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A 74-year-old self-proclaimed psychic and her daughter have been sentenced to prison time after confessing to running a fortune-telling scam, which conned a distraught Florida woman out of more than $1 million.
Annie Marie Vwanawick and her daughter April Miller, who were accused of fleecing a 62-year-old Florida woman out of more than $1.4 million, were sentenced to three-and-a-half years and two years and three months behind bars, respectively, according to court documents obtained by Oxygen.com. The pair had previously pleaded guilty to multiple counts of wire fraud and conspiracy to commit wire fraud.
The victim, identified only as Ms. O, addressed the court on Friday, described Vwanawick and Miller as “ruthless con artists,” likened their scheme to “emotional rape,” and divulged how the mother and daughter led her to believe she was cursed and that her ex-husband was a demon.
“They have made me believe that monsters and evil do exist,” the woman told the court, according to a victim impact statement obtained by Oxygen.com.
In her statement, the woman explained how Vwanawick and Miller “took over” her life for several years, destroyed her credit, confidence, alienated her from family, and transformed her into a recluse. She asked Judge Kenneth A. Marra to impose a prison sentence of 10 to 20 years on the two self-proclaimed occult healers.
“They fed on my vulnerability like psychological terrorists — preying upon my biggest fears and using any setbacks in my life to extort more money from me and blaming it on my curse.”
Investigators said Vwanawick and Miller carried on the scheme with the unidentified woman from at least November 2009 to December 2015.
The woman, a fitness industry professional, explained she was a “vulnerable target” when she encountered Miller in a Florida nail salon in 2009. At that time, she told the court, she had recently undergone a “brutal” divorce with an alcoholic and abusive ex-husband, in which she was awarded a hefty settlement and lump sum. She was also simultaneously coping with her elderly father’s health issues.
While on the phone with her sister at the nail salon, the woman stated that Miller, who had been sitting nearby, passed her a piece of paper claiming she was a Cherokee Indian spiritual healer and advisor. The paper included Miller’s phone number. The woman jammed the piece of paper containing the woman’s contact information into her purse and forgot about it for a number of weeks.
After “devastating and threatening” phone call with her ex-husband, the woman described how she “broke down and decided to call [Miller].”
Once at the psychic’s home, Miller, 44, lit candles, prayed over the woman, told her she was surrounded by a “dark, evil, and threatening” aura. She charged the woman $30 and introduced her to Vwanawick, whom she claimed was her mother.
The mother-daughter psychic team then convinced the woman her ex-husband was a demon — and that the settlement money from the former couple’s divorce was cursed.
“They told me my life was cursed, I would lose everything in the divorce, and my husband was a demon,” she stated in court.
Vwanawick and Miller supposedly told the woman she would be “penniless,” “crippled, bleeding from [her] eyes and in bed alone,” if the curse was not lifted. The mother-daughter pair then manipulated her by distancing her from friends and family, explaining that if she told anyone of the curse, “death and devastation” would follow her and her loved ones.
Like many psychic fraud cases, the woman began doling out money to the purported spiritual healers so they could purchase “crystals” and “necessary religious articles” to carry out their “healing work.”
But the two women slowly drained the woman’s savings, insisting they were cleansing the woman’s divorce settlement money.
“That money is on the alter,” Vwanawick allegedly said in a recorded phone call the woman turned over to authorities. “I don’t care what you think. That money is keeping this evil, this curse away from you ... the curse.”
Between September and December 2015 alone, investigators tracked five wire transfers totaling $130,500, which the woman sent from her JP Morgan Chase bank account to accounts associated to Vwanawick and Miller.
And over time, the woman’s appointments with the two psychics descended into dramatic displays of the occult.
“They performed rituals with eggs, cracking them open to display dead baby snakes which represented the terrible curse,” the woman explained.
Another time, Vwanawick and Miller told the woman her ovaries were “cancerous,” and produced an object, which appeared to be a “bloody ovary” she said.
“It represented the curse in my womb and it was the reason I could not have children,” she added.
Vwanawick and Miller repeatedly said that if her estranged husband died, the curse would be buried with him. However, following her husband’s alcohol-related death in 2013, they switched up their scheme’s narrative, insisting that her ex had become a “powerful demonic spirit.”
After nearly bleeding the woman’s savings and investment accounts dry, she demanded her money back. When Vwanawick and Miller didn’t return her savings, she began recording her conversations with the fraudulent spiritual healers. Vwanawick and Miller, who police said go by multiple aliases, called the woman “stupid” and “foolish,” and threatened to drop off the map if the woman reported her to police.
“What if I tell you I’ll go away — you’ll never find me,” Vwanawick told the woman in one of those conversations.
“If you want to go to court, I told you before, I’ll use some of your money to pay the damned lawyers in Palm Beach,” Vwanawick also said.
Vwanawick and Miller also pleaded guilty to defrauding a middle-aged married couple from Boca Raton out of $9,000. A federal judge sentenced the pair to paying $1,446,000 in restitution to both sets of victims.
Bob Nygaard, a psychic fraud investigator who assisted the FBI on the case, said Vwanawick and Miller paid back $97,000 to the 62-year-old woman they duped, and an additional $3,000 to the married couple they also scammed, but said it’s unlikely the victims will ever see another cent of that settlement.
He called the restitution order as “worthless” and “nothing more than a hollow promise,” criticizing Vwanawick's and Miller’s plea deals as “wholly inadequate.” Nygaard, who has investigated hundreds of psychic fraud cases, said fraudulent fortune tellers rarely keep assets or property in their name, making it difficult, if not impossible for restitution orders to be enforced.
“[I]f prosecutors don’t start negotiating stricter plea deals or judges don’t start handing down harsher sentences in relation to fortune telling fraud…these professional con-artists will continue to defraud vulnerable people with impunity,” he said in a statement sent to Oxygen.com.
The private investigator added that Marra, the federal judge overseeing the case, displayed a total “lack of concern” for the unnamed victim in the case. He also pointed to the cases of crooked New York clairvoyant Ann Thompson and that of Sherry Uwanawich, who both received light sentences for scamming hundreds of thousands from their victims.
Sherry Uwanawich, another sham fortune teller who conned a Texas woman out of nearly $2 million, was sentenced in the Southern District of Florida to just 40 months behind bars in September.
“If anyone believes that requiring a criminal who steals $1.6 million to only serve [40 months] promotes respect for the law or acts as a deterrent to fortune telling fraud, I have a bridge to sell them in Brooklyn.”
A spokesperson for the U.S. District Court, Southern District of Florida declined to comment on Vwanawick and Miller’s sentencing on Tuesday.
Nygaard, who said psychic fraud is a more than $2 billion-a-year industry, explained that such “sweetheart” plea deals don’t deter psychic fraud but instead incentivize it. He explained that many convicted psychic fraudsters consider prison time “the cost of doing business.”
Vwanawick, who is also known as Grace Uwanawich, Nygaard said, was previously arrested for masterminding a similar psychic scam in Philadelphia in the '90s, and later in Maryland in 2006.
"I promise in Jesus' name I'm not going to do this again," Vwanawick said in 2007, following her conviction in Maryland, the Washington Post reported. "I know it sounds like I'm using Jesus. I am ashamed."
Nygaard said it wouldn't shock him if the 74-year-old resumed her psychic schemes after she serves her time.
"[Annie Vwanawick] is already a recidivist and given the weak punishment she received relative to the huge profit she made, in regard to this particular case, it wouldn’t surprise me at all if she continued her scams upon being released from prison," Nygaard added.
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