How Modern Fortunetellers Pull Off Their Scams
The voice on the other end of the phone, spiky with trans-Atlantic static, told Iiyah that if the curse were lifted, one day she'd be worshiped like a god. The key step now was to build a temple in Egypt that would clear out the dark energy.
Sitting in her bedroom in Luton, 30 miles north of London, Iiyah, 27, was getting used to such advice. In the four months she'd been swapping calls with the American psychic she knew as Sienna Miller, news flashes from the spirit realm had been reliably weird. But deity status didn't sound too bad.
"Bloody hell, who wouldn't want something like that? It was like a dream come true," she says today. "You're going to be like a god? It was going to be an end of all my suffering."
How Modern Fortunetellers Pull Off Their Scams
Iiyah, born in Bangladesh but raised in England, was a pretty, moon-faced accountant living a steady middle-class existence until the summer of 2006. In swift succession, she lost her job, and her four-year marriage snapped. She and her soon-to-be ex still shared the same house. Their fighting was constant. The only guy Iiyah felt tugging at her heart already had a girlfriend. She also felt lingering sadness from the still-unexplained death of her father when she was 13. "I was just stuck," she recalls. "I was scared as well. I didn't want the rest of my life to carry on as it was."
One day, she happened upon a website — 1masterpsychic.com — that promised a free reading from a psychic. "Will you revitalise your love life? Change your job or get a promotion? How will your finances grow and develop?" the crudely designed page asked. Iiyah dialed the 888-number.
Miller "said that me and [my crush], we were soulmates, and we were really meant to be," Iiyah explains. "It was really rare." But the psychic also sensed negative energy. She'd need $200 to scout the ether for an answer. Iiyah wired the money.
Miller reported that in a past life, Iiyah had killed a woman to be with her soulmate. The woman retaliated with a curse that kept the lovers apart in future lives and also blocked Iiyah from realizing her full potential. Only serious work could lift the spell.
So began a three-year ordeal. The lonely English woman funneled funds to Miller to pay for candles, quartz crystals, oils, and figurines. She remortgaged her house, took out loans, and borrowed from family. The money was wired to Miller's "assistants" in Hollywood, Florida.
Every time cash vanished from her accounts, Iiyah felt bad. But weekly phone conversations with Miller propped her up. When Iiyah fought with her family, Miller attributed it to "a manifestation of dark energy." If she complained about money, Miller said that in the future, she'd make more than she knew what to do with. Like a one-woman cheering section, the psychic constantly promised that a grander life was coming.
By mid-2009, Iiyah was dry. After she stopped paying, the waits between phone calls stretched. It was like the end of a long romance, death by small, painful degrees. "I just want to tell you that I am still here working for you and I have been kept away and only able to speak with the spirits," Miller wrote in a final kiss-off email. "Please stay strong and keep faith."
Then, radio silence. Iiyah had handed over more than $140,000. "I hated myself. It was just the worst," she says today.
Iiyah's self-loathing is the standard fallout from a run-in with a psychic scammer. Armed with impressive magic acts — a modern-day fortuneteller might wield a combo of internet savvy, Eastern mysticism, and/or freaky rituals with fruit — bogus psychics tell victims they're cursed, then fleece them for money. Law enforcement sources say many such scammers are Gypsies, or American Romani, operating out of South Florida. "It's something that appeals to the culture because it's such a lucrative way to make money," says Gregory Ovanessian, a former San Francisco Police Department detective and director emeritus of the National Association of Bunco Investigators, a trade association for fraud cops. "A good fortuneteller can make $200,000 to $300,000 a year easily."
In August, Fort Lauderdale psychic Rose Marks is scheduled to go on trial in federal court for her role in a record-setting alleged $25 million fraud perpetrated against best-selling romance novelist Jude Deveraux and other clients. Besides the high-profile names involved, what really distinguishes the Marks case is that it was prosecuted at all. Fortuneteller scams happen all the time here. They just rarely see the inside of a courtroom.
Until summer 2011, the Marks family ran the Fort Lauderdale arm of its business from a charmless one-story storefront near Federal Highway and Davie Boulevard. Clients were a mix of curious entertainment-seekers and genuinely fragile people hoping to patch up emotional damage.
