Update: Search continues for ‘spiritual cleanser’

OKEECHOBEE — Investigators are continuing their search for the person or persons involved in a spiritual cleanser con that has bilked victims out of thousands and thousands of dollars.

Detective Jeremiah Quigley, with the DeSoto County Sheriff’s Office (DCSO), said victims in his county have lost over $50,000 so far.

“I think by the time we get done with all the victims it’s going to reach $100,000,” he said in a telephone interview.

The case is being investigated locally by Detective Marty D. Faulkner, of the Okeechobee County Sheriff’s Office (OCSO), who said the con seems to be targeting the Hispanic community.

“I’m working with the DeSoto County Sheriff’s Office. They are the ones who actually brought this to the surface,” said the OCSO investigator. “We’re ready to step in as a resource at any time.”

So far there have been at least two victims in Okeechobee County. In both cases, men seeking spiritual cleansing met with a woman at the Trading Post Flea Market, 3100 U.S. 441 S.

In one case, the victim took his daughter to see a woman named Rosa. The victim first visited Rosa on March 12 and paid her $450. He and his daughter returned March 14 for a second session, at which time he gave Rosa $4,000.

He took his daughter back to Rosa a third time on March 17 and paid her another $2,000.

In all, the victim paid the purported spiritual cleanser $6,450.

Apparently, state OCSO records, the man and Rosa had an agreement by which Rosa would return $6,000 to the man after that final session. When he returned to the flea market to get his money, she was gone.

On March 26 another man, who was having marital problems, sought out Rosa for help.

Upon entering her small shop at the open air market he paid her $300, then laid his wallet on a small table next to him. Then, while Rosa was saying her prayers, $2,000 in cash was removed from his wallet.

“The alarming part,” offered Detective Faulkner, “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.”

The aforementioned events are similar to what Detective Quigley has found in Arcadia.

He told of one case in which a man, who had not been feeling well, sought out the spiritual cleanser for some help.

“She told him someone gave her $30,000 to put a spell on him. So, he would have to give her $30,000 to remove the spell,” explained the DCSO investigator.

And, the over-the-road truck driver did just that.

He has also found that all of the victims paid $270 up front as a service fee.

As is the case in Okeechobee, Detective Quigley said all of his victims are Hispanic.

“Most of them are seasonal migrants,” he said. “But, I had one victim from Orlando and one from Immokalee.”

He also added that all of the victims called in by phone to make an appointment. He said a woman named Maria made the appointments, but the victims met with a woman named Angelica.

And instead of setting up shop in a flea market, the con artists had 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,” Detective Quigley added. “Then, they packed up and left in the middle of the night.”

OCSO Deputy Justin DeLuca indicated in his report that as he investigated one of the local cases he was given Rosa’s business card. 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, adding that no one answered his call.

The deputy went on to point out that he was also given a driver’s license number for the person who rented the flea market space.

“I had dispatch run the number, and there was no record found,” Deputy DeLuca added.

The deputy was also able to determine that the spiritual cleansers left Okeechobee around the first of April.

Detective Quigley said his investigation has found that the healers came to Arcadia from Lee County.

“They did the same thing there. They were there about two months,” he noted.
As for his victims, the DCSO detective said has received statements from five complainants and he has a least a handful more to add.

“I’m not sure how many there are going to be in total. I’ve had several people (complainants) call who didn’t leave return phone numbers,” he added.

In both counties, the con artists were able to reach their victims by advertising on the local Spanish-speaking radio stations.

In Okeechobee, Detective Faulkner said they paid $1,000 a week for five weeks. While in DeSoto County, Detective Quigley said they paid $1,500 a week in cash, “like clockwork.”

When the bad guys were last seen in Okeechobee County they were driving a silver or grey van.

“It’s thought to be a Nissan van,” offered Detective Faulkner. “It appears to be a mother-daughter operation, with possibly a son-in-law involved.”

He went on to say that while law enforcement is in place to help people, sometimes they have to think about what they are doing.

“Law enforcement is here to help citizens, but when they make bad decisions it’s difficult to help them,” he said. “If you are unsure about something, reach out to someone you trust.”
If you were a victim of this scam, don’t be embarrassed and remain silent. Contact Detective Faulkner at 863-763-3117.

Prior story

Eric Kopp is a staff writer for the Okeechobee News

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