The family was handed a 28-count indictment. Charges include money-laundering and mail and wire fraud. Suddenly, there was a blast of attention aimed at a culture that's survived by ducking the mainstream.

"The police officers are now looking at every Gypsy like they've got $40 million," says one local Romani elder who spoke to New Times on the condition of anonymity. "What you don't want to see is every Gypsy being a target."

Originally from northern India, the Romani, or Roma, arrived in Europe around 1100 AD. Tagged with the name "Gypsies" due to the mistaken belief that they came from Egypt, they've been a longtime target of persecution. During the Crusades, Muslims attacked them as Christians; Christians attacked them as Muslims. In the Balkans, they were enslaved. Hitler wiped out more than 1.5 million Romani during the Holocaust.

Pat Kinsella

Facing constant harassment, the culture became geared toward survival at all costs — even if it meant stealing and scrapping. According to the Gypsy elder, it led to an inverted value system. Gypsy children grow up hearing a bedtime story about how in Jerusalem, a Romani boy stole the fourth nail meant to kill Jesus on the cross. "Jesus then gave the Gypsies the right to steal," explains the Roma elder. "In a Gypsy's mind, if he does some roofing or driveway work and it costs $300 but he gets $900 for it, is that criminal?" Or clever?

But there's a line, he says. Cultural codes prohibit violence, as well as bleeding a victim dry. "Take a taste. Don't swallow."

Experts peg the number of Romani in the United States at 1 million, with close to 3,000 reportedly in South Florida, mostly clustered in south Broward County. Regardless of address, the Roma have consistently stood in a cultural airlock, keeping their customs and putting those who are non-Roma — called "gadje" in the culture's language — at a suspicious distance.

According to the elder, women are penned in by a series of strict rules meant to protect their purity. They can't handle dishes or walk in front of men when they're menstruating. Children don't go to school but learn from an early age the trade plied by their family. Boys might pick up paint and body work or metal scrapping; girls, fortunetelling.

In arranged marriages, a girl's dowry is based upon how much she can earn. The groom's family wants to set up their son with a woman who can support him. Negotiations are capped during a large party where the male heads of both households toast the deal with shots of Crown Royal. Although traditionally girls were married as young as 13, today 17 is more the standard age.

The community is organized by extended families, called "vitsas." A "kumpania" is a group of "vitsas." Disputes are settled by a "kris," a secret, male-only court of elders ("rom baros") that hands out fines ("glabas").

According to police in South Florida, Rom families have been linked to a number of petty but nonviolent scams. They'll knock on residential doors posing as utility workers, then steal jewelry or money. Some Gypsies have been known to stage auto accidents to bilk insurance money. Others heist precious metals. A "sweetheart swindle" is when young women romance lonely snowbirds to siphon off their finances. "Billies" are males who pull the same move on women.

"This is organized crime," says a law enforcement source who works undercover in Miami-Dade. "They're going to tell you that that's not the case, but I'm going to tell you that they are. They are organized in the sense that they know what they're doing, they speak a language no one else knows, and they work crimes together."

Today many Romani psychics work using websites and 800 numbers. George Eli (legal name: Steve Cola), a Roma filmmaker from Connecticut — and Rose Marks' cousin — equates it with life coaching.

"The prosecutors and the newspapers are calling her a 'fortuneteller.' What's important to know is that these are American words. The designated word within the culture is 'drabarni,' " Eli says. "The word for 'medicine' in our language is 'drab.' So what Rose really does, and what you guys call 'fortune­tellers,' are ancient medicine women."

Romani spirituality includes pieces of Hinduism, Zoroastrianism, Islam, and Roman Catholicism. Good energy flows from God (Del), negative energy from the Devil (Beng). The latter can turn up as curses (amria) or bad omens (prikaza). Dead spirits with grudges can target the living.

Only drabarni can combat the bad vibes, through prayers, candle burning, and charms such as crystals and coral necklaces. Some in America have turned the practice into businesses.

