A Florida woman claiming to be psychic scammed a Texan out of US$1.6 million in a bid to rid the woman’s family of a curse.
Sherry Tina Uwanawich, 28, was sentenced in Miami to three years and four months in prison following the crime. She pleaded guilty to wire fraud and must pay restitution.
Investigators say Uwanawich first met the victim in 2007 in Houston, Texas, selling her services as a supposed healer.
According to a statement published by the United States Attorney’s Office of the Southern District of Florida, the defendant worked in Fort Lauderdale under the name Jacqueline Miller.
Local publication the Houston Chronicle reports that she told U.S. District Judge Rodolfo A. Ruiz in June that she possessed God-given powers to ward off curses.
She successfully convinced the Texas woman that a curse had been placed on her family and Uwanawich needed the money for crystals and candles that would help lift the curse.
It went on to explain that Uwanawich grew up in Roma culture, and her family supported themselves with money made fortune-telling.
The Chronicle says she met her 27-year-old victim at the Galleria in Houston, having worked in fortune-telling locations from the age of 17.
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Over the course of seven years, the “psychic” formed a bond with the Brazilian woman, who claimed to suffer from depression after losing her mother.
After years of taking hundreds here and there to cover candle and crystal costs, Uwanawich was able to convince the woman that her late mother had been cursed by a witch in South America.
The student paid her with student loans, gift cards, clothing, a leased car and borrowed money, according to the Chronicle.
When Uwanawich moved back to Florida, her “friend” continued to send her money via Western Union, but in 2014 she decided to come clean and tell the victim there was no curse.
Per court documents obtained by the Texas publication, no efforts were made to pay the money back despite Uwanawich claiming she told the victim she wanted to.
The anonymous victim’s lawyer, Bob Nygaard, who specializes in fraud by psychics, reportedly said in court: “If there’s one thing that I’ve learned from years of specializing in investigating confidence crimes, it’s that anyone can be scammed by a professional con artist when going through a vulnerable time in his or her life.”
It was later found that Uwanawich had been diagnosed with schizophrenia in psychiatric reports submitted to the court.
—With files from The Associated Press