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    State sues to close Miss Cleo

    The attorney general says the reputed psychic's ads are part of a lucrative scam. Other states have sued the company and Miss Cleo.

    By LUCY MORGAN, Times Tallahassee Bureau Chief

    © St. Petersburg Times
    published February 15, 2002

    TALLAHASSEE -- With cards in hand, Attorney General Bob Butterworth picked up his telephone Thursday and pretended to make a telephone call.

    "What is your sign?" he asked as he read from a script used by Miss Cleo, a psychic who advertises widely on cable television, in mailings and on the Internet.

    "If she is what she says she is, she knows what's happening," Butterworth said as he disclosed the details of a lawsuit he filed Thursday morning in Fort Lauderdale.

    Butterworth said Miss Cleo, also known as Youree Dell Harris of Davie, uses deception to get people on the telephone with an offer of free psychic advice and keeps them on the line at $5 a minute until she makes an average of about $100 a call.

    Her television ads offer a free three-minute tarot card reading to those who call in, but Butterworth said the telemarketers who answer are trained to put callers on hold, shuffle cards, urge callers to "take a deep breath" or get a glass of water before they do a reading.

    Miss Cleo promises help to win the lottery, raise children and improve your love life and kidney function, Butterworth said.

    When callers refuse to pay the $100 or $200 telephone bill, telephone companies usually remove it from the bill, but Miss Cleo files a bad credit report against the caller who doesn't pay, Butterworth said.

    Using former employees of Access Resource Services Inc., owners of the Psychic Readers Network in Florida, Butterworth has asked the court to put Miss Cleo out of business under Florida's Deceptive and Unfair Trade Practices Act. Butterworth said the company is owned by Steven Feder of Fort Lauderdale.

    Several other states have also filed suit against the company and Miss Cleo.

    Butterworth seeks a civil fine of $10,000 for each violation of state law, restitution for people who paid their bills and a court order prohibiting the company from pursuing disputed collections in Florida.

    Will he win the lawsuit? reporters asked Butterworth as he held a black Magic Eight Ball on his desk.

    "It is certain," the Eight Ball message read.

    Also Thursday, the Federal Trade Commission, describing the hot line as "permeated with fraud," said it wants to shut down Access Resource Services and Psychic Readers Network.

    FTC official Howard Beales cited more than 2,000 complaints in 18 months.

    -- Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.

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    Lucy Morgan

    From the Times state desk