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June 26, 2015

Iowa Court Bars New York Man’s Psychic Scheme from Iowa, Orders Refunds and $20,000 Penalty

International Astrology Foundation and its principal, Joseph Meisels, of Brooklyn, New York to pay $13,740 in refunds to 78 primarily elderly Iowans bilked by fraudulent mailings

(DES MOINES, Iowa) A Polk County judge Thursday ordered Joseph Meisels and his Brooklyn, New York-based International Astrology Foundation to permanently cease sending letters to Iowans that ask for money in return for help from fictitious psychics.

“These mailings were outrageous and outlandish in their deceptive claims and promises from supposed clairvoyants, astrologers, and even extraterrestrials,” Attorney General Tom Miller said. “Sadly, these predatory mailings found their way to the mailboxes of many elderly Iowans, bilking one 77-year-old Iowa woman out of more than $1,500 in 2014 alone.”

Polk County District Court Judge Douglas F. Staskal, through a consent judgment, ordered Meisels and the Foundation to pay $13,740 for refunds to 78 Iowa consumers who sent money in 2014 in response to the defendants’ mailings. The order also imposes a penalty of $20,000, and requires the defendants to cease all unfair or deceptive mail solicitations directed to Iowans and ensure that no one else uses the Iowa mailing list.

The consent judgment resolves a consumer fraud lawsuit filed February 11.

According to Miller, the letters addressed the recipients as dear personal friends, and pledged to help them with money challenges, health issues, and other problems. The letters came from fictitious professors, supposed astrologers, and even “aliens” sent to earth with the sole mission of preventing dire things from happening to the recipient of the letter.

“These pernicious mailings swung from promises to threats in a relentless effort to get vulnerable people to send $50, $70, or even $100 at a time,” Miller said. “By cynically promising to make things better for these too-trusting Iowans, the defendants made things decidedly worse by stripping them of limited resources.”

One example of defendants’ fraudulent mailings claimed to be from “Steve Waters...the world’s greatest astrologer and psychic.” Assuring the recipient that he was “your friend and protector,” Waters offered to apply his powers to alleviate the recipient’s suffering and loneliness – for $50. The mailing featured fabricated testimonials from satisfied customers, as well as one from a “Prof. Magnum Demorarth,” whose photo identified him as chairman of the International Conference of Astrologers and Psychics. But the picture was actually that of Ben Bernanke, the former chair of the Federal Reserve.

“This speaks volumes about the legitimacy of what is clearly a deceptive scheme,” Miller said.

According to Miller, a “legal disclaimer” that defendants sometimes used with their mailings was also designed to deceive. At the end of a string of falsehoods, the disclaimer said: “[O]ur lawyers insist we include the words ‘For entertainment purposes only’ which we include as a concession to them, but know in our heart of hearts, that every word contained herein is the absolute truth.”

This case was one of several that stemmed from the efforts of an eastern Iowa woman to get help for her 91-year-old mother, who was discovered to have sent almost all of her money to self-styled psychics and prize promoters who barraged her with fraudulent mailings.

“We resolved to do what we can to halt the victimization of thousands of older Iowans through such manipulative mailings, and putting an end to these efforts to bilk Iowans is a step in the right direction,” Miller said. “Hopefully others with designs on Iowa’s older population will take note, and think better of it.”

In addition to bearing the signature of Joseph Meisels, the consent judgment was signed by Olga Rosenfeld and Sharon Buchwald, whom Meisels claimed were involved in “creating, administering and organizing the mailings.” According to Miller, requiring these non-defendants to sign establishes their knowledge of the court order, which includes prohibitions that apply to anyone “acting in concert” with Meisels and the Foundation.

TIPS FOR CONSUMERS:

  • Anyone offering to use their psychic powers to make you wealthy or improve your life – for a fee – is trying to scam you. Don’t let them fool you!
  • Letters from strangers who call you by your first name and claim a personal interest in your life are often mass-mailed to tens of thousands, to see who will bite by sending a check. Don’t waste your money!
  • If an older Iowan sends money in response to a fraudulent mailing, he or she may be targeted by a host of other scammers -- developing into a feeding frenzy that can bleed the victim’s bank account. Be aware that this can happen to older relatives, neighbors, or friends, and report such incidents to the Consumer Protection Division.

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