Sandra Marks, aka Psychic Catherine, was sentenced to 30 months in jail November 18 in federal court for bilking victims in search of spiritual solace, and she was ordered to pay more than $5.4 million in restitution.
In court and in a sentencing memo, Marks’ attorney, Bill Dinkin, said that she didn’t start bilking clients big time until she met Master Charles Cannon, who visited her in 2003 and invited her to his Nelson County spiritual organization, Synchronicity.
“If not for Synchronicity, she’d probably be reading palms for $35,” said Dinkin. “That brought her clients with higher incomes.”
Marks ran a business known as Psychic Readings on U.S. 29 North that was the site of a 2014 raid. She was arrested a year later and charged with 34 counts of wire and mail fraud for telling her victims that she detected a curse or a “dark cloud,” which she could get rid of by cleansing large sums of money through prayer, meditation and rituals.
She said she’d return the money, but instead, she and husband Donnie Marks used the funds to support a “lavish lifestyle,” buying cars and expensive jewelry, according to prosecutor Ron Huber. Donnie Marks entered a guilty plea following his wife’s sentencing Friday.
Marks’ original indictment listed five victims, but in her plea, she was charged with embezzling from two, one who suffered from depression and another, Kerry Skurski, who had ALS and has since died, and who met Marks at Synchronicity.
“That’s quite a light amount of incarceration considering she was charged with 32 counts,” says Mike Skurski, Kerry’s ex-husband, in Colorado. “It’s a mathematical improbability she can’t pay the restitution so she should pay with her time in jail.”
In a sentencing memo, Dinkin alleged that as an “employee and counselor at Synchronicity,” Marks was introduced to a practice Master Charles Cannon called “the Big Process,” in which clients placed funds ranging from thousands to hundreds of thousands of dollars into the care of Synchronicity as a sign of “unwavering faith in Cannon as a deity” and to keep his followers from the “negative temptations of materialism.”
“This is the first time I’ve ever heard that,” says Master Charles. “It’s really shocking to me because it isn’t true.”
He says Marks was a shaman and a paid consultant at Synchronicity. “The work Catherine did for us was excellent,” he says. “All the people who worked with her never had any complaints. We were really shocked because it was a different person from what we knew.”
Synchronicity cooperated with the federal investigation, he says. “They found we weren’t complicit in this.”
And while most of the victims met Marks at Synchronicity, Master Charles cautions against calling them members. “We have retreats and programs,” he explains. “You might meet a massage therapist here and contract with them outside of Synchronicity. That’s what happened here.”
In court, both the prosecution and defense said Marks did not target her victims because of their vulnerabilities.
Judge Glen Conrad disagreed. “I think these folks were targeted for these very reasons.”
Marks, 42, cited her Romani background, also known by the politically incorrect term gypsy, which contributed to her illiteracy and her marriage at age 16 to Donnie Marks. She was the family’s primary breadwinner, working as a spiritual counselor and conducting “mystic exercises involving prayer, the use of crystals and idols, tarot card readings and attempted communication with the dead,” while her husband took care of the financial aspects, according to court documents.
Mike Skurski calls Marks’ claim of illiteracy “flat out false and offensive.” He has copies of texts Marks exchanged with his ex-wife, including one in which Marks provides her bank routing numbers. He also has what he says is a 2010 contract Kerry Skurski signed retaining Marks for “shamanic consulting services” for $50,000, which was witnessed by a Synchronicity staffer.
A statement was read in court from victim J.D., who was “embarrassed” by the bilking and had not let anyone in her family know. J.D. also called Marks “manipulative.”
Dinkin stressed that his client, who has been in jail for 16 months, cooperated fully with law enforcement, and has already been punished for fingering her husband. “The couple was extremely loving,” said the attorney. “Within her culture, she wasn’t the one in charge. Her husband was.”
Judge Conrad was concerned that Marks, with limited job skills, would slide back into psychic activities, and ordered three years of “rigorous” supervised probation, including of her financial documents.
“Your case was a little out of the ordinary from what we normally see with white collar crime,” he said. “I realize your culture is one where women have limited opportunity to realize their potential and fulfill their dreams. And I realize you’re virtually illiterate.”
The judge added, “Those are good chunks of money. It was a big scheme.”
He ordered that Sandra and Donnie Marks pay $5,479,994.60 in restitution, but acknowledged their ability to do so would be limited. The couple will forfeit $87,000 in assets held by the government.
After the hearing, Dinkin said his client “feels extremely remorseful. She became very close to these folks.”
And when Marks addressed the court, he said, “She had tears in her eyes and it was heartfelt.”