That August, Rose Marks and eight other members of her family were arrested in a sting dubbed "Operation Crystal Ball." Authorities allege the clan used its spiritual hold to squeeze $40 million (later discounted to $25 million) from clients. The state's key witness, Jude Deveraux — author of bestsellers such as Scarlet Nights, Days of Gold, and 35 other books that together have sold more than 60 million copies worldwide — first fell in with the family in 1991 after walking into a Marks-owned shop in Manhattan. Over 20 years, Marks leveraged Deveraux's marital problems, pregnancy fears, and grief. Large sums of money and valuables passed between the author and the psychic, all to be used in rituals to clear out curses. Deveraux allegedly lost $17 million. (Marks and Deveraux both declined to be interviewed for this article.)
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.
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?
With her eyes pinched shut, Priti Mahalanobis listened as a gong sounded near her right ear, then her left. A woman's voice chanted. Mahalanobis, 42, opened her eyes.
Peaches Stevens, in her late 20s with straw-blond hair and pouty lips, sat down across from her client in the Orlando office. With a knife, she slowly cut into a grapefruit that Mahalanobis had brought. The blade dipped into the fruit. A second perpendicular cut formed a cross shape.
As Stevens peeled the skin back, Mahalanobis gasped. Instead of juicy pink fruit, inside was a stringy black mass, like something hacked up from an animal's throat.
"The evil has made a home in your body," Stevens consoled her panicked guest. "Don't worry. I'm going to put this evil to rest."
Only a week earlier, in March 2010, Stevens had sailed into Mahalanobis' life with the junk mail. Flipping through a stack of coupons, Mahalanobis found an ad offering $20 psychic readings.
A prim, petite Indian woman with a husband and two children, she had been swirling with anxiety. Her sister was ill, her brother's marriage was ending, and the economy was threatening to sink her father's business. Mahalanobis herself was nervously preparing to cut the ribbon on her own Quiznos franchise. Stomach problems kept her in constant discomfort.
"I called the number," Mahalanobis recalls. "The appointment was for the next day."
The Meditation and Healing Center was located in a one-story house steps from the local police station. In their first meeting, a sympathetic listen was all it took to pick the lock on everything Mahalanobis had been holding in.
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The psychic sensed negative energy. She said that for $200, she could hunt for answers through meditation. Mahalanobis agreed. As a Hindu, concepts of negative energy and meditation were familiar. "All her terminology was couched more to appeal to more people with Eastern belief systems and philosophies," Mahalanobis explains in retrospect.
But the recon from the other side was bad. The psychic informed Mahalanobis that before marrying her mother, Mahalanobis' father had been involved with another woman but rejected her. The scorned lady placed a curse on the family for three generations.
"It would affect us in the area of love, health, and money," Mahalanobis says. "Suddenly, it seemed to make sense."
With a master's degree in applied economics, Mahalanobis was trained to look for patterns in a mess of data. A curse sensibly wove together all the seemingly random bad news.
The curse could be proven, Stevens claimed. She told her client to go home and write the names of her extended family on a piece of paper. She would also need a $100 bill for each person and a grapefruit. That night, Mahalanobis placed her list — 11 people total — plus $1,100 in an envelope under her pillow as instructed. She put a grapefruit under her bed.
The next day, Mahalanobis was staring at the proof her family was cursed. They couldn't just toss the evil — which had been siphoned out of her body and into the grapefruit — in the dumpster. It would have to be put to rest in a golden tabernacle. The psychic could handle the work, but it would cost $19,000.
Mahalanobis hid and rationalized her actions. At the bank, pulling $1,000 in cash for the psychic, she noticed the teller counted out the bills in the shape of a cross — just as Stevens had cut the grapefruit. When Mahalanobis' side began to ache, it was just as Stevens had warned: Now that the evil had vacated her body, it would leave an emptiness. When she began to doubt Stevens, it was just the curse manifesting negative ideas.
The stress burned 20 pounds off her frame. Gray began creeping into her fine black hair. When friends asked why she looked ground up, she blamed the new business. But because she was rerouting its income to Stevens, her new Quiznos closed after only two months.
Three months in, Stevens had a revelation: Mahalanobis, not her father, was the root of the family curse. Seven lifetimes back, when she had been a man, she had caused much pain and suffering. The curse wouldn't let up now until seven golden tabernacles were constructed. This plot twist sent Mahalanobis scrambling for more money and rested new guilt on her shoulders. The karmic stain was on her.
