A look at the claims, predictions and behavior of a media "psychic".

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The People vs. Sylvia Brown(e)

The story of Sylvia Browne's 1992 felony conviction in a case involving charges of grand theft and securities fraud.

San Francisco Chronicle article, June 6th, 1992

San Francisco Chronicle article, June 6th, 1992

Background

One incident which cannot be ignored in any serious attempt to analyze Sylvia Browne's behavior and character is her 1992 felony conviction in a case where she (as Sylvia Brown, without the "e"), along with her then-husband Kensil Dalzell ("Dal") Brown were charged with grand theft and investment fraud.

Does it prove her psychic abilities one way or the other? No. But it does, as attorneys say, "go to character," and so is definitely relevant in a discussion of Browne and her claims.

The Press

I will, for the most part, let newspaper accounts of the case tell the story. All emphasis mine.

San Francisco Chronicle: "Psychic Consultant Arraigned in Fraud Case"

An article in the June 6th, 1992 edition of the San Francisco Chronicle:

Psychic Consultant Arraigned in Fraud Case

San Jose - Sylvia Brown, who gives psychic consultations and heads a Gnostic Christian church in Campbell as well as a psychic research foundation, was arraigned yesterday along with her estranged husband on six counts of grand theft and investment fraud.

Brown, 55, and Kensil (Dal) Brown, 48, allegedly sold securities to a gold mining venture in Paradise (Butte county) under false pretenses.

According to the criminal complaint filed in Santa Clara County Superior Court, the Browns told investors their money would be used to pay operating expenses at the mine. Sylvia Brown claimed to have strong psychic "feelings" that the mine would pay off.

Instead of paying for the mine, the complaint alleges that the Browns transferred at least $27,000 in investment money to an account maintained on behalf of the Nirvana Foundation for Psychic Research, which the Browns founded in 1974. One month after the transfer, in April 1988, the Browns declared bankruptcy in the mining venture, the complaint said.

As I understand it, The Nirvana Foundation for Psychic Research is the former name of Browne's church, later known as The Society of Novus Spiritus.

San Jose Mercury News: "Spiritualist, Ex-Husband Plead No Contest in Securities Case"

Excerpts from an article in the March 9th, 1993 edition of the San Jose Mercury News:

Spiritualist, Ex-Husband Plead No Contest in Securities Case

Bill Romano, Mercury News Staff Writer

Sylvia Brown, a popular Bay Area spiritualist, and her former husband pleaded no contest Monday to selling securities without a permit -- a violation of the state corporation code that cost two small investors $20,000 each in a Butte County mining venture.

The 1988 criminal case was settled before Judge Robert A. Baines just as Brown and Kensil "Dal" Brown were to appear for a preliminary hearing in Santa Clara County Municipal Court. According to the plea bargain worked out by Deputy District Attorney Rebecca Hayworth, grand theft and other charges were dropped on the condition the Browns pay back all of the money to the victims before their Superior Court sentencing in September.

...

Prosecutors allege that the Browns -- doing business as DalSil Enterprises -- led investors to believe their money would be used to finance equipment and mine operations. In actuality they transferred the funds to accounts of the Nirvana Foundation for Psychic Research, a non-profit organization founded by the Browns in 1974, where the money was partly used to pay salaries of the Browns and other family members.

...

Under terms of the arrangement, Sylvia Brown will not be incarcerated nor will Brown be sent to prison. Brown does face a possible one-year term in county jail and both are still subject to fines.

San Jose Mercury News: "Psychic Gets 1-Year Probation For 'Good Feelings' About Venture"

Excerpts from the December 18th, 1993 edition of the San Jose Mercury News:

Psychic Gets 1-Year Probation For 'Good Feelings' About Venture

Sandra Gonzales, Mercury News Staff Writer

Psychic Sylvia Brown's reported "good feelings" about a gold mining venture ended up costing her a bundle.

