A fortuneteller was arrested by the Mount Vernon police this week for allegedly tricking an Island County woman into handing over more than $50,000.
As reported in the Seattle Times, the fortuneteller allegedly told the woman that the money was cursed and required a "spiritual cleansing." The fortuneteller said that the money would be returned after a cleansing ritual was completed. However, the woman was later unable to retrieve her money from the fortuneteller.
The fortuneteller was arrested for first-degree theft by deception.
What exactly is "theft by deception"?
Washington State defines “theft” as engaging in activities that deprive someone else of his or her property or services. Someone can commit theft by "obtaining control over someone else's property or services through deceit" under Washington law. This is the crime the fortuneteller has been accused of.
There are a number of ways that a person can commit theft by deception, including by:
- Creating or confirming another's false impression which the person knows to be false; or
- Failing to correct another's impression which the person previously has created or confirmed; or
- Promising performance which the person does not intend to perform or knows will not be performed.
In short, theft by deception occurs when someone knowingly deceives another person in order to obtain control over that person's property or services.
The fortuneteller could have committed theft by deception by saying that the victim's money would be returned after a "spiritual cleansing" ritual was completed, but not actually intending to return the money.
What are the penalties for theft in Washington?
The penalties for theft depend on the facts of a case and whether a person is being charged with a felony or misdemeanor theft crime. If someone is convicted of a felony theft crime, the potential penalties are generally much more serious than misdemeanor crimes.
When determining the sentence for a theft crime, a judge will consider:
- The value of the item taken
- The location of the crime
- How the theft is accomplished
- The proximity to the victim or the accused person's relationship to the victim
- The type of item stolen
Washington felony offenses are classified as Class A (most severe), Class B, or Class C (least severe).
The crime the fortuneteller is accused of—first-degree theft by deception—is a Class B felony under Washington law. If convicted of that crime, the fortuneteller could face up to 10 years in prison, and a fine of up to $20,000, or both.
What are the potential defenses for theft by deception?
A key element of "theft by deception" is that someone must intend to use deception. If a defense attorney can demonstrate that the accused did not knowingly use deception to take another person's property, the accused might not be considered guilty of theft by deception.
If you have been charged with a theft crime in Washington, you want an experienced attorney on your side. Former prosecutor Steve Karimi has extensive experience fighting for the rights of those accused of theft and other crimes.