Her life shrank to a single purpose — saving her family. She gave to protect the 11 lives that mattered most. The money couldn't leave her hands fast enough.
"What would I not give if it meant the freedom of my whole entire family?" she asks today. "At that point, if she had told me to give up my life, I probably would have done it."
One day, Mahalanobis' husband of 20 years asked why she'd spent $13,000 at a store called Zodiac Gallery. Mahalanobis cooked up a limp lie about buying herbal medicine for a sick friend. Her husband said she'd have to sell her gold jewelry to cover the debt. She'd already pawned it.
By December 2010, Mahalanobis could no longer handle the stress. On a Christmas trip to Arizona, she asked her father point-blank if he'd been with another woman before his marriage. The answer was a definite no.
The next day, she told her family about the psychic. All told, Mahalanobis had handed over more than $130,000.
Sandy Williams nudged her car off West Glades Road in Boca Raton. Atop a beige strip of storefronts housing bath and flooring companies, the word "Psychic" was written in flashy script. Inside, Williams (who asked that her real name not be used) found a tall, 40ish, olive-skinned man in a suit and tie sitting on a couch.
"Come in, love," he purred.
It was September 2012, and Williams, a black-haired divorcée in her early 60s, had recently retired from teaching. Her father had also died. Unmoored, she was contemplating a move. A psychic might help her gauge her options.
The man introduced himself as "Trinity." Williams asked the price for a reading.
The woman climbed back into her car, drove to an ATM, then returned with cash. Trinity next told Williams she needed to fetch a white rose to disperse negative energy. Again, the woman left and went to Publix.
She wasn't back long before Trinity dispatched her to the beach to fill half a bottle with ocean water. Back at his office, the psychic mixed oil into the bottle, then instructed Williams to shower with the solution in the shop's bathroom. Williams finally declined, halting the routine. But when she got home, she brought the oil into the shower.
The pair began meeting regularly, and the older woman stepped wherever Trinity pointed, like she was on autopilot. "I was numb to all of this that was going on," she says now. "I was doing something because he commanded [me] to do it."
On one visit, he sent her to the bank to withdraw $600. The psychic separated the bills into three stacks — for the past, present, and future — then tied red ribbons around each. Because money was the root of all evil, he commanded his client to take the cash home, place it in a white pillowcase, and throw pieces of paper with written phrases such as "free me" and "release me" inside.
Next, Trinity revealed that Williams' beloved dad was trapped in purgatory. The only way to spring him was through spiritual rituals. Although Williams had grown up in the Jewish faith — which doesn't even recognize the concept of purgatory — "it was comforting to know that I was going to help with getting him out," she says now. Over the next few months, Williams says, she funneled both large-scale bundles of cash and smaller increments in the form of gift cards.
In October, the pair drove to Boca's Town Center Mall. At Mayor's Jewelry, Trinity instructed Williams to purchase a $28,900 gold Rolex watch. By sacrificing it, they'd release her father. Trinity took the purchase home, telling Williams he'd either throw it in the sea or smash it with a hammer.
Williams worried that she was shoveling her life's savings to a bizarre stranger. When in Trinity's presence, however, the psychic dialed down her anxiety, always explaining that the pair was just about to "finish the work." But in October, Trinity delivered more bad news: She had cervical cancer. They must construct a gold shield inlaid with diamonds and rubies to keep Satan at bay.
By then, Williams estimates, she'd handed over more than $70,000. By mid-November, when she walked into the Boca Raton police station to file a report, she'd given the psychic another $70 grand. Williams was left with just $1,000.
In August 2009, 19-year-old Tamara Wilson (not her real name)stepped inside her shower and poured a jug of milk over her body.
A curvy woman with a rocky sea of stylish curls, she gave off a canny, no-bullshit attitude. Still, emotional doldrums were melting her down. She was living at home with her mother. After a string of bad grades, her college was close to pulling her financial aid. A hot-and-cold relationship was causing her heartache.
Also, she was wracked with body issues, wishing for one of the runway figures she watched parade through New York's fashion world — where she hoped to work one day. But those big life goals seemed to be pulling out of reach. "I was in a dark place in my life," she says. "When you're in a vulnerable state, you see everything as a possibility."
