It is estimated that there are 200 psychic businesses in New York City. Believe it or not, in New York fortune telling is a crime under New York Penal Law. Specifically, the Fortune Telling charge is codified in Penal Law Section 165.35. Although Fortune Telling is generally not prosecuted, Fortune Telling Fraud is prosecuted by both New York State and federal authorities.
New York Fortune Telling Charge Explained
New York Penal Law Section 165.35, states:
"A person is guilty of fortune telling when, for a fee or compensation which he directly or indirectly solicits or receives, he claims or pretends to tell fortunes, or holds himself out as being able, by claimed or pretended use of occult powers, to answer questions or give advice on personal matters or to exorcise, influence or affect evil spirits or curses; except that this section does not apply to a person who engages in the aforedescribed conduct as part of a show or exhibition solely for the purpose of entertainment or amusement."
Elements of New York Fortune Telling
Simplified, a person is guilty of Fortune Telling under New York Law when these elements are met:
- For a fee of compensation, solicited directly or indirectly,
- S/he claims or pretends to tell fortune, OR
- Or holding himself or herself out as being able, by claimed or pretended use of occult powers,
- To answer questions of give advice on personal matters, OR
- To influence or affect evil spirits or curses.
Exception to New York Fortune Telling
It is not a crime to engage in Fortune Telling in New York if it is done solely for amusement or entertainment. So while is is perfectly fine to do a carrot reading or predict the future at a bachelorette party for entertainment purposes, claiming to predict the future (especially while extorting large sums of money from victims) is a crime under New York Law.
Sentencing and Penalties
Under New York law, Fortune Telling is a Class “B” misdemeanor. As such, this charge is punishable by:
- Up to 90 days jail;
- Conditional Discharge;
- Unconditional Discharge;
- Time Served.
Fortune Telling Fraud
Fortune Telling Fraud, on the other hand is frequently prosecuted by both New York State and federal authorities. Typically, New York fortune telling fraud involves convincing the victim that they have a curse on them and the only way to lift the curse is to pay exorbitant sums of money to the psychic. Instead of seeking cash, individuals engaged in New York Fortune Telling Fraud sometimes seek expensive items that victims can purchase on credit cards, like watches (to travel back in time), or even couches (to make effigies).
Prosecutions of Fortune Telling Fraud
Generally speaking, Fortune Telling is not prosecuted as an individual crime. Although on the books since 1967, very few individuals have ever been arrested for fortune telling. However, Fortune Telling is prosecuted when it is paired with other more serious crimes.
For example, individuals engaging in Fortune Telling Fraud are frequently prosecuted for Grand Larceny Charges (stealing or deceiving someone out of $1,000 or more) and Scheme to Defraud (systematic ongoing conduct designed to defraud one or more persons).
In 2018, the New York City Police Department arrested Psychic Zoe, for defrauding clients of $800,000 in total.
Another Fortune Telling Fraud case involved Zena Clairvoyant. Zena was convicted of 10 counts of Grand Larceny for stealing $130,000 from two victims. Zena was sentenced to 5 – 15 years and was ordered to pay restitution for stolen money.
Ms. Mitchell convinced a fortune telling client that she needed a Rolex and cash to lift evil spirits. After obtaining about $160,000 from the client, Ms. Mitchell was arrested and prosecuted for Grand Larceny by Manhattan DA’s Office. Ms. Mitchell ended up pleading guilty and was sentenced to prison time.
Contact Us Regarding Your Case
If you or your loved one has been charged with unlawful Fortune Telling, New York Fortune Telling Fraud or any other criminal charge, you need experienced counsel by your side. Contact us today regarding your case.