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Scam Fortune Teller Arrested, Sentenced to Prison for Fraud

News & Comment

Ben Radford

Volume 23.4, July / August 1999

On December 9, 1998, U.S. Attorney Donald Stern and Special Agent Barry Mawn of the FBI’s Boston Field Office announced that a forty-seven-year-old woman, Kitty Tene, was sentenced to one year and three months in prison on charges of wire fraud and transportation of stolen property. Ms. Tene, who claimed to be a psychic and tarot reader, operated in Boston. In September 1996 a woman approached Tene, who was offering tarot readings for $15 in the back of a restaurant.

The victim believed Tene’s tarot readings to be accurate and agreed to subsequent regular meetings with Tene. During the meetings, Tene befriended the victim and learned that she had received a substantial inheritance.

In November 1996, Tene told the victim that her inheritance was the cause of her personal and professional unhappiness. Tene convinced her client that she could cleanse the money of evil spirits and, thereafter, Tene would return the money and the victim’s life would get back on the right path.

Tene instructed the victim to make cash withdrawals, which would later be used during “cleansing ceremonies” so that Tene could “rid it of evil.” After receiving nearly $160,000 in cash and items valued at more than $40,000, Tene left Boston for New York, never returning to see the victim again.

Tene was finally arrested by the FBI in March 1998. In addition to the prison time, U.S. District Court Judge Nancy Gertner ordered restitution of $202,817 and ordered that Tene serve three years of supervised release upon completion of her sentence.

In another case in New York City, two women were arrested for pulling a similar scam in the borough of Queens. Sonya Cruz (also known as Signorita Rita), 34, and Estee Lee, 43, were arrested in late January 1999 and charged with scheme to defraud, grand larceny, and fortunetelling. Cruz reportedly hosted a fortune-telling radio show and placed ads in newspapers to attract customers. The women charged customers more than $1,000 to take away supposed curses or heal problems, such as a husband’s drinking.

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Benjamin Radford is a scientific paranormal investigator, a research fellow at the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry, deputy editor of the Skeptical Inquirer, and author or co-author of six books and over a thousand articles on skepticism, critical thinking, and science literacy. His newest book is The Martians Have Landed: A History of Media Panics and Hoaxes. Radford is also a columnist for Discovery News and LiveScience.com.