Psychics who use their powers for a price may see jail in their future.
They also may see Detective Thomas Rinaldo of the Buffalo Vice and Gambling Unit knocking at their doors.
Rinaldo recently arrested an Amherst woman who had been working out of the Market on Main since September. Jane Ann Urich, 50, of 845 Niagara Falls Blvd., was charged with fortune telling in Buffalo last week.
She also faces felony charges of scheming to defraud and grand larceny for taking more than $2,500 from Rinaldo after removing a curse for him in a session at her Amherst home.
Some psychics, however, say they are hurt by the actions of a few.
William Fredlund of Lockport, who goes by the title of Bill The Mystic, said a police crackdown won't affect psychics who use their God-given powers for good and accept only donations.
"Money comes secondary. I do accept donations," he said, "but if I can help somebody, that's why the Lord gave me the power that I have. Some take advantage of it."
He said he met Ms. Urich while she was working at the new Buffalo marketplace in the old Trico plant building at Main Street and Rodney Avenue. Fredlund said Ms. Urich asked him to join her at her fortune telling booth.
"I went up there, and I was very upset at her attitude," he said. "I had bad vibes with her, very bad vibes."
Rinaldo said his investigation of Ms. Urich began after a call from a man who sent his mother out of town to prevent her from giving Ms. Urich $1,000 to remove a curse. Ms. Urich attracted dozens of people every weekend to her booth at the market, Rinaldo said.
Many of those people paid at least $10 for an initial session or "reading" as it is called by psychic vendors. But during his month-long investigation, Rinaldo said, he paid her $10 then $100, and finally $2,500 at her Amherst home.
"She kept stating that I had a curse and what it would do to me," he said, adding that Ms. Urich requested more and more money to appease the evil forces she said were causing misfortune in his life.
"This is happening not only in Buffalo but to a lot of other people," Rinaldo said.
Victims often are too embarrassed to come forward, he said, and police usually learn of psychic scam artists through anonymous phone tips.
"Nobody has the ability to actually see into the future," the detective said. "These psychics never, never want to be tested under controlled circumstances because if they were, they'd be proven frauds."
Fortune telling is a misdemeanor charge, but most psychic readers get around the law by advertising that their services are only for entertainment purposes.
"Nobody goes to a psychic to be entertained. They go to find out about love, life, what their job will be," Rinaldo said.
Terri Wincott, a spokeswoman for the Erie County District Attorney's office, said state law exempts those who use fortune-telling as entertainment in an exhibition or show.
"In addition to fortune-telling, there was a curse," she said, explaining why Ms. Urich was charged with felony scheming to defraud. "For an extra amount of money, that curse could be removed."
Court dates have been set for Jan. 10 in Buffalo and Jan. 14 in Amherst. Ms. Urich's attorney Walter Bowman declined to comment.
Rinaldo said he is less concerned with psychics who may get between $25-$40 per one hour session for a one-time reading, and more concerned with those who try to extort hundreds or even thousands of dollars from their victims.
Rinaldo posed as a businessman with problems during his investigation and said Ms. Urich at one one point weighed his jewelry to confirm its value. He said many psychics use religious symbols to scare their victims.
Fredlund, who has been doing readings since he was 14 years old and is now 61, said he has performed readings at benefit shows for the Red Cross, hospitals and the United Way. Although he said he could, he insisted that he refuses to help people with lottery numbers and horse races and doesn't even use his powers to predict those profitable enterprises for himself.
"I feel this gift was given to me to help people, not to make myself rich," he said. "I live a modest life, and I'm really happy, and I've made a lot of friends," he said.