A search-engine cruise turned up the number for a free reading at truelovepsychic.com. A soft voice on the other end identified herself as Nadine. Wilson unloaded. The psychic detected a dark presence and felt Wilson's boyfriend was cheating. Rituals could help.
A skeptical Wilson demanded to meet the psychic in person. Nadine declined but said she could instead meet with a young psychic whom she'd personally trained.
At a house in Hollywood, Wilson met Hillarie, a 17-year-old blond cheerleader type draped in designer Seven jeans and Tory Burch sandals. The younger psychic channeled Nadine.
"You should already be in New York in fashion," she reported.
Those words were like a shot of heroin. Like beauty coaches and spiritual healers combined, the psychics promised to steer Wilson to her goal.
The initial consultation cost $400. As she handed over the money, a corner of Wilson's mind barked out in protest.
"It wasn't something I was raised to believe in. I was hesitant," she says. But despite the weird window-dressing, Nadine's message echoed what Wilson had been telling herself: It's time to get your life on track. "That clicked with me."
Wilson was given strict orders. She bathed with sea salts and milk and burned sage in all the rooms of her house. Wilson emailed Hillarie images of the features she wanted: Rihanna's lips, Megan Fox's eyes. She was instructed to scatter flower petals over a white sheet, as well as cash — five $100s, four $50s, three $10s, two $5s, and a single. After wrapping herself in the sheet, she handed over the money for the psychics to cleanse.
Soon, Wilson was tapped for $900 for a set of urns. These were to be sculpted into the body she wanted. Nadine sent her to Saks, J.Crew, and Bloomingdale's; she opened credit cards to buy high-end outfits. The purchases were dropped off to Hillarie to dress the sculptured urns in the clothing. Wilson was promised the clothes back — once the work was complete. When Wilson used a Gucci purse one night before turning it over to Hillarie, Nadine angrily demanded she exchange it for an unused one.
Eventually, the psychic pair discovered that Wilson had been cursed by a Louisiana voodoo priestess hired by the current wife of an ex-boyfriend. New York, the fashion world, the body she wanted, happiness — it all depended on shaking the curse.
Wilson burned through almost $30,000. She maxed out five new credit cards, plus three she already had.
"What are you doing?" she'd plead with herself. "You don't just give people money like this."
But she was in so deep, it was hard to hit reverse. It would mean admitting she'd been gullible enough to step into the trap. "[Psychics] have you do the most embarrassing things," she explains, "because, then, are you really going to tell people about it?"
When the Rose Marks case heads to trial this August, the family matriarch will stand alone. All nine codefendants in her federal case have pleaded guilty. If convicted, Marks faces 20 years in prison.
Jude Deveraux has yet to publicly discuss her time with Marks, but what's known follows a familiar script: Emotionally rocked after a divorce in the late '90s and the death of her 8-year-old son in 2005, the writer reportedly leaned on the psychic for support. In turn, Marks convinced Deveraux her son was marooned between heaven and hell. Along the way, the writer willingly parted with $17 million.
Jurors will have to decide: empathetic victim or idiotic sucker?
"I can't express strongly enough what a monumental effort it takes when attempting to help the victims of fraudulent fortunetellers in South and Central Florida navigate their way through a criminal justice system that is often extremely unsympathetic toward their plight," says Bob Nygaard. "I've had these criminals call me up and tell me Florida is open season for them — they love it. They laugh about it because the prosecutors don't prosecute."
Bald and linebacker-bulky, Nygaard is a private investigator specializing in swindles, particularly cases involving American Roms in New York City and South Florida, the two hotbeds. The retired Nassau County cop gets opposite responses in the two jurisdictions. New York prosecutes these cases. Florida doesn't.
"I've brought three recent cases to the NYPD and the Manhattan prosecutor's office. No problem," he says. "The whole culture of law enforcement down here is a lack of will to do these cases."
Nygaard can pick apart a scam like a mechanic stripping an engine. The frauds often follow a similar structure, he says. To gauge a victim's willingness to follow, psychics will give out a to-do list, each request wilder than the last. To sink the hook, they'll take a grapefruit or egg that the victim provides and swap it with one they've already injected with ink or hair — "proof" of an evil spirit. They'll forbid talking about the work with others. They'll coo praise one minute, then bully with guilt the next.
When the veil drops, victims face financial wreckage. But Nygaard guesses only one out of 50 fortunetelling victims comes forward. "A lot of people call me, and they just want to talk, tell me what happened. But they don't want to go forward. They're too embarrassed. They don't want to see their name in the papers."
