When Guy W. Gane Jr.'s world started collapsing on him, when his WaterMark M-One Holdings was months away from being busted by authorities last May as a $5.8 million Ponzi scheme, Gane had somewhere to turn: psychics.
Former employees have told the Securities and Exchange Commission that Gane had regular personal psychic readings in his Sweet Home Road offices.
They said Gane, 53, would retreat into his private office and close the door, and soon after they would smell burning incense and hear "flowery" music coming from within.
Leading these sessions, they said, was Gane's company lawyer James F. Lagona, who describes himself as a bishop of the Western Rite Orthodox Catholic Church, as well as a "Christian mystic, psychic, medium, healer, teacher."
When Gane traveled out of town, they said, he relied on another psychic, who gave him readings over the phone.
Gane's telephone psychic was his executive director of project development, Ellen Bornstein. A registered nurse, she uses the name Ellen Bourn in her psychic career.
Bourn is a former president of the Lily Dale Assembly and describes herself as an "incomparable metaphysician, psychic, master astrologer, healer and teacher."
Lagona has an unlisted number, and did not respond to an e-mail for comment.
Bourn said she was a part-time employee of Gane's, worked three days a week, and did not deal with his investments.
"Did I talk to Guy over the phone when he was gone?" she asked. "Yes. Did he ask me for advice? Yes. If someone wants to presume it was psychic advice, that's fine. We both have that as a hobby. I think that's sort of a far-fetched statement for someone to make."
Having psychic readings in a business is, of course, not illegal. But the practice sheds new light on the goings-on in the Sweet Home Road corporate headquarters of Gane's companies.
The SEC has accused Gane and his vice president, Lorenzo Altadonna, of running a $5.8 million Ponzi scheme. A new complaint has added two other vice presidents, Thomas A. Brick and Deborah L. Galas.
A federal grand jury has been hearing testimony into Gane's operations, and a federal magistrate has assigned a federal public defender to represent him.
Gane, who despite an asset freeze has been running an evangelical Christian buying company, The Covenant Network, has declined to comment. During an SEC deposition, he took the Fifth Amendment against self-incrimination in response to hundreds of questions.
The SEC has asked U.S. District Judge William M. Skretny to hold Gane in contempt for allegedly ignoring an injunction Skretny imposed.
Gane's use of psychics turned up in recent depositions taken of Gane's former employees by SEC lawyers.
Diane Bonvissuto, hired by Gane as a compliance officer, testified under oath that Lagona would go into Gane's office and shut the door.
"What is a psychic reading?" SEC attorney David Stoelting asked her.
"A psychic reading, I don't really know all the details, but you know, you get feelings from beyond and you use tarot cards and light incense," she testified.
"And you saw Mr. Lagona doing this in the office?" Stoelting asked.
"I was aware that he did it because I was told not to disturb anybody because that was happening in the back, you could smell the incense," Bonvissuto testified. "It went on for a couple of hours."
Stoelting asked her if Gane ever said what he learned from these sessions.
"Well, he told me at one point when I approached him and said, 'What's going on here, Guy? What are you doing?'
"He said, 'I cannot tell you where I know this information [is] from, but I can tell you that everything's going to be OK.'
"And I go, 'Tell me where you know the information from?' " Bonvissuto said. "Do you have a check, do you have an investor? He goes, 'I cannot tell you where I know this information from.' "
Jane Furlani, a financial specialist who, like Bonvissuto, only worked for Gane for a short time, also was asked by the SEC about the psychic readings.
Furlani said she never walked in on the readings, but said there was little doubt they were taking place.
"But did you smell incense around the office?" she was asked by the SEC.
"Yes, incense and a kind of flowery music they would play in the background," Furlani said.
Furlani, who said she also did financial work for Ellen Bornstein, said she knew from Bornstein's e-mails and schedules that she did regularly scheduled psychic telephone readings for Gane when he was out of town on business.
Attorney Patrick J. Brown represents Bonvissuto and Furlani. He said they quit after they found out what was happening in Gane's business.
"They're both honest, hardworking people who were taken advantage of here," Brown said. "They are deeply offended they were taken advantage of and they're working with the authorities."
Bourn and Lagona sometimes appear together as psychics. They recently appeared for the second year of "Lift the Curse: A Social Seance," which is described as an event at which participants used different ways of trying to blow away the black cloud over Buffalo.
Lagona was once an assistant counsel at the Buffalo Municipal Housing Authority. He formerly practiced law in his home on Saranac Avenue. The house has since been foreclosed on, and is boarded up.
Donna Sirianni, a Buffalo lab technician who got involved with Gane's companies through Altadonna -- she and her husband, and her sister lost nearly $400,000 in retirement funds -- was asked her reaction to the psychic readings.
"I hope the psychic can predict how long they'll spend in prison," she said.