Published May 27. 2011 4:00AM Updated May 27. 2011 3:21PM
There were two stories being told on Thursday about Sylvia Mitchell, the 36-year-old psychic arrested in downtown Mystic who is wanted on larceny charges in New York.
One portrays Mitchell as part of a large and mafia-esque fortune-telling conglomerate that has scammed clients across the country. The other describes her as an innocent mother of three just trying to run a business that finds itself an easy target for swashbuckling private investigators and overeager police departments.
Mitchell was arrested by Groton Town police Wednesday morning at the behest of the New York State Police. Groton Town police Lt. John Varone said police first went to Mitchell's business, Mystic Psychic, on Tuesday and didn't find her, then returned Wednesday, at which point Mitchell gave them a false name.
Mitchell was charged with criminal impersonation and being a fugitive from justice.
Friends and family helped Mitchell post her $100,000 bond, Varone said. She appeared in New London Superior Court Thursday and waived extradition. She is due to turn herself in to New York State Police officials within a month.
New York police in the Catskills wanted Mitchell for allegedly bilking a woman out of more than $9,000. Police in New York City's 6th Precinct have also fielded complaints about Mitchell, who previously worked out of Zena the Clairvoyant psychic parlor in Manhattan, according to The New York Times.
Police and investigators in both departments could not be reached Thursday to outline the specific charges against Mitchell.
Also, a lawsuit filed in Manhattan Supreme Court in February alleges that Mitchell conned a New York City woman out of thousands of dollars, both in fees and by using the woman's credit card.
"It turns out, after doing research, that there appears to be an extensive network of psychics who open up shop, relocate, change identities; it's almost like organized psychic crime," said attorney Adam Brown, who represents the New York woman, Dane Chan, in the $75,000 lawsuit. "My client is happy that (Mitchell's) been arrested and we hope she's able to answer to the people who she's taken advantage of."
A column published by The New York Times in February describes a world of psychics and palm readers organized by families with specific turfs and a council of elders to settle disputes.
"This is a vast network," private investigator Bob Nygaard said during a phone interview Thursday. "A vast, connected network."
Brown and Nygaard, who was hired by a woman in Florida who said she was bilked out of $27,000, describe a similar scenario, in which vulnerable people visit psychics for information and comfort and the psychics in turn steadily increase their fees for more and more complicated rituals and "cleansings."
Nygaard said the psychics key in on love, money and health and exploit their victims with an escalating progression of fees and demands.
"This person wasn't gullible to the point where she gave her $23,000 (right away)," Nygaard said of his Florida client.
Mitchell told the Florida woman that she had an unhealthy attachment to money and, after a period of time spent fostering the relationship and increasing her fees, instructed the woman to give her $23,000 "as an exercise," Nygaard said. The money was supposed to be returned, he said.
Brown said he's heard from a number of other private investigators, law enforcement officials and others who claim to be victims of Mitchell's after the New York media wrote columns and articles about Mitchell in recent months.
"I've been contacted by people across the country who've told me that they know of her," said Brown, who noted that the calls have come from as far as California. "Either they've had some sort of dealings with her, or she's done their fortune and they have shared a similar story as my client's."
But Mitchell's attorney, Ralph Crozier, lashed out at New York police and at Nygaard Thursday. Crozier said Mitchell is a married mother of three - he said a court file describing her as a single mother of two is inaccurate - who runs a licensed business and has done so for years.
Mitchell is a target, Crozier said, for people who don't like what they hear or don't like the results.
"They are the Taliban of the psychic world," Crozier said of the complainants. "They don't like what they hear so they go ballistic."
Crozier said the warrant for Mitchell's arrest in New York is "not a valid warrant" and said Mitchell was unaware of it; otherwise, she would have turned herself in. He said New York police obtained a statement a few minutes before 9 p.m. on Tuesday night and that Groton police were already at Mitchell's door by 9 the next morning.
Mitchell's home address is listed as being in the same building as Mystic Psychic on West Main Street.
Crozier also alleged that a male officer pulled a naked Mitchell out of the shower to make the arrest.
"That's a crime, last time I looked," he said.
Crozier said he has wire transfers detailing the money that was returned to the woman in Florida and that he is "lying in wait" for her to lie to police. He said the woman from the Catskills had purchased crystals at the shop in Mystic and didn't like the results, then wanted a refund she never got.
He also characterized a wanted poster of Mitchell that was published by The New York Times as "fabricated," describing it as a compilation put together by a rival psychic or by Nygaard. The poster uses a New York City logo "to create authenticity," he said.
The Times image credits the New York Police Department for the handout.
Crozier said that although people might laugh at what they do, psychics are allowed to run their businesses. People shouldn't lodge charges or file lawsuits because of buyer's remorse, he said.
"Maybe you don't like your future," he said. "Maybe you don't like what you see."