motorcycles, jewelry, gold coins and a home near the Intracoastal Waterway. During the trial, he portrayed the victims as satisfied customers who were improperly convinced they were victims by Stack. He said he plans to appeal based on improper investigative procedures by government agents who he said kept key evidence from him.
He tried to prepare Marks for the possibility that, if convicted, she would be taken immediately to jail. He said she expects to die behind bars. While the punishment for the convictions on 14 charges carry a maximum punishment of roughly 250 years, realistically she faces of 10 to 15 years, he said.
“Rose believes that even with a 4- or 5-year sentence, given the wear and tear on her body from working since she was 8 or 9 years old, she would die in jail,” Schwartz said. During the trial she used a cane to deal with knee problems and experienced chest pains when the verdict was announced.
Her daughter and son-in-law, her two sons and their wives, her sister and granddaughter also each pleaded guilty to a charge of conspiracy to commit wire/mail fraud. They will be sentenced before Marks learns her fate on Dec. 9.