We’ve all heard about scams involving psychics, like the ones that are seen on talk shows and television commercials. Rarely, however, does a person encounter such a con artist in the everyday world. For many Cantonese-speaking women in the San Francisco area, however, this all-too disturbingly became a living nightmare. The case involves four Bay area con artists (Mudi Wu, Ying Liu Tam, Yong Hua Zeng, and Ah Bhung Liu) who tricked elderly women into giving them their valuables, including cash and jewelry, in exchange for “blessings” to prevent their sons from dying.
The sting went something like this: one of the four con artists would engage an elderly woman in normal conversation in order to gather personal information about their family from them. Little did they know, however, that a second woman was positioned nearby, listening and waiting to use these tidbits in order to pretend that they had psychic powers. The elderly women were then threatened that if they did not give up their possessions and money, their sons would die.
The four women stand accused of attempted extortion, extortion (CA Penal Code §518) attempted grand theft, and grand theft (CA Penal Code §487); they claim that they participated in the scam in order to help their own families who were being threatened by Chinese crime bosses. Whatever the case, these women may face substantial jail time and fines in relation to their crimes. The crime of extortion, considered a felony, carries with it a maximum $10,000 fine and up to 4 years in state prison. Grand theft is, however, a “wobbler” in the state of California, meaning that you can be charged either with a misdemeanor (1 year maximum state prison time in county jail) or a felony (up to 3 years in state prison).