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By Times staff reports
© 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 remove a curse.
Paula Zorka Costello was accused of second-degree grand theft against Laura Nancy Belvedere, 27, who has a degree in international business 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, which would be returned to her afterward, according to court records. She claimed 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 or not the psychic promised Belvedere her money back "was a dispute of fact that should be heard in court," he said.
A 42-year-old New York woman who authorities say caused a fatal car wreck has been arrested and charged with DUI-manslaughter. Regina W. Serrago of Patchogue was under the influence of cocaine June 27 when she veered across the median and into the northbound lanes on Interstate 275 between Roosevelt and Gandy boulevards, the Florida Highway Patrol says. Killed was 78-year-old John Cleveland Presley of 2056 68th Ter. S in St. Petersburg. Serrago was taken to the Pinellas County Jail and released Monday after posting bail. Five other people were seriously injured in the wreck.
REDINGTON SHORES -- Three people were treated for injuries Monday night after a van crashed into a row of parked cars on Gulf Boulevard.
The injuries are not life-threatening, and it was a miracle no one was seriously injured, said Indian Shores police Sgt. Leo Yates.
The accident happened at 6:45 p.m. in front of the Friendly Tavern at 18121 Gulf Blvd. Yates said the driver of the 1998 Toyota van told police he was driving along and suddenly hit the cars.
Alcohol is not a factor, Yates said.
The impact caused a chain-reaction crash and explosion among the five vehicles parked in the southbound curb lane. The cars were unoccupied when the van hit them. The van and at least one other car were destroyed in the fire.
Redington Shores residents Philip McCarter and Kenneth Dudley helped pull the van passengers to safety.
Said Dudley: "The flames were in the trees."
The Coast Guard searched Monday for a fisherman who reportedly jumped off a commercial vessel about 75 miles southwest of John's Pass. The Coast Guard received a mayday call at 10:47 a.m. from the 36-foot Rising Sun, said Petty Officer Harry Craft. Two fishermen were on board. Craft said he did not have the name of the 40-year-old man who went overboard or the name of the fisherman who called in the mayday.
Craft said the FBI will probably be called to investigate because the incident happened in international waters.
TARPON SPRINGS -- Police went to Ruth H. Hunt's house after receiving a call that she was threatening a neighbor's dog with a machete.
When police arrived at about 1:45 p.m. Sunday, Hunt, 72, put down the machete. But she picked up a pair of pruning shears and charged the two officers, police said.
"She was fighting," Tarpon Springs police Sgt. Tom Hill said.
Officers Sheila Fowlie and Larry Kobielnik backed away from her. They then tried to subdue Hunt, who lives in the Oakleaf Village subdivision off Klosterman Road, but she continued to fight, Hill said. Hunt bit Kobielnik on the right forearm while he tried to put handcuffs on her. She also hit and pushed Fowlie, according to police reports.
Meanwhile, Frank S. Polosky, 78, who also lives at the house at 204 Leafwood Road, came up behind Fowlie and struck her in the back of the head several times, police said. He punched Kobielnik in the face and hit Fowlie while she tried to put him in handcuffs, according to police reports.
"The gentleman ... wasn't frail by any means," Hill said.
Hunt was charged with resisting arrest with violence, two counts of battery on a law enforcement officer and