A Charlottesville woman who billed herself as a psychic has seen something about her own future: up to 40 years in prison.
Sandra Stevenson Marks, who used to offer “Readings by Catherine” from a rented house on U.S. 29, stole over $2 million from five people, according to a court document. She pleaded guilty Tuesday in federal court to a count of mail fraud and a count of money laundering.
“She knows exactly what she’s looking at,” said Assistant United States Attorney Ron Huber. “She bilked these people out of a lot of money, and it was just a flat-out theft case.”
Marks was arrested last July, three months after a grand jury indicted her on 34 charges. She has been incarcerated at Central Virginia Regional Jail in Orange.
“I talked many people into trusting me with their money and keeping it safe,” Marks testified, “when all along, I had the intention of keeping it and spending it for myself.”
The 42-year-old, short of stature and solid of build, was accompanied in court by her lawyer while three family members watched from the gallery. She smiled slightly as she first approached the witness podium.
“I have a half of first-grade education,” she told the judge, who then asked her occupation. “A life coach, Your Honor, a psychic.”
Court documents indicate that Marks portrayed herself as clairvoyant, able to see into the past and future, and that she would tell clients that their money was cursing them. To remove the curse, she promised to bury their money– often six-figure sums– in a box near her cabin and then return it. But she conceded in court that she simply put it in bank accounts.
“I would take it and then pay bills with it,” she testified. “Or withdraw from it.”
Since details of the case emerged, social media has been awash with scorn– and not all of it for Marks.
“Fools and their money,” sniffed a commenter at nbc29.com.
Clinical and forensic psychologist Jeffrey Fracher, however, urges compassion for those who lost money.
“These are folks who are desperate because they have a terminal illness or they have lost a relative,” says Fracher. “And all it takes is a glib, charismatic and probably sociopathic individual to convince them that they can somehow respond to that desperation.”
Kerry Skurski of Evergreen, Colorado, was one such victim, according to an interview that her ex-husband gave last year. Updated court records indicate that the terminally ill woman lost $400,000 to Marks before her death to ALS in February 2015.
“A psychic, once they get a foot in the door can be pretty convincing and pretty compelling,” notes Fracher.
According to a plea document, Marks won introductions to several out-of-state victims via a Central Virginia “organization,” and Skurski’s ex-husband has alleged that his dying ex-wife was introduced by the Synchronicity Foundation, a Nelson County spiritual retreat. A foundation official has previously downplayed the connection, and a reporter’s effort to speak to Synchronicity’s resident guru, known as “Master Charles,” was unsuccessful.
“The investigation is ongoing,” was prosecutor Huber’s answer to questions about whether any additional charges could be filed in the case.
Another victim mentioned in a new court document, listed only by the initials J.D., transferred $729,000 to Marks in addition to a diamond and emerald ring, gold earrings, a Chantilly silver salad fork, and a vial of mercury– all of which would be spiritually “cleansed.”
“It’s a big day,” Judge Glen Conrad told Marks as he repeatedly warned her that her plea was irrevocable. “Your life will never be the same.”
At that moment, Marks dabbed her eye but then quickly regained composure and smiled again. “I plead guilty, sir.”
Marks will learn her sentence on August 11.
Correction: Fork was misspelled in the original version.
Sept. 1, 2015: No bond for psychic
Aug. 29, 2015: Psychic indicted: Found some victims at Synchronicity
Feb. 12, 2015: No charges filed in Psychic Catherine raid