Every so often a story of a “millionaire deceived by a scammer” comes to light and the news is received in the media with something similar to schadenfreude, the impulse to rejoice for the evil of others. There you have it. Not having been rich. We talk about stories like the real estate entrepreneur Stephen Cloobeck, 59, who asks her ex, Stefanie Gurzanski, 26, a model with quite a few followers on OnlyFans, to return the million dollars she spent on gifts in the five months they spent together. Also in cases of high-level fraud that give material to the podcasts and platforms, it’s hard to get our hearts to fall for people like Trump’s former Secretary of Education, the very billionaire Betsy DeVos, who invested a hundred million dollars in the Theranos scam.
However, the story of Vera Pratt, the old woman deceived by a psychic who met this week in a long article from Boston Globe It can only be read as a sad tale by Alice Munro or Elizabeth Strout. The old woman even gave 3.5 million dollars to a seer named Angela Johnson to try to exorcise the demon from her body. In a relationship that lasted seven years, the Florida clairvoyant managed to have the woman under her complete control, separated her from her family and friends, became a credit card holder and led a lifestyle that allowed her buy a Porsche Cayenne and carry Chanel bags and Louboutin shoes, while the woman who wrote the checks had to ask a goddaughter to pay her electricity bill.
Vera Pratt, who passed away in 2018, in the most descriptive sense of the term. He was one of the fourth generation of people who lived off the money earned by Charles Pratt, John D. Rockefeller’s partner at the Standard Oil Company. In 1891, Pratt’s fortune was about $ 20 million, which would now be $ 576. Vera never needed to have anything close to a job, but according to the article in Globe, “She was not comfortable with her wealth” and preferred to dedicate her millions in philanthropic donations to causes such as Oxfam and Save the Children. He liked to paint impressionist oils, Reiki, and travel. He had had a carefree, wandering life. He studied Jungian psychology in Vienna and experimented with psychedelic drugs with Timothy Leary. Love, he used to say, had eluded her.
In 2006, Vera Pratt bought her biggest whim, a four-bedroom house valued at two million dollars on Martha’s Vineyard, the island of Massachusetts that has always hosted the vacations of the Kennedys and a certain elite who value discreet money. Barack Obama’s controversial 60th birthday party last summer, attended by guests such as Steven Spielberg and Oprah Winfrey, was of course held in the mansion that the Obamas have bought on the island thanks to their post-presidential business, which they include contracts with Netflix and multi-million dollar advances for his books.
Vera Pratt’s house was a more low-key thing, but she had her meditation room, her canning room, and her garden, where she planted broccoli and strawberries. Still, the woman was not calm. She had always believed in paranormal forces, in fact she believed herself to be a bit of a witch, and had convinced herself that the things that happened to her since she was 70 years old were things of the devil. Specifically, she thought she was possessed and that the demon lodged in her right clavicle. It was his fault that his e-mails were deleted, his cell phone coverage problems, and his charcoal stove broken.
It was then that he came across an advertisement for a Florida woman advertising herself as Psychic Angela, that is, the Seer Angela. Johnson, who was actually called Sally Reed, claimed to belong to the American Gypsies and sold card reading, spiritual cleansing, healing and meditation services. For whatever reason, Vera Pratt believed that among the hundreds of thousands of people who make money in an increasingly normalized sector, that of the sale of smoke, and be it through glass or enneagrams, the Seer Angela was just the thing. that I was looking for. Johnson, then in his early thirties, was giving his business a corporate veneer. He said he had helped high-level executives. On the Yelp platform she wrote about herself: “I have never failed any case.”
Already in their first conversation, in 2006, the seer must have sensed that she had a long-term business on her hands. He began a treatment that would last more than seven years. Johnson told him that he spent hours, day and night, exorcising demons from Pratt, and he billed him for the time invested, of course. On the phone, he instructed her to put crystals and incense at home to plague negative energy, pray, and meditate. As the demons apparently persisted, the seer convinced him that it was necessary for them to meet. Johnson began making regular trips from Florida to Martha’s Vineyard. Of course, Pratt paid for the plane and the stay at the Harbor View Hotel, where the night costs about $ 500. In 2011, when Pratt had already paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to the psychic, he noticed that he had little money left in the account. In an email he wrote to Johnson, he said, “I hadn’t looked at how much he gave you.” And in his diary he wrote, with the nonchalance of someone who has never lost sleep over money: “What you ask of me for dealing with demons is too much. Apparently, I’m running out of funds. ” Meanwhile, Johnson’s economy was doing great. He lived in a half-million-dollar house in Florida and had another apartment in New York, in the Flatiron District. Thanks to the Pratt card, which he used at his discretion, he could buy bags from Celine and Chanel and shoes from Louboutin and Yves Saint Laurent.
Pratt’s family became concerned about his relationship with the seer, especially after Pratt asked his brother Charles for money. They saw her less and less, because Johnson did something very common in these types of manipulation scams: convince his client that his family and friends were bad influences on his aura. Her brother Peter wrote to her: “Unfortunately this has happened before and will happen again, because your healer asks you for more money as you become more addicted to her. Although you think this one is special, it is costing you a lot of money. I hope you get a second opinion before this costs you all your friends, family, house and properties ”.
Finally, after doing some checks with the bank, one of Pratt’s goddaughters took the case to the police. Since Martha’s Vineyard is small, it turned out that the detective assigned to the case, Sean Slavin, was a neighbor of Pratt and had seen the woman working in the garden. He came to visit her and was surprised by the disorder in the house. He asked:
“Are you going to move?”
To which she replied:
“Oh yes, when my healer finishes exorcising my demons and allows me to.”
Pratt admitted to spending about $ 15,000 on a psychic. Actually the figure was three and a half million.
There he started an investigation to try to convict the seer of fraud. Johnson’s defense alleged, among other things, religious freedom. They pointed out that those who saw this as a fraud did not share the beliefs of Pratt and Johnson. Despite Sean Slavin’s insistence, the case could not go through because US law has a hole with these cases that allows many psychics and the like to get away with it. What the FBI did manage is launch a tax investigation into Johnson, who claimed to earn $ 4,000 a year. In fact, many months Pratt sent him up to 50,000.
By then, the family had already managed to cut the bond between the two, although the seer did not let her most lucrative client go just like that. He was calling her on the phone until they had to change the house number. Pratt’s already suffering dementia began to accelerate and she was transferred to an assisted living facility. In 2018, a Florida court sentenced Johnson to return $ 3,567,300 to his victim and another $ 800,000 to the treasury, and sentenced him to 26 months in jail. Vera Pratt was already too run down to find out. He passed away a month later, at the age of 82. The local newspaper, the Vineyard Gazzette, He fired her in your obituary as a “painter and philanthropist.” “She will be remembered for her altruism, her vivid paintings of the Martha’s Vineyard landscapes, her pretty gardens, and her love of nature.” The Seer Angela has now been released from jail and is believed to continue to practice healing services for millionaire clients.
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.