The Brooklyn Eagle reports:
A Brooklyn man engaged in a diabolical mail order-scheme was ordered to stop conning trusting Iowa residents and to pay tens of thousands of dollars in fines and penalties.
The ruling doesn’t apply to the other 49 states, however, where Borough Park resident Joseph Meisels – in the guise of the International Astrology Foundation, Zoran, Steve Waters and other fictitious identities – is still free to prey on the vulnerable.
Polk County District Court Judge Douglas Staskal on Thursday ordered Meisels to refund roughly $14,000 sent in by 78 mostly elderly Iowa residents taken in by his outlandish claims. He also assessed a $20,000 penalty, under provisions of the Consumer Fraud Act.
The letters addressed the recipients as dear personal friends and pledged to help them achieve money, fame and success.
Multiple multi-page mailings went out. The Iowa AG supplied the Brooklyn Eagle with a pdf listing 133 different mailings or sections of mailings, including coupons, order forms and "urgent communications."
Some victims read that they had been chosen at a secret panel of psychics as someone “cursed by bad luck.” Meisels, in the guise of Waters, addressed them as a friend who knew their deepest despair and offered to apply his powers to alleviate their suffering and loneliness.
“Recently, at a secretly held psychic conference, during a lecture I was giving on the subject of the most difficult, most intractable cases, yours came up,” one mailing read. “Without uttering a single word I know your troubles, what you have been through, and what you are still forced to put up with and endure, forced to suffer from, till today.”
With permission from the “psychic council,” Waters undertook to take up the challenge and “unleash the greatest super weapon in my psychic arsenal in your behalf.”
The ‘Secret Instrument’
Recipients were told they would receive “a very special spiritual device[,] one you have never heard of or read about.”
“The bottom line is that I promise you it works,” the pitch continues – claiming the secret device has been used throughout history by the likes of the Babylonian conqueror Nebuchadnezzar, Napoleon (who later lost it), George Washington and Andrew Carnegie, among other leaders and CEOs.
Recipients were also told Waters would take them under his wing, and that their luck would change practically overnight. “The fastest response, the fastest answer to your problems, to your intractable difficulties and woes – gone – like that – in the snap of the fingers!”
The mailing featured fabricated testimonials from so-called satisfied customers, as well as one from a “Prof. Magnum Demorarth,” whose photo, according to the Iowa AG, identified him as chairman of the International Conference of Astrologers and Psychics. The picture, however, was actually of Ben Bernanke, the former chair of the Federal Reserve.
The so-called device turned out to be a piece of paper with a swirly pattern and 21 rune symbols, along with their English translation.
Other recipients were apparently told that aliens had chosen to help them because of their unique constituency -- or that a Professor Damon Zakakura, “Master of the Spirit Realm,” had cut a deal with evil denizens from “the other side” to release the victim from their karma-caused life of misery and suffering.
In this version of the scam, Professor Zakakura assured the recipient that he had obtained the demons’ promises in writing, in ancient Aramaic. For his $70 fee, he also said he had tuned up the victim’s “luck fields” and cleared their karma.
Bilking the elderly
“These mailings were outrageous and outlandish in their deceptive claims and promises from supposed clairvoyants, astrologers and even extraterrestrials,” Iowa 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.”
Vulnerable people sent in $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.”
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 had sent almost all of her money to “self-styled psychics and prize promoters who barraged her with fraudulent mailings,” according to the Iowa AG.
Meisels found this woman and other vulnerable victims through the use of commercially-available lists of susceptible consumers. These lists are shared among dubious marketers, setting off a “feeding frenzy.”
“It’s totally outrageous,” said Iowa Assistant Attorney General Steve St. Clair. Meisels “got money from the most vulnerable people, predominantly elderly, including folks who in their earlier days discriminated perfectly.”
St. Clair said scammers can acquire, for example, lists of people with an interest in psychic phenomenon who are over the age of 60. They can also specify an income range.
“Predators swoop in at the right moment,” he said.
Meisels’ attorney Aaron Twersky sent the Brooklyn Eagle a comment from the International Astrology Foundation (IAF).
“International Astrology Foundation is a legitimate business providing entertainment and leisure, through fiction and obvious fantasy, for those who choose to subscribe to its mailings. None of the mailings are deceptive or misleading, and are no different than any cartoon or comic book.
“Every subscriber is promised a money-back guarantee should he or she so choose,” IAF continued.
“While the Iowa Attorney General’s claims are overreaching, the consent judgment is merely another opportunity for IAF to stand behind its promise to offer money back to those subscribers not completely satisfied,” IAF added.
The Iowa AG points out that just one of Meisels’ many mailings included the language that the content “is fictional and for entertainment purposes only.” Even if it was part of every mailing, the AG said, “It would not suffice to overcome the deception and unfairness of Defendants’ solicitation practices.”
In addition to bearing the signature of Joseph Meisels, the Iowa consent judgment was signed by Olga Rosenfeld and Sharon Buchwald, whom Meisels claimed were involved in “creating, administering and organizing the mailings.”
St. Clair said he assumes that Meisels is working his scam in states across the nation. Sources told the Eagle that Meisels is not yet on New York State’s radar, however.