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Press Release

Sandra Marks Pleads Guilty to Mail Fraud, Money Laundering

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, Western District of Virginia
Marks Also Agrees to Repay Victims at Least $1.2 Million

CHARLOTTESVILLE, VIRGINIA – The former owner of a fortune teller business on Seminole Trail in Charlottesville pled guilty today in Federal court to committing mail fraud and laundering more than $1 million in money stolen from her victims, United States Attorney John P. Fishwick Jr. said today.

Sandra Stevenson Marks, a.k.a. “Catherine Marks,” 42, of Charlottesville, Va., pled guilty today in the United States District Court for the Western District of Virginia in Charlottesville to one count of mail fraud and one count of money laundering. In addition, the plea agreement signed today in District Court calls for Marks to repay at least $1.2 million in restitution to the victims of the defendant’s scheme.

“Ms. Marks took advantage of people who trusted her during some of the lowest points of their lives,” United States Attorney John P. Fishwick Jr. said today. “Greed drove this defendant to break federal law and steal over $1 million from her victims. We are grateful to those who investigated this case and helped begin the process of making these victims whole again.”

“A fortune teller cons clients out of more than one million dollars, then launders the proceeds and commits mail fraud. This sounds like the plotline for a Hollywood movie. Unfortunately, for Ms. Marks’ victims, this was reality,” said Clark E. Settles, Special Agent in Charge of Homeland Security Investigations Washington, D.C.  “I hope everyone appreciates, as much as I do, the HSI special agents who worked alongside our federal partners and the Albemarle County Police Department to investigate Marks and provide relief to the victims in the form of $1.2 million in restitution.”

According to evidence presented today, and at previous hearings by Assistant United States Attorney Ronald M. Huber, Marks, and her husband, Donnie Marks, operated the business, “Readings by Catherine” on Seminole Trail in Charlottesville, which offered services such as palm readings, candle readings, tarot card readings, astrological readings and spiritual readings to clients.

Marks admitted today, through a statement of facts submitted to the court and signed by the defendant, that she enriched herself by telling her clients she was clairvoyant and able to see into the past and the future. Marks also said she told her clients she had a “gift from God” and was able to communicate with spirits and guides from God, including the “Prince of Illusion,” who relayed information to her about clients.

Marks further admitted that she would tell clients that she had learned from the spirits and guides that the client, and/or the client’s family, was suffering from a “curse” and a “dark cloud” that occurred in the past. Marks would tell clients they would need to make a sacrifice of large amounts of money and valuables, whereby she would bury the money and items in a box to be “cleansed.” Marks explained to her clients that the money and property would be returned once the “work” was complete.  Additionally, Marks would tell the clients that the money and property would not be used for Marks’ own personal benefit.

Contrary to her representations to clients, Marks kept and used money and other valuables provided by her clients for her own personal use and enjoyment and that of her husband. When Marks had used all of her client’s money, Marks would find new clients to fund the scheme, or tell old clients that additional money was required to continue her “work.”

At sentencing, Marks faces a maximum possible penalty of up to 20 years in federal prison on both the mail fraud count and money laundering count. The maximum statutory sentence is prescribed by Congress and is provided here for informational purposes, as the sentencing of the defendant will be determined by the court based on the advisory sentencing guidelines and other statutory factors.

The investigation of the case was conducted by U.S. Immigration and Custom Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations, the United States Postal Inspection Service, the United States Secret Service, the Virginia Attorney General’s Office, the Albemarle County Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office and the Albemarle County Police Department. Assistant United States Attorney Ronald M. Huber prosecuted the case for the United States.

Updated May 17, 2016

Financial Fraud