They claimed they were “white squaw Cherokee Indian” spiritual healers, and used eggs filled with snake embryos to convince their victims that they were cursed, authorities say.
One woman forked over almost $1.5 million before realizing it was a scam.
But on Friday, the mother-daughter pair of Annie Marie Vwanawick, 74, and April Miller, 44, both of Broward, were sentenced to 42 months and 27 months in prison, respectively, for defrauding two victims with their spiritual scams.
U.S. District Judge Kenneth Marra found at West Palm Beach federal court that the pair had defrauded one victim of slightly more than $1.4 million.
The other had been bilked for a little under $10,000.
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“Monsters and evil really do exist,” said one female victim, who asked to be identified only as Mrs. O at the sentencing as she laid out for the judge the specifics of a six-year con.
Mrs. O, of Boynton, met April Miller at a nail salon in 2009, and Miller had offered the woman, who was going through a nasty divorce, the “spiritual healing” services of her mother, Vwanawick.
But things got dark after just a few meetings.
“They told me my life was cursed,” Mrs.O told the judge, “and that my husband would win everything in the divorce, and was a demon.”
The solution Vwanawick presented was simple: Pay her and her daughter for their spiritual services in order to keep the curse at bay.
After Mrs. O won money from her husband in a divorce settlement, Vwanawick told her that the money itself was cursed, and that Mrs. O should turn it over to Vwanawick in the form of cash, for “cleansing.”
And after Mrs. O’s husband died of alcoholism, the two psychics claimed he had become a powerful demon, and asked Mrs. O to turn over any jewelry he had ever given her for a similar “cleansing.”
“They swore in Jesus’ name that the money would be returned,” Mrs. O said to the judge.
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The vast majority of if it never was.
In fact, according to prosecutors, Vwanawick and Miller have returned just under $100,000 of the stolen cash, and claim that the rest has been spent.
Their second victim, who asked to be identified only as Mr. A, told the judge that he was defrauded after encountering the psychics during a trying time in his life in which his business was failing.
Before the sentence was handed down, James Lewis, Vwanawick’s attorney, asked the judge to keep his client out of jail.
“What are the chances that someone of this age will come out alive after a 42-month sentence?” he said.
He cited Vwanawick and Miller’s Roma ancestry as a mitigating circumstance for their conduct.
“Gypsy families, probably for hundreds of years, have supported themselves in this fashion," he said.
But the judge followed the prosecutions’ recommendations in handing down the 42-month and 27-month sentences, citing Vwanawick’s past prosecutions for similar frauds.
The jail time was not enough to satisfy Bob Nygaard, a private detective who specializes in investigating fraudulent psychics, and who helped investigate Vwanawick and Miller.
“If someone can steal $1.4 million, pay back only $97,000, get sentenced to 42 months, and then only do 36, you’re doing three years in prison for a profit of $1.3 million,” he noted after the sentencing hearing.
Offenders in the federal prison system serve, on average, only 88 percent of their sentence, according to reporting by the Pew Charitable Trust.