Spiritual cleanser claims another victim

OKEECHOBEE — Yet another victim of a woman claiming to be a ‘spiritual cleanser’ has come forward. If you were a victim of this con, don’t be embarrassed or remain silent.

Deputy Justin DeLuca, of the Okeechobee County Sheriff’s Office (OCSO), detailed in his May 17 report how a Sebring couple lost $3,000 in March to the shill.

The woman reportedly didn’t report the con until now because she was hoping to see the woman who claimed to be a spiritual cleanser. The scam was being conducted from a small space at the Trading Post Flea Market, 3100 U.S. 441 S.

This 22-year-old woman and her husband, 34, are by no means the first victims of this con game. At least two others have come forward and filed complaints with the local sheriff’s office.

Even more victims have come forward in DeSoto County where a detective with the DeSoto County Sheriff’s Office (DCSO) can account for losses of over $50,000.

In this most recent case in Okeechobee the woman and her husband gave the cleanser, thought to be named Rosa, $3,000 in cash. They wanted Rosa to ‘cleanse’ the money so it would bring them good luck.

Rosa took the money and told the Sebring couple they could pick it up the next day after it had been cleansed. When the couple returned, Rosa was gone.

“She (the victim) said several people told her the lady had not been there in several weeks, and that the lady was taking people’s money,” stated Deputy DeLuca.

This was not Deputy DeLuca’s first dealing with victims of the spiritual cleanser.

A man took his daughter to visit Rosa and he paid her $450 at that first visit on March 12. He and his daughter returned two days later and the man paid the woman $4,000 in cash. On March 17, the man took his daughter to see Rosa a third time. This time, he paid her $2,000.

In all, the father paid Rosa $6,450.

According to the deputy’s report, the man and Rosa had an agreement by which Rosa would return $6,000 after that final session. When he returned to the flea market to get his money, Rosa was nowhere to be found.

In another incident, a man was having marital problems and he sought out Rosa for help.

After entering her small shop at the open air market place, the man paid Rosa $300 in cash. He then laid his wallet on a small table next to him. Then, while Rosa was saying some prayers, $2,000 in cash was taken from his wallet.

To date, all of the victims in both Okeechobee and Arcadia have been Hispanics.

DCSO Detective Jeremiah Quigley said all of his victims paid a $270 ‘service fee’ up front. He explained that all of the victims called in by phone to make an appointment and talked to a woman named Maria. When the victims arrived for their cleansing, they met with a woman named Angelica.

Instead of a flea market, Detective Quigley said the scammer set up business in a storefront in downtown Arcadia. The name of their business was Botanica Mi Pueblo.

“They were in Arcadia the first week of January, and left right before Easter,” said Detective Quigley. “They packed up and left in the middle of the night.”

In Deputy DeLuca’s report dealing with his initial case, he was given one of Rosa’s business cards. On that card was the phone number 239-357-0203.

“I called the number and got a recording for Botanica Mi Pueblo,” stated Deputy DeLuca, who added that no one answered his call.

The OCSO deputy went on to point out that he was given a driver’s license number for the man who rented the space at the flea market. But when he ran a check on that number, the state had no record of the number.

As for his case, Detective Quigley fears he will find victims in Arcadia who have lost up to $100,000 or maybe even more.

OCSO Detective Marty D. Faulkner is handling the local investigation. He said he found where the con artists paid a local Spanish-speaking radio station $1,000 a week in cash for advertising over a period of five weeks.

When they were last seen, Detective Faulkner said they were driving a silver or gray van. That van, he continued, is thought to be a Nissan.

“It appears to be a mother-daughter operation, with possibly a son-in-law involved,” Detective Faulkner offered. “The alarming part is the substantial amount of money they (the victims) are willing to pay to take care of their problems.

“If people need help or counseling, they probably shouldn’t go to a flea market,” he added.

Detective Faulkner went on to say this is an ongoing investigation, and if you were a victim of this con don’t be embarrassed or remain silent. You are asked to contact him at 863-763-3117.

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