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Sherry Tina Uwanawich, 28, who appeared in federal court in West Palm Beach, Fla., last week, and was sentenced to pay $1.6 million in restitution and serve 40 months in prison after claiming to be a psychic and defrauding a Houston medical student.
Sherry Tina Uwanawich, 28, who appeared in federal court in West Palm Beach, Fla., last week, and was sentenced to pay $1.6 million in restitution and serve 40 months in prison after claiming to be a psychic and defrauding a Houston medical student.Broward County Sheriff's Office via The New York Times

She was a 27-year-old medical student in 2007, suffering from depression and going through hard times, when a self-proclaimed spiritual counselor approached her at a mall in Houston with the promise of supernatural help. The student, looking for an answer, agreed to a psychic reading.

The purported psychic said her name was Jacklyn Miller and told the student that her mental problems stemmed from a curse that had killed her mother.

The student met with the psychic, whose real name is Sherry Tina Uwanawich, several times a week and, for years, paid large sums of money for meditation materials, including crystals and candles, in order to lift the curse and protect her family.

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Over a decade later, the psychic was charged with three counts of wire fraud, one of which she pleaded guilty to in June as part of an agreement with prosecutors.

On Friday, Uwanawich, 28, appeared in federal court in West Palm Beach, Fla., and was sentenced to pay $1.6 million in restitution and serve 40 months in prison.

Uwanawich claimed she had “God-given powers” and could communicate with the spirit world, according to court documents. She said a witch in South America, where the student’s family was from, had cursed the student’s mother before she died.

The student, who remained anonymous in court documents, took out student loans and worked extra hours to pay for the removal of the family curse. Soon, Uwanawich demanded gift cards, clothing, and a leased automobile, court documents said. Eventually, the student gave the psychic hundreds of thousands of dollars from an inheritance she received after her father’s death.

Over the course of seven years, the student paid between $550,000 and $1.5 million.

In 2014, when the student was visiting Uwanawich in Florida, Uwanawich admitted that the curse was a lie, according to court documents.

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Soon after the student learned the truth, she reached out to Bob Nygaard, a retired New York police officer and private investigator who specializes in psychic fraud. Nygaard compiled a case for the student and took it to the Broward County Sheriff’s Office in Florida, he said.

It sat there for years until the FBI decided to pursue it.

“I go around all the country and deal with these confidence crimes and get police to take these crimes seriously,” Nygaard said. “Don’t look down on the victim. Credit the con.”