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By SUE CARLTON
© St. Petersburg Times, published December 5, 2000
TAMPA -- A Hillsborough judge threw out a grand theft charge Monday in the case of a woman who gave a self-proclaimed psychic thousands of dollars to relieve a curse.
Paula Zorka Costello was accused of second-degree grand theft against Laura Nancy Belvedere, 27, who has a degree in international businees and works for the Salomon Smith Barney investment firm in New York.
According to court records, Belvedere was in Tampa for a work-related training session when she sought out the psychic and fortune teller. Belvedere wanted "to get rid of and cleanse all the evil and bad negativity" in her life, according to court records. At one point, various crystals and oils were used.
Belvedere claimed she was told the curse could only be broken through the use of a large amount of money that would be returned to her afterward, according to court records, which allege she gave Costello, 30, more than $60,000 in cash, checks, money orders, Western Union transfers and gift certificates.
Costello's attorney, Joe Ficarrotta, argued that the state could not prove its case. Previous similar cases dealt with "people who are elderly or have dementia and somebody takes advantage of them," he said.
"I can give my money to anybody I want to as long as they're not taking advantage of me," he said.
Monday, Circuit Judge Cynthia Holloway agreed to throw out the charge.
Assistant State Attorney Mark Lewis said he likely will appeal the judge's decision. Whether the psychic promised Belvedere her money back "was a dispute of fact that should be heard in court," he said.