Indiana fortuneteller sentenced for stealing

Patricia Johns

As Patricia Johns walked into a federal courtroom Tuesday morning, you didn't need a crystal ball to tell she was facing very serious charges.

The so-called psychic had already pled guilty to stealing from the government. Surrounded by friends and family, it was now time for Johns to learn her punishment.

"I am both ashamed and scared over what I've done here," the psychic told James Moody, senior judge at the United States District Court in Hammond, Ind. "I want your honor to know I am so sorry for my crimes…I pled guilty because I am guilty."

She was referring to filing false tax returns – underreporting large sums of money she earned from her psychic business in Lafayette – and lying to the Social Security Administration to get more than $26,000 in government assistance for which she was not entitled. 

But the psychic's victims say those are not her most serious crimes – and they are not the offenses that caught the attention of investigators and brought Johns to federal court in the first place.

"She stole everything"

Federal investigators launched their case against Johns after watching an Eyewitness News investigation in 2011.

That's when 13 Investigates exposed how the psychic had convinced clients to pay her tens of thousands of dollars to repair their broken relationships and reunite them with deceased family members.

"She is in the field of being a con artist and scamming people," said one client who lost $61,000. She asked not to be identified to avoid further embarrassment. 

"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…I just can't believe that I let somebody take advantage of me like this," she said.

Another of Johns' former clients 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 two 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."

Georgia Black told WTHR she lost her life's savings to the psychic. She went to Johns for spiritual advice after her husband died. The fortuneteller claimed evil spirits were coming after Black and her children. The grieving widow eventually paid the psychic more than $125,000 for two huge crystals, which Johns said were necessary to protect her family. The psychic insisted in accompanying Black when she went to the bank to withdrawal the money.

"She would go inside the bank with me and stay right there with me," Black told 13 Investigates. "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…She was just there to take my money. She stole everything. I know I got scammed."

Getting busted

Lafayette Police received multiple complaints about Patricia Johns and told Eyewitness News they thought the psychic was scamming customers, too. After seeing WTHR's investigation, police and investigators took immediate action.

Within weeks, the city of Lafayette shut down Johns' business for violating city ordinances.

And federal agents cited WTHR's investigation to obtain a search warrant. They seized the fortune teller's ledgers, journals, diaries, receipts, bills, bank records, tax records, computers, credit card records and cell phones – providing the US Attorney's office with valuable evidence to prosecute the psychic.

But federal investigators were not trying to determine whether Patricia Johns stole from her clients. They suspected Johns had ripped off the government – and they were right.  

With a mountain of evidence against her, Johns chose to accept a plea bargain – facing the possibility of harsh penalties for defrauding the government.

As part of her plea agreement, the psychic admitted she filed at least three false tax returns. By not reporting earned income from clients like Georgia Black, Johns paid the IRS $60,128 less than what she actually owed. The psychic also admitted stealing $26,516 in Social Security benefits by not reporting that she was married.

The three counts of filing false tax returns and one count of stealing from the Social Security Administration bring a combined maximum penalty of $1 million in fines and 19 years in prison. Under established federal sentencing guidelines, Johns entered Judge Moody's courtroom knowing the government's incarceration guidelines for her crimes recommend the judge sentence her to between 15 and 21 months in federal prison.

Johns and her attorney had another plan in mind.

Survival, not greed

The psychic was given an opportunity to speak during her sentencing hearing, and she used that time to talk about her troubled past. She told the judge of her chaotic childhood marred by abuse and neglect in a home filled with drugs and alcohol.

"Learning [right and wrong] is not something my parents took the time to teach me," Johns said, reading from a prepared statement. "I know I did wrong, but I feel I have been a hard-working person and have always taken care of others before myself."

Defense attorney Jeffrey Steinback then spent 45 minutes elaborating on the psychic's story, detailing years of abuse that Johns suffered by her parents and husband. He said Johns was raised by parents who denied her the opportunity to attend school, instead forcing her to work at traveling carnivals and to learn the craft of fortunetelling at the age of five to help the family earn money. He said Johns' decision to not declare all of her income and to accept fraudulent government benefits "was not out of greed, but survival" to help feed and care for her children, siblings and paralyzed mother.

"If she goes to prison, I really do not know what will happen to these boys," said Steinback, looking back at the psychic's two young sons who sat in the courtroom behind her – at times, crying as their mother spoke to the judge. The attorney asked the judge to reduce Johns' sentence below the government's established guidelines due to her extraordinary circumstances.

After listening to more than an hour of testimony in which the defendant was portrayed as a victim, prosecutors got their turn to speak.         

Assistant US Attorney Toi Houston said little. She told the judge that Johns had taken advantage of some clients, and asked the court to stick with the government sentencing guidelines outlined in the plea agreement. Houston spoke for less than three minutes.

Moments later, the judge read the fortuneteller's sentence.

Hugs, tears, shock and anger

Citing the defense's emotional arguments and the psychic's troubled past, Moody announced he would grant a variance to the government's sentencing guidelines and not send Johns to prison. The judge said prison would place an unfair burden on her children and family.

Instead, he sentenced the psychic to serve three years of probation, including 15 months of home detention and monitoring. Johns will also have to serve 100 hours of community service, attend counseling and classes, and pay back nearly $27,000 to the government.  

Victims like Georgia Black won't get anything. The government's case did not request any restitution for them at all, and the fortune teller has never been charged with a crime related to any of their complaints.

"Oh, my lord," Black said when she learned of Johns' punishment. "She got a slap on the wrist. She always makes it look like she's the victim. She's not the victim. All the people she took advantage of, they're the victims. She has a way of manipulating people and making them feel sorry for her, and she just did it again. I'm shocked and appalled."  The widow is now working three separate jobs to earn back the money she lost to the psychic.

The assistant US attorney ignored questions after the sentencing hearing. When she left the courtroom, Houston quickly walked to the courthouse elevator without saying anything.

Johns and her family hugged and cried after the hearing, expressing relief that the psychic will not spend time in prison. The psychic declined comment, telling WTHR "I don't want to talk to you." 

She will serve her probation and home detention in Maryland, where Johns has opened a new fortunetelling business in Kingsville, a small town northeast of Baltimore.  Several residents there have contacted WTHR to say they are skeptical and concerned about the business following what's happened in Indiana.