The Guru Grift: Spiritual Fraudster Pleads Guilty To Swindling Client Out of $650,000

Beware the money cleansing on a mountaintop routine.  flickr, BiblioArchives/ Library Archives
Beware the money cleansing on a mountaintop routine.
(flickr, BiblioArchives/Library Archives)

How do you know if your spiritual guru is leading you astray? Well, if she tells you that she needs at least two Rolexes and $600,000 in cash to ward off the devil, it may be a sign that she is not on the level.

As all the online “how to recognize a fake guru or a false prophet” websites warn: it’s a bad sign when your guru exhibits greediness and accumulates expensive possessions, and it’s a really bad sign when your spiritual guru exhibits greediness towards your expensive possessions.

But phony soothsayers and fake spiritual leaders have been preying on the bewildered, befuddled and wealthy since time immemorial, a grift that continues to this day, even in the era where a person can get page after page of Google tips on how to differentiate the path of light from the path of a lighter wallet.

One so-called spiritual guide even managed to bilk a wealthy businesswoman out of $650,000 before the victim called the guru’s bluff, according to the Manhattan District Attorney. Ironically, the guru grifter won the woman’s trust by telling her that other people were cheating, deceiving and stealing money from her and that the guru, possessed of spiritual powers, could help.

The phony spiritual leader, 39-year-old Janet Miller, has pleaded guilty to third-degree grand larceny for her involvement in a year-long scam that started when Ms. Miller met the victim at an apartment on East 41st Street in July 2011, according to the District Attorney’s office. Somehow, Ms. Miller won the victim over by telling her that she could see her dead grandmother crying and requesting $900 to make a shield to block the devil. After the victim gave her $400, she gave the victim “holy” water, oils, salt and crystals and started communicating with her on an almost daily basis.

Over the course of the year, demands and/or necessities for warding off the devil and curing the victim’s father of cancer escalated from hundred dollar bills to jewelry and Rolex watches.

The most dubious request of all—and the one which apparently brought down the scam—was when the so-called spiritual guru told the victim that her money was cursed and unclean and that she could cleanse it on a mountaintop, instructing her to give her $600,000 in cash (which would all be returned, of course)—the old cleaning your money on a mountaintop trick. The victim started to suspect that she had been swindled when Ms. Miller only returned a small portion of the “cleansed” cash.

“Larceny is larceny, no matter what form it takes—fraud by a spiritual advisor is no different than fraud committed by an attorney, an accountant, or any other person who gains an individual’s trust in order to steal from him or her,” District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. wrote in a release about the conviction. Ms. Miller is expected to be sentenced on June 12.

And, as we recently learned from, just because someone has psychic abilities or superpowers does not mean that that person is more spiritual, or the good kind of spiritual.

“Ghosts and demons have superpowers, so what does having them prove about anyone’s state of virtue or spirituality?” Wise words. The Guru Grift: Spiritual Fraudster Pleads Guilty To Swindling Client Out of $650,000