Will people believe anything regarding money when the economy's tanked? We're starting to think so. In July 2008, Debra Saafield gave Zena the Clairvoyant $27,000 as a trust exercise. The Naples woman was told that her attachment to material objects was a holdover from her past as an Egyptian princess, and that she had to squelch it.
Saalfeld, who has no Egyptian lineage, realized her mistake the next morning. It was already too late: She was only able to get back $9,500 from Zena after going through attorneys, police and private investigators. Zena, a 39-year-old gypsy whose real name is Sylvia Mitchell, has been charged with grand larceny. Her trial began yesterday, and she faces up to 15 years in prison if convicted.
How does something like this happen? Prosecutors say that Saalfield was emotionally vulnerable after she lost a job and her relationship within one terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day. Dates check out on the professional front, sort of: Her LinkedIn profile says she was an award-winning creative director for an advertising firm until February 2009. Since October 2012, she's been employed as a professional dance instructor in Bonita Springs, according to the site.
Attorneys are also saying this case does not necessarily dispute the existence of psychics, but rather attempts to define the line between service and exploitation. When the service in question is something that can't be proven or disproven, it's hard to say if it was performed. Grand larceny can mean common theft, but it can also be applied to Mitchell's case, they claim.
"I needed some direction and guidance, and she said that she was pretty confident that she could help me," Saalfield said in court. "I don't know that I thoroughly trusted her, but I wanted to listen to words of comfort."
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This is the second time this week that a case involving psychics and Floridians has entered the national spotlight. Rose Marks, who ran a gypsy family enterprise out of Ft. Lauderdale, was found guilty on 14 counts of fraud September 26.
Follow Allie Conti on Twitter: @allie_conti