Friday, she paid the remaining $10,000 in restitution and was sentenced to one year of probation for selling securities without a permit in a scheme that cost two investors $20,000 each after the Butte County venture went awry. She already had paid in restitution. Brown's former husband, Kensil Dalzell Brown, who also was convicted in the case, was sentenced in Santa Clara County Superior Court to four months in jail and three years probation.

Sylvia Brown, 57, denied she ever told anyone that she had good feelings about the venture, maintaining she was duped by her former husband. In her probation report, she said, "I am sorry beyond words that I was so stupid as not to find out what other people were doing in my name," she said.

...

Mark Helling, one of the investors, was satisfied with the outcome. "I feel we've gotten the last word," said Helling, who was forced to sell his computer business and lay off his employees as a result of losing his money. "I suspect a lot more people have been harmed by them but aren't here to recover funds."

The case began in 1988 when solicitors for Sylvia Brown -- an occasional guest on television shows and the leader of the Church of Novus Spiritus -- persuaded Gregory and Robin Cross and Helling to invest $20,000 each in a mining operation called The Sylvia. Both investors signed contract agreements specifying repayment of five times the original investment and were assured that if the mine failed to prosper, Brown would return the money.

...

Based on Sylvia Brown's psychic "good feelings" about the gold content in the ground, the investors were told that the venture seemed a "good thing" and could yield revenue ranging from $4,000 to $26,000 a day, court records indicate.

Soon after the investment, the money was transferred from the account of DalSil Enterprises to the Nirvana Foundation for Psychic Research, a not-for-profit corporation formed by the Browns in 1974, according to court records. But unknown to the investors, the Browns filed for personal bankruptcy protection. The money, court records show, was used partly to pay for Nirvana's operating expenses, which included salaries for the Browns and other family members employed by the church.

...

The Documents

Here are copies of the pertinent documents in the case. These are public documents, certified copies of which can be obtained by contacting:

Superior Court of the State of California
County of Santa Clara - Hall of Justice
190 West Hedding Street
San Jose, CA 95110

(Click here to view larger versions of the documents.)

The Complaint: Page 1
Complaint, Page 1
The Complaint: Page 2
Complaint, Page 2
The Complaint: Page 3
Complaint, Page 3
The Complaint: Page 4
Complaint, Page 4
The Complaint: Page 5
Complaint, Page 5
The Complaint: Page 6
Complaint, Page 6
The Complaint: Page 7
Complaint, Page 7
The Complaint: Page 8
Complaint, Page 8
The Plea
Plea
The Sentence
Sentence

My thanks to those who assisted in obtaining these documents.

Analysis

While convicted of the crime, Sylvia Browne still maintains that she was not involved in the whole affair.

The investors seem to be saying that she told them that her "psychic powers" indicated that the mine was going to pay off big, but she denies this.

She has also stated that the whole thing was her ex-husband's fault, and that she was not involved. Why then did she plead "no contest" to the charge of selling securities without a license?

It is possible that she entered the plea despite belief in her innocence, convinced by her attorney that the plea was in her best interest. But it is also possible that she knew full well that she was guilty of the charges (the investors definitely seemed to implicate her in the complaint), and thought that the reduced charges were the best she could hope for.

Conclusion

An obvious question in all this would be "If she is psychic, why didn't she see all of this coming?"

In the Afterword of the 1998 edition of Browne's book Adventures of a Psychic (written by Browne and Antoinette May, originally published under the title My Guide, My Self), Browne mentions none of this case, other than the bankruptcy. And of it, she says:

As I have stated many times, to many people, I simply cannot be psychic about myself.

Of course, to someone who is skeptical of Browne's supposed psychic powers, this sounds like a convenient excuse a phony psychic would use to justify not having foreseen every unpleasant event in their life.

Does this incident help to prove or disprove Browne's psychic abilities? I'll leave that for the reader to decide.

But I would suggest that anyone trying to decide whether or not to spend $750 on one of Browne's 20-30 minute "phone readings" would do well to remember the lesson learned by the investors in this case, who regretted throwing their money into a hole in the ground, an overly-hyped but ultimately worthless investment known as "The Sylvia."

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