MIAMI — The fortuneteller who promised to help the unlucky, and the cop who had sworn to protect them, pleaded guilty Thursday to joining forces in scams that bilked people of at least $2 million.
Retired Delray Beach Police Detective Jack Makler was assigned to investigate storefront psychic Linda Marks from 1994 through 2002, as one sick, vulnerable, elderly victim after another complained Marks had taken thousands of dollars to “pray over” and then refused to give it back. Instead, he persuaded her victims to settle for piecemeal paybacks from Marks, stolen from new victims, according to their guilty pleas.
Even as Marks compounded the problems of those who turned to her for help, she enriched Makler, giving him at least $100,000 in gifts, a federal prosecutor told U.S. District Judge Donald Middlebrooks Thursday. In exchange, Makler kept Marks out of jail, talked victims into settling for partial reimbursement, called one victim’s son to talk him out of suing, testified for Marks’ husband in criminal court, and told a local probation officer to “back off” Marks, the prosecutor said. When Delray Beach police launched two internal probes of Makler’s activities, the veteran officer lied to investigators, assistant U.S. Attorney John Kastrenakes said.
Immediately after his indictment in November, Makler, 64, of Boynton Beach, entered a not guilty plea, but on Thursday he admitted to the litany of charges, pleading guilty to “theft of honest services” — that he cheated the Marks’ victims, the public and the police department by covering for Marks’ crimes. Now a felon, the police officer who retired three months ago could be sentenced to as many as five years in prison, a $250,000 fine, and be ordered to pay restitution. He remains free on $250,000 bond until sentencing.
Marks, 57, of Delray Beach, jailed since her November arrest, wore a tan jail suit and leg irons as she followed Makler into the courtroom to plead guilty to three counts of wire fraud. With less than a first-grade education she used magician’s tricks that made snakes seem to emerge from eggs, and water appear to turn into blood, to scare victims into entrusting her with their cash, which she kept. On Thursday, she hedged at first, saying she returned some customers’ cash, before she admitted to swindling people who came to her for help. Among her victims: a Bermuda woman who over eight years gave Marks $1 million, and a dying leukemia patient who gave Marks his life savings of $320,000.
She could face as many as 15 years in prison, $750,000 in fines and pay restitution.
Sentencing for both is scheduled for May.
“Once the sentencing in this case is complete we are going to look at all the evidence federal authorities have obtained and will release,” Delray Beach Police spokesman Jeff Messer said. “We will use it to evaluate the handling of this investigation and future investigations.”
Both department investigations into complaints against Makler’s’ handling of the Marks investigations cleared him of major wrongdoing, leading only to reprimands for poor paperwork.
Delray Beach Police Internal Affairs Lt. Ed Flynn attended Marks’ and Makler’s plea hearings Thursday.
So did Boca Raton attorney Barry Silver, who is suing Marks and the city on behalf of 13 of Marks’ victims.
“It’s astounding the amount of criminal activity that was going on while Delray Beach remained oblivious,” Silver said. “Makler didn’t do this in isolation.”
Silver noted that he represents only a handful of Marks’ victims, and that many were too ashamed to pursue claims.
“Very little hope,” is what Marks’ and Makler’s’ victims had in common, Silver said. “When you have no hope for anything conventional to work, you will grasp at anything.”