Beaming in over Skype from England, Iiyah her head. Her face twists into an embarrassed smile before deflating. She still doesn't know much about "Sienna Miller" or where her $140,000 went — but she never got an Egyptian temple. "It sounds so stupid," she says.
Four years after she was scammed, Iiyah is badly in debt. She's begged for help from police. English police told her to contact authorities in South Florida. She says she buzzed Hollywood, Hallandale Beach, and the Broward Sheriff's Office only to be told this was a civil, not a criminal, matter. She's too broke to sue.
"I don't know who I am after this," she says. "It's been really, really hard."
In late 2010, after Priti Mahalanobis confessed to spending $130,000 on a woman who duped her with a grapefruit, she cut off all contact with the psychic. When she tried filing a police report in early 2011, she was told the con didn't constitute a crime. "I was shocked and angry," she remembers. "What the hell? How could someone so openly do this?"
She found Nygaard online and hired him. He collected information and sent it to the Orange County State Attorney's Office that March. Mahalanobis waited. By late summer, anxious for her case to move forward, she went on Anderson Cooper's daytime show. Before the daytime viewing audience, she opened up. Her episode aired in October, and in November, Peaches Stevens was arrested in Orlando and charged with fraud, but charges were dropped in September 2012 when Stevens agreed to repay Mahalanobis in full.
This January, Stevens and her aunt, Sharon Stevens of Hallandale, were charged with squeezing $50,000 out of another Orlando woman. Charges were dropped in March, when the pair agreed to pay restitution. Attempts to contact both were unsuccessful, and multiple calls to their attorney were not returned.
Susan Williams realized she'd been conned by "Trinity" and in December 2012 filed a report with the Boca Raton Police Department. Police attempted to contact the psychic — real name: David Miller Uwich — for three months. They checked pawn shops and found that Uwich had sold the gold Rolex watch — not smashed it to rescue Williams' father from purgatory.
When investigators interviewed Uwich last March, he claimed his relationship with Williams had begun as business but developed into romance (although he told police "no actual sex occurred"). He denied accepting money but said the older woman had given him gift cards as presents. Uwich also claimed Williams had possession of the Rolex.
"She came into my office, she fell in love with me, we started dating," Uwich told New Times when contacted briefly by phone. "One thing led to another. Then I let her go, and she came up with this elaborate story. I never did spiritual work for her. We started dating. I bought her stuff; she bought me stuff. I'm 40; she's like 68 years old."
Williams admitted she never expected the money or the watch to be returned — they were supposed to be used for rituals. "[I]t is impossible to show intent," the case report concludes, because Williams "knew that everything she was giving to Uwich was never going to be returned to her." No charges were filed.
By September 2009, the bills filling up her mailbox broke the spell Tamara Wilson had fallen under. She demanded that Hillarie and Nadine return her money. The more she pressed, the more the two pulled away. Finally they stopped taking her calls altogether. Wilson tried to hide her deteriorating financial situation, but sensing something was wrong, her mother searched her room, finding the paper trail of bills.
With Nygaard's help, Wilson went to the Broward Sheriff's Office in 2010. The investigation identified the teenaged counterpart in the case as Hillarie Miller, then a juvenile. The name was significant — her mother is Gina Marie Marks, a Broward-based psychic who's been repeatedly charged with scamming clients since 2007. (No relation to Rose Marks; Marks is a common Roma surname.) In 2010, Marks served nine months of an 18-month sentence. She's currently on probation.
Attorneys for Miller offered Wilson restitution for the full $29,507, and both prosecutors and police pressed the victim to settle, but despite her bleeding debt, Wilson rejected the payout. She wanted a prosecution.
In June 2012, the state attorney issued a warrant on Hillarie Miller for organized scheme to defraud and grand theft. She's still at large. Investigators have not identified the psychic who called herself Nadine.
Asked if Gina Marie Marks had acted as the older psychic in her daughter's alleged crime, Miller's attorney, Michael Orenstein, says, "She had nothing to do with it; she's on probation."
Wilson's phone still rings regularly with creditors. Interest is piling up. She can't go back to school because she can't afford tuition. Looking back on who she was in 2009, she reflects, "I didn't have problems. I thought I had problems. Now I have problems."
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