'Faith healer' fraudster jailed
A fraudster who posed as a faith healer to con vulnerable victims out of almost £1 million has been jailed for 10 years.
Juliette D'Souza masqueraded as a shaman for more than 12 years to convince 11 of her "clients" to hand over thousands of pounds to solve issues such as curing terminal illnesses or problems conceiving a baby.
The 59-year-old, from Hampstead, north London, told her victims the money was a "sacrifice" which would be used as a spiritual offering and hung off a sacred tree in the Amazonian rainforest.
There two other shamans would perform rituals around the money before it was sent back and their problems would be resolved, she claimed.
But in fact she used the proceeds to fund an extravagant lifestyle including designer handbags, luxury holidays and antique furniture.
Yesterday D'Souza was convicted of 23 counts of obtaining property by deception and fraud relating to victims she targeted between January 1998 and June 2010.
Jailing her today, Judge Ian Karsten QC said she had cast a "spell" over her victims and persuaded them to hand over the money or they would face "terrifying" consequences.
He told Blackfriars Crown Court in London: "It is the worst case of confidence fraud I have ever had to deal with or indeed that I have ever heard of.
"The most serious aspect of this case is that you wrecked the lives of a number of your victims and you have done it out of pure greed."
He said an aggravating feature was that she spent the money on "high living" in the UK and abroad, buying luxury items such as a £3,000 Hermes handbag.
The court heard D'Souza convinced victims to make financial sacrifices in order to save the lives of loved ones, avoid being made redundant or have illnesses cured, ranging from terminal cancer to less serious ailments.
Many were left in financial ruin with one man "as poor as a church mouse" while the conwoman "remorselessly extracted" more than £200,000 from an elderly woman over several years, the court heard.
The total amount she defrauded in relation to the charges on the indictment was £908,400, but on the evidence given by victims the final sum was closer to £1 million.
A jury took just an hour to convict D'Souza, who had previous convictions for dishonesty and deception, after a four-week trial.
D'Souza, who once advertised her services in Tatler magazine, charged just £35 for a consultation but then demanded large sums for the "sacrifices" she claimed were being sent to Suriname in South America.
Before handing down the sentence, the judge told her: "You were telling people that you were a shaman, that is to say a spiritual healer in touch with the spiritual world.
"You told your victims that you had contacts with other shamans... and persuaded them that these were powerful figures who could exercise their power to solve the problems which they were concerned about."
The issues people took to her ranged from serious illnesses to work problems and their love life, he said.
The judge went on: "In each case you promised them that you would be able to resolve the problems by using your powers of communication with two shamans in Suriname, provided they paid a sacrifice."
D'Souza would give her "customers" detailed instructions about how the money was to be paid - always in cash and in a brown envelope.
Part of her "system" was to demand a full-length photograph from each victim.
She told them the money would be taken by plane to Suriname where it would be placed under or on a "special, sacred tree".
The judge said: "Other rituals would be entered into, the result of which would be that their problems would be solved as a result of the exercises of this Shamanic power.
"Once that happened, you told a number of victims, the money would be returned.
"The reality, as it has emerged, is that you didn't send any of this money to South America. You used the cash for your own purposes.
"You cheated each and every one of these victims. You were able to exercise a considerable influence and indeed a spell over these victims."
Those targeted by D'Souza did exactly what she required of them as, in many cases, they were "terrified" of the consequences of disobeying her instructions, Judge Karsten said.
A number of victims were "subjugated" to her will so that they "lost all of their autonomy" and became "entirely dependent" on her, he said.
"To reinforce their dependence on you, you initially saw to it that they were cut off from their friends and family. You warned them about the 'evil temperament' of the people to whom they were close."
The self-proclaimed healer also claimed to have helped cure actor John Cleese's daughter of cancer, boasted that she had known Princess Diana and said she could introduce a young singer to Simon Cowell.
But behind the false boasts was a fraudster who left a trail of havoc in her wake.
The judge said that perhaps the "most upsetting" aspect of the case was a woman, who cannot be named, who gave D'Souza £176,000 over several years for help getting pregnant.
When she actually fell pregnant, D'Souza told her to have an abortion as the unborn child would be "deformed" and "ill".
The woman described her ordeal at the hands of D'Souza as "pure evil".
The judge quoted another victim who was told to pay £18,000 or her partner would die.
She said: "I was absolutely terrified. I was living in fear and doing what I was told."
Another victim was 82-year-old former opera singer Sylvia Eaves, who, the court heard, was duped out of more than £350,000 by D'Souza between 1998 and 2010.
The widow, whom the judge described as a "delightful lady", handed over the money for various reasons including help with a stomach problem and to "save" her ill sister.
Speaking after the sentence, Mrs Eaves said: "I'm relieved that she won't be doing it to anybody else.
"I feel terribly sad that somebody who is so clever would resort to that, especially as she was a friend of mine. I feel terribly let down that she could behave like that.
"She relieved me of a lot of money but I'm still here. I was gullible, I suppose, but my sister was very ill at the time."
Other victims included retired solicitor Richard Collier-Wright, who paid £7,000 to cure his terminal leukaemia, and former photographer Jocelyn Bain-Hogg, who handed D'Souza thousands to improve the health of his mother who was having heart surgery.
A couple, who cannot be named, gave tens of thousands to the fraudster after she claimed she could help with their child's disability and behavioural problems.
Another victim, Geoffrey Wheeler, handed over around £160,000 to "protect" him from being made redundant but was left in financial ruin.
In a statement after the hearing, Detective Constables Linda Kernot and Fiona Graham said: "We are very pleased with the sentence. It reflects the serious nature of her actions and the fact that she has shown no remorse.
"We are relieved that her evil schemes have been stopped as we consider Juliette D'Souza as dangerous as a violent offender.
"She is a nasty, cruel person who targeted vulnerable people, preying on them when they were desperate for support and guidance. In the end, her greed and arrogance was her downfall.
"We want to thank the victims for showing great courage in standing up to her and giving their evidence."
D'Souza was finally arrested in 2012.
Her barrister, Stephen Fidler, said in mitigation that D'Souza's elderly mother had been unwell for a considerable time and she visits her every day.
But the judge told her: "I find no mitigating factors in your case at all."
The sentence was the maximum punishment available for the offences she committed.
Scotland Yard said police opened a fraud investigation in 2010 after receiving a report from a friend of one of the victims who was worried she had been brainwashed.
They linked the fraud to previous reports they had received in 2007 naming the same suspect.
When D'Souza was finally arrested she protested her innocence and claimed the only sacrifice she had heard of was in the bible, the Met said.
Detective Superintendent Richard Tucker said they believe she has been defrauding people "for decades" and urged any other victims or witnesses to come forward.
He said: " D'Souza is one of the most wicked criminals I have ever come across. She made a conscious decision on a daily basis over many years to prey on people who were at a very vulnerable point in their lives. In all that time she demonstrated not one ounce of basic humanity. The jury saw through her lies and she has finally faced justice."