Psychic scams are nothing new to New York, where fortune-tellers’ storefronts are nearly as ubiquitous as Starbucks, but few are as attention-grabbing as the one that conned a young man now living in Los Angeles out of his life savings.
There were promises of true love if he would just hand over a few thousand more dollars. There were vows to reunite him with his lost love, vows he believed even after learning that the woman of his dreams had died. There was money handed over to buy a time machine and to build a bridge of gold to help fight the evil separating kindred spirits.
It took nearly 18 months before Niall Rice realized he had been bled dry and that his clairvoyant’s crystal ball was more foggy than functional. In court Tuesday, though, it took just a few minutes for Rice’s one-time confidante, Priscilla Kelly Delmaro, to cop a plea that saves her from prison and from paying restitution to Rice, who gave her more than $550,000.
Rice, 33, was not in court when the case, which has drawn attention from media in his native Britain, drew to its close. He is broke, hurting and living somewhere in L.A., said Bob Nygaard, the private investigator who led police to Delmaro in May after a desperate Rice showed up at his door with a few crumpled bills to his name.
“He was desperate. He asked if he could sleep on my couch,” Nygaard said of Rice, who sought him out because of his expertise in tracking down psychics accused of fraud.
Nygaard was in court on his client’s behalf, and he called the outcome a “travesty” that will encourage what he says is a booming nationwide trade in psychic scams.
It’s not a crime to be gullible, but it’s a crime to steal from a gullible person.
“It’s not a crime to be gullible, but it’s a crime to steal from a gullible person,” said Nygaard, a retired cop who has chased down fraudulent fortune-tellers across the country, including several in California.
Two years ago, he tracked down a self-proclaimed fortune-teller and her husband accused of bilking an aspiring actor in Los Angeles out of more than $900,000. In that case, Nygaard said the victim was able to get back most of his money.
But he accused prosecutors and law enforcement officials of applying a double standard in their pursuit of most psychic fraud cases because the victims are gullible and willingly hand over their money.
That’s what happened to Rice, who was thriving professionally in New York but struggling to build a personal life. Lonely and aching over a failed romance, Rice began visiting psychics two years ago in search of hope.
He got it, but at a cost.
In court Tuesday, Delmaro, a tiny woman with black roots showing in her dyed blond hair, admitted that she had promised she could unite Rice with his former girlfriend, even after both learned the woman had died. In pleading guilty, Delmaro conceded that she had no power to use a time machine, a bridge of gold, or supernatural powers to change Rice’s life for the better.
Delmaro, who had earlier pleaded not guilty to grand larceny in the first degree, switched her plea to guilty of grand larceny in the fourth degree. Both are felonies, but the latter carries no minimum jail term.
Prosecutors agreed that Delmaro, who has been held on $250,000 bond since her arrest in May, would receive four years’ probation when she is sentenced Jan. 26. She will not have to pay restitution.
Outside court, Delmaro’s attorney, Jeffrey Cylkowski, said it was a “fair resolution” and that his client looked forward to getting home to her three young children.
“She won’t be a psychic anymore,” he added.
Cylkowski said that Rice’s admission to a brief fling with Delmaro had not helped the plaintiff. “It’s one problem in the case,” he said.
Nygaard said it is not unusual for con artists to seduce their victims, because they know it will reflect poorly on a plaintiff who files charges.
The case is not necessarily over.
Delmaro was the second of two psychics Rice visited during those dark days of 2013. He said he paid about $150,000 to the first psychic, but it did not buy him happiness. The expenditures included $40,000 for a diamond ring that Nygaard said the psychic was supposed to give back to Rice but kept.
Nygaard also wants the first psychic arrested.
“Why should she be allowed to get away with allegedly committing the same crime that Delmaro has now pleaded guilty to committing?” Nygaard said. “If a person can commit a crime like this without a penalty, it’s open season on everyone.”