NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — A Greenwich Village psychic convicted of conning tens of thousands of dollars from clients was sentenced Thursday to five to 15 years in prison.
As WCBS 880’s Irene Cornell reported, the fortune teller made a tearful appeal to Manhattan state Supreme Court Justice Gregory Carro to avoid jail time, saying the time she spent in jail since her conviction have been hard on her, vowing to live an honest life and offering to pay the victims’ restitution.
The judge, however, was unmoved, saying that the trial provide him a window into Mitchell’s soul.
Carro said that while some customers may just have dropped in Mitchell’s Greenwich Village parlor for a lark, another type of client was “someone who’s having some dramatic stress in their life — and then you just con them out of thousands and thousands of dollars.”
Mitchell’s new lawyers said they would appeal her conviction and sentence, noting that a probation report had recommended only six months in jail.
The case debated the line between selling an unusual service and exploiting people’s longing to change their lives.
One former client testified she paid more than $120,000 after Mitchell said she’d help rout “negative energy.”
Another said Mitchell told her she needed to break her attachment to money and persuaded her to hand over $27,000 to hold. She said Mitchell balked at giving it back but eventually refunded some.
The defense said the soothsayer was hired just to try to assist people, and there was no evidence she didn’t.
“She wasn’t telling the future,” Mitchell’s former attorney, William Aronwald, said after her conviction. “They came to her for help, and she told them that she would pray for them and perform certain rituals to try to get rid of whatever negativity she sensed around them.”
But prosecutors said Mitchell was a swindler who picked on desperate people.
“The defendant has a knack for spotting people’s insecurities and using them,” Assistant District Attorney James Bergamo said in his opening statement.
Mitchell, who lives in Mystic, Conn., worked from a Manhattan storefront where the sign read “Zena Clairvoyant.”
One client, Debra Saalfield, was a heartbroken ballroom-dancing instructor who had just lost a job and a boyfriend within a day. She testified that Mitchell told her that she’d been an ancient Egyptian princess in a past life, and her troubles stemmed from being too tied to money then.
While not entirely convinced, the single mother of three tapped a line of credit on her Naples, Fla., home to write Mitchell a $27,000 check.
“At the time, it felt like it was an emergency because I was very unstable,” Saalfield testified.
Another client, Lee Choong, was a lonely Singaporean businesswoman with an unrequited workplace crush.
Mitchell also looked to the past to explain Choong’s problems, saying Choong’s family had harmed the object of her affection in a prior existence, according to testimony and prosecutors.
Told she had “negative energy,” Choong paid Mitchell more than $120,000 over two years, even as Choong was hit with a workplace harassment complaint and fired.
Mitchell, who was jailed after her October conviction, said the time behind bars forced her to her reflect.
“I have had a lot of time to think, and I realize that what I have done is wrong,” she told Carro at her sentencing. “I just want to be with my children, go back to school — start my life over again,” “I’m sorry.”
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