‘Psychic Swindler’ in San Antonio convicted of theft by coercion

David Park Musella

Jennifer Nicole Evans, the San Antonio, Texas, fortuneteller whose crimes were chronicled in an article in the May/June 2005 issue of SI (“Psychic Swindlers” by Amy Davis), was found guilty of eight counts of theft by coercion and sentenced to twelve years in prison. In addition, the jury also decided that Evans must pay $213,000 in restitution to her victims.

Ms. Evans, who performed her services under the name “Miss Brooks,” “sobbed after the judge read the sentence” and “yelled an expletive at the lead prosecutor who tried the case [Karen Betancourt, an assistant district attorney for Bexar County, Texas],” according to a report that appeared on the Web site MySan Antonio.com on July 15, the day of Evans’s conviction.

During the course of the trial, ten of Evans’s victims testified that she had used the threat of illnesses such as cancer and other bad fortune that would befall their loved ones if they didn’t follow her instructions. Those instructions invariably included handing over money and purchasing merchandise and services for Evans and some of her relatives, all to clear away the curses. She harassed them by telephone until some of them had cleared their bank accounts and were far over their heads in loan and credit-card debt.

A letter we received from Susan D. Reed, the Criminal District Attorney for Bexar County, states: “The conviction of self-proclaimed psychic/spiritualist Jennifer Evans, age twenty-four, in Bexar County, Texas, for scamming individuals seeking out her assistance sends a clear message to those who prey upon vulnerable victims in [their] community that they will be held accountable. These victims of Ms. Evans believed she had the psychic power to harm or protect from harm their loved ones, so much so that they were willing to give her money to keep their families safe from her threats. While the prosecution was difficult because the victims voluntarily gave the money to remove her gypsy ‘curse,’ the jury’s verdict of a twelve-year prison sentence is a strong indication that the laws of our great state protect the innocent from schemes, seams, and swindles.”

Amy Davis, the troubleshooter reporter who authored the aforementioned article for SI, then with News 4 WOAI in San Antonio, said of the trial’s outcome: “I really wanted to sit in and watch the trial. I felt so much a part of the case. But since I am now living and working in Houston, I had to keep up with the latest developments online. I was actually prepared to be disappointed. I expected her to get probation. The fact that she didn’t reminded me why I love my job…. Prosecutors showed our undercover video of Evans in a session with our producer during the trial. I think once jurors actually saw Evans’s antics, they had to understand what she was doing was so much more than fooling naive pawns. I am thrilled she’ll spend the next twelve years behind bars.”

The outcome of the trial was uncertain, because while Evans could have been sentenced to as much as ninety-nine years behind bars, she also could have been given only probation, due to the fact that she formerly had no criminal record. Betancourt’s successful prosecutorial tactic had been to stress the idea that Evans had, in effect, threatened people’s well-being in order to extort money from her clients, while Evans’s defense attorney, Roy Berrera St., had asked for probation for his client, because her victims had given the money to her voluntarily.

D.A. Reed’s statement concludes: “The psychic scam may be a long tradition for the gypsy culture, but the law clearly protects us from the thief who uses words of coercion and alleged power of the paranormal to secure the life savings of the citizens of our community.”

David Park Musella is an editorial assistant with SKEPTICAL INQUIRER.

COPYRIGHT 2005 Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal

COPYRIGHT 2005 Gale Group

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