"This is a small, small group," Eli says. "There are 12 million [Roma] in Europe, 15 million worldwide. Believe me, they're not all drabarni."

As far as the assumptions police fix on the Roma, Eli says it's the oppressive labels the culture has always fought against.

"Americans are the type of people that embrace other cultures," he says. "But as far as government and law enforcement, that's when you find the racism and prejudice, in my opinion."

Still, although police have the Roma on their radar, they hardly ever go after them. Because if clients willingly hand over their money, where is the crime?

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Exiliado topcommenter

What these fortune tellers A.K.A scammers do is despicable and disgusting, but some people need to grow up. Anyone who spends more than 50 cents on "psychic services" is just proving to be a gullible sucker. Gullible suckers usually end up being ripped off. It's in their nature.

frankd4 topcommenter


as for the BSO being any assistance in prosecuting frauds,  let me remind you that BSO was bought by SCOTT ROTHSTEIN, so because BSO is "for sale" and the biggest scammer used the ft lauderdale based LEOs to "serve and protect" HIM ....................... what do you expect of the BSO ?

its' the FOX gaurding the HEN house here in broward county

frankd4 topcommenter


i guess BERNIE MADOFF is the KING of all GYPSIES

...........a fool and his money is soon parted

whether its GAMBLING or SHOPPING or HOBBIES or RELIGION the money lost/spent/donated is typically IN EXCHANGE FOR something....and that something can simply be puffery

MADISON AVENUE ADVERTISING depends on puffery as do gypsies

desperate people will do desperate things and pissing MONEY away is the least of it, some commit suicide or do drugs or fall into the bottle or pursue other dangerous outlets, so going broke it low on the list HOWEVER despicable it is morally and ethically to dupe vulnerable people


No offense, but I happen to know Gypsies and not all are mystics, most in fact assimilate to whatever culture they're in and become a part of the most popular religion

And the Gypsies that use magic charge only $10 a reading. I know, I study with some of them.



I want to congratulate you on a very fascinating article.  It's hard to believe that fortune tellers can make so much money.  On The Twilight Zone many years ago, there was an episode about a couple who were in a diner, and at their table was a "fortune telling machine." After depositing a quarter, the machine would predict  the future..  At first, the couple thought this was fun, but as they kept depositing money, the machine told them very accurate things about their lives.  In the end, the couple could not leave the table.  The machine told them that if they did, they would die.  I saw that as a child, and it still haunts me.  Who knows, maybe the couple is still in the diner.




For the deep background on this story, read Jan Yoors' famous sociological study of the Rom called "The Gypsies." It's kind of old (1960s) but totally valid. 


Please explain to me how the Gypsies are different than the Catholic church? I don't see a bit of difference between the two other than Gypsies  don't molest little boys.

frankd4 topcommenter


being a GYPSIE designates an unwelcome and uninvited OUTSIDER and any inclusion signifies an illegitimate purpose - to EXCLUDE gypsies is cleansing

being a CATHOLIC means you have to be at the table in any major discussion for that purpose to be legitimate - to EXCLUDE catholics is typically illegal and socially questionable and not PC

frankd4 topcommenter


mystical faith-based organizations are the SAME in that they value continued survival including financial support from congregants and believers

the GYPSIEs take advantage of desperate people in a surreptitious way and makes people PAY to obtain their salvation

the CATHOLIC CHURCH uses the interpretations of text as a basis for its faith and salvation is earned by following a certain path and requests donations to continue funding the resources required to maintain the organization infastructure (until MARTIN LUTHER the CHURCH and GYPSIEs were similar in demanding MONEY to effect change (indulgences))

the GYPSIEs get people to FALL PREY while the CHURCH requires members to BE FAITHFUL


@Rabbi_Pedro_Goldstein Truth be told, all religions are nothing but superstition, designed to psychologically control the masses, and enrich those in charge

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