Indiana fortune teller under investigation
Following an Eyewitness News investigation, the future may hold trouble for a fortune teller and her controversial business. Former clients and police say the psychic is taking advantage of vulnerable families, and city officials are now looking to take action.
Bob Segall/13 Investigates
Georgia Black still weeps when she thinks about her husband, Paul, and his battle with leukemia.
"He looked at me and told me he didn't have much longer, but he said he'd always be with me," Black said, wiping tears eyes from her eyes. "I can still hear his voice and there isn't a day I don't miss him tremendously. He was my life."
Georgia and Paul were married 30 years. When Paul passed away, Georgia felt scared and lost.
She turned to a psychic.
"I wanted to know [Paul] was OK," Black said. "You're vulnerable. You're trying to find answers and you're hoping someone somewhere can help you."
Patricia Johns, a Lafayette fortune teller, said she could help. Black began visiting Johns for a series of appointments involving tarot cards and palm reading.
After several sessions, Black says the fortune teller offered startling information.
"She said ‘I've got some good news and some bad news. I've been in contact with arc angel Paul and your husband wasn't supposed to die,'" Black said.
According to Black, Johns told her evil spirits contributed to her husband's death and, even worse, those same spirits were now coming after Georgia. For protection, the great grandmother was told she'd need a very expensive crystal.
"It was $40,000. I was scared, so I got a check and I wrote a check to her," Black explained.
After receiving the payment, the psychic had more bad news. Johns told Black the evil spirits were back and would now be targeting Georgia's children.
The suggested remedy this time: an even bigger crystal with an even bigger price tag.
"This time, it would be $70,000," said Black. "I believed her. To my mind, I have to do anything I can to protect my kids. I can't have anything happen to them … so I said ‘go ahead and get this one taken care of, too.'"
The grieving widow says the psychic even went to the bank with her to make the large withdraws needed for payment.
"She would go inside the bank with me and stay right there with me," Black recalls. "She would tell you what to say when you'd go in. She told me ‘Say you're going to go on a trip to Las Vegas. Even though you're not going to do that, that's what you gotta tell them so they won't question you more about it.'"
All together, Black paid the fortune teller more than $125,000.
"That was my savings," she said. "I think it's a scam. I know I got scammed."
Others feel the same way.
"Profit off of my pain"
Lafayette Police have received complaints from other central Indiana residents who say they were betrayed by Patricia Johns, too.
Two of those clients recently met with 13 Investigates. Both want to remain anonymous to avoid further embarrassment, but they want to share their stories to warn others.
"I just can't believe that I let somebody take advantage of me like this," said one of the victims who lost $61,000. "My husband of 23 years told me he wanted a divorce, so I went to see Patricia, you know, for advice. She wanted to know how much my marriage was worth to me. I should have known then, but when you're in that state of mind, you don't think about anything else. Then she started telling me about these people who were after me, who wanted me dead and put all these spells on me and curses that needed to be lifted. And she said I needed to work on this seriously because they had already put cancer on me and I had cancer. She always made you feel like someone was going to kill you."
Another former client told Eyewitness News she visited the Lafayette fortune teller seeking to mend an estranged friendship.
"I scheduled an appointment with her and she said she could help me – that there was negative energy around me and that I needed an amethyst stone 2-feet tall to get rid of all the negative energy, and she could mend my relationship and bring me and my friend back together," the woman said. "She said it would cost $20,000 and I told her that I wasn't working. She asked if I had good credit and when I said ‘yes,' she told me to pay her in gift cards, so we went to the mall and got gift cards for her to pay for the stone. At one point, she wanted me to sell one of my rental homes and give her the money from that, too."
The unemployed Tippecanoe County woman says paying Johns more than $20,000 in cash and gift cards did not help her broken relationship and, instead, resulted in broken credit. "I believed her because I was really hurting. She kept telling me everything was going to be OK and work out, but it never did. All she did was profit off of my pain and suffering."
"Can happen to anybody"
Why would anyone hand over tens of thousands of dollars to a psychic?
"They're searching for something that will help them make sense of what's going on," said Dr. Kathleen Gilbert.
For 30 years, Gilbert has been studying how people handle loss and grief. The Indiana University professor says death and broken relationships can dramatically alter our ability to make wise decisions.
"It's very much like the world that made sense before does not make sense now and, to many people, it's disorienting. Unless you've gone through something like this, it's very difficult to understand how you could possibly get into a situation like these women have gotten themselves into, but it's important to understand it can happen to anybody," she explained.
That's why police are now involved.
"I'm disappointed that another human being could take advantage of someone who is in a vulnerable state," said B.T. Brown, a detective at the Lafayette Police Department.
Brown is now investigating Johns and her business called Astrology Gallery.
On the Astrology Gallery website, Johns states she is the "real thing" -- a master psychic, clairvoyant and life coach. She claims she can "unveil the past, present and future," remove dark forces, cast love spells and reunite loved ones.
Is it real?
Some of her former clients say those claims are inaccurate.
"She is in the field of being a con artist and scamming people," one of those clients told WTHR.
Police are skeptical, too.
"I think it would be considered a scam, a form of a scam, simply because I don't see … what service she's providing," Brown said, adding that he hasn't seen any evidence to suggest customers who paid Johns for a service got the results they paid for.
What can police do about it? So far, nothing.
"In these cases, what we have found is that there's not a law that's been broken, but it's more of how Ms. Johns has been operating around the law," Brown explained. "We have found nothing that Patricia Johns has done that specifically violates any criminal code that Indiana has. These services, are they real? I don't know. that's a very difficult thing to prove."
The state Attorney General's office has not received any complaints about Johns, but the agency can investigate allegations involving business-related fraud.
"In general, we look to see if there is any deceptive behavior," said Molly Butters, spokeswoman for the Indiana Attorney General's Consumer Protection Division. "What we're looking to identify is if there is deception in the transaction, in the marketing, a contract or some other sort of deception. Whenever we receive a consumer complaint, we look to see if it violates the Deceptive Consumer Sales Act. We investigate situations that pose a risk to consumers in the state."
Brown believes Johns does pose a risk and that consumers should be warned.
"Absolutely, people should be warned," he said. "I just don't think what is happening is fair."
Psychic's future uncertain
For months, 13 Investigates has been trying to talk with Patricia Johns to get answers.
Last summer, Johns told WTHR by phone that she has not done anything wrong. Asked about the crystals purchased for Georgia Black, Johns said "It's a civil matter. There was no fraud."
Eyewitness News called the psychic again this month to ask about additional allegations made by other clients. "I have no comment on that," she responded, telling 13 Investigates that she had to end the conversation to answer another phone call and that she would call back.
When she did not, WTHR approached Johns outside an attorney's office in downtown Lafayette. She quickly hailed a taxi, got in and drove away without answering any of WTHR's questions.
Johns' future as a fortune teller may be in jeopardy – at least in Lafayette.
13 Investigates has learned the city has an ordinance prohibiting fortune tellers.
According to Lafayette city code, "it is unlawful for any person to practice the art, profession, or calling of a clairvoyant or fortune-teller, for profit, by any means or device within the city." The penalty includes a fine up to $1,000 for each day the violation occurs or continues.
Following WTHR's investigation, Lafayette Police say the city attorney's office plans to issue a cease and desist order that could shut down Johns and her Astrology Gallery – or at least force the business to go somewhere else.
"I don't think she should be allowed to do this to anyone else," Black said. "All you're doing is using people and it's not right."