Wealth is Lost in Quest for Faith

6:49 pm Business Stories

Fort Worth Star-Telegram (Texas)BYLINE: DAWN SHURMAITIS, Special to the Star-Telegram
LENGTH: 1083 words

GRAND PRAIRIE – She’s bright, educated – and duped.

Diana Lopez – college graduate and kindergarten teacher – claims
that a conniving Arlington tarot card reader used the fear of evil
spirits to drain her of more than $ 100,000, her home and her good
credit rating.

“I can’t believe I did it,” Lopez, 43, said yesterday. “I really
can’t. She needs to be stopped. “

The state attorney general’s office began investigating Lopez’s
story after receiving a complaint on her behalf from the League of
United Latin American Citizens’ civil-rights committee.

The chances of Lopez getting justice – or her money back – are
slim, said a spokesman for the attorney general’s office. Lopez said
that she also talked to detectives from Arlington but that police
told her there was little they could do.

Arlington police could not be reached for comment yesterday.

The Arlington woman accused of stealing from Lopez is not being
named because no charges have been filed.

LULAC member David Cruz said he encouraged Lopez to tell her story
in the hopes of protecting others from fake curanderos , or faith
healers. Lopez also related the tale yesterday for the Spanish
language Channel 23.

From 1985 until 1991, a psychic who called herself Nicole
persuaded Lopez, then a young widow, to hand over everything she
owned, including the deed to her Grand Prairie home, Lopez said. In
exchange, Nicole promised to protect Lopez’s son, Jesse, from certain
harm, Lopez said.

“She told me wrong had been done to my husband and it was going to
be carried over to my son,” Lopez recalled yesterday. “She asked me
about insurance money, about my property. She asked me if I was
willing to give up a lot of things to protect my son.

“I said yes. I will do whatever it takes. ”

LULAC member David Cruz is helping Lopez make her concerns public.

Cruz met Lopez in November after he aired a KESS/1270-AM radio
program on scams carried out against Hispanics.

“Hers is not the only case. But it’s the largest case I’ve ever
heard of,” Cruz said yesterday. “In North Texas, the idea of going to
a healer is like going to church. ”

Cruz said LULAC has helped 175 victims of consumer fraud in the
past 18 months, sometimes with the aid of Dallas attorney and
personal injury lawyer Luis Avila.

Although he is not handling Lopez’s case, Avila said any lawyer
would be hard-pressed to win a judgment on her behalf. The tarot card
reader promised her nothing tangible, such as a vacation or a
product, Avila said.

Instead, she promised her hope.

“She might actually believe she could help. Who are we to say? ”
Avila said. “It’s incredible because it seems so obvious. But at the
same time, it’s so deceitful. ”

In February, Cruz lodged a complaint on Lopez’s behalf with the
attorney general’s Bureau of Consumer Fraud. Spokesman Ron Dusek said
Lopez’s case will be investigated, but he said he doubts that
anything can be done.

“This person was not buying a product or a vacation package. This
person was trying to buy peace of mind. The come-on here was fear,”
Dusek said. “Obviously, certain people are very susceptible and
vulnerable to those types of come-ons. Those, we can do very little
about. ”

Cruz agrees.

“I don’t think she’ll ever see a penny,” he acknowledged. “I think
she accepts that. But this, telling her story, is part of the healing
process. ”

Here is the story as told by Lopez:

In 1981 when Jesse was just a child, Lopez’s husband, a postal
worker, became ill. The doctors didn’t discover the cancer in his
stomach, liver and pancreas until they opened his belly.

By then, it was too late. Jesse Lopez Sr. died at age 29 on April
21, 1982, leaving his widow with a $ 100,000 life insurance policy.

“My whole world turned upside down. I got very depressed and began
questioning God,” Lopez said.

Lopez was obsessively possessive of her child when she met Nicole,
“the psychic lady,” during a chance, first-time tarot card reading at
an Arlington flea market.

When two of Nicole’s predictions came true, Lopez returned to the
psychic.

Nicole convinced Lopez that her husband had died so young and so
horribly because he had sold his soul to the devil. To break a curse
certain to be passed along to their son, Nicole told Lopez she would
have to follow her instructions and do her bidding.

It would take money, she said.

Lopez spent it willingly, starting with $ 9,000 for special herbs
“to raise the evil spirits. ” At Nicole’s instruction, Lopez also
performed rituals: kneeling in a bathtub at midnight and saying the
Lord’s Prayer; laying a white T-shirt and underwear on her husband’s
side of the bed and sleeping beside them for three nights.

Lopez did as she was told, out of love for her son.

“She told me he would become a gang member and do drugs. She said
I wouldn’t even recognize him,” Lopez said. “I thought I was going to
save his soul. ”

The most elaborate part of the scam took place in Las Vegas.

Nicole told Lopez that the insurance money was evil and that
anything purchased with it was evil. Lopez withdrew the $ 50,000 she
had left, sold her late husband’s truck, emptied her savings account,
cashed her last paycheck and headed to Vegas, where Nicole told her
the devil did his work.

Within 24 hours, Nicole had the cash. Lopez had three brown magic
candles – and she had faith.

“I just believed everything she said,” Lopez said, her head in her
hands, her eyes filling with tears. “She said I wouldn’t have any
more bad dreams. I thought, ‘Thank you, Lord, you finally sent me
someone who can help. ‘ ”

In 1991, Lopez married John Carrillo and told him everything.

“I understand why she did it. She was down and lonely and her son
was the only thing she had left,” said Carrillo, a printer with Texas
Poly Inc. in Euless.

“She was vulnerable and did what any mother would do. ”

Carrillo called the FBI, the first of many frustrating phone calls
he would make over the next five years.

Lopez and Carrillo contacted two lawyers. Each one advised the
couple that because Lopez had handed over her money and property
willingly, there was little legal recourse.

Further, Lopez had no proof. Lopez said Nicole asked her to turn
over all credit card receipts, bills and bank statements.

Lopez and Carrillo are still paying for Lopez’s faith, making
monthly credit card payments of $ 152, chipping away at the massive
debt.

“I can’t believe I did it. I really can’t,” Lopez said. “I just
didn’t want anything to happen to my son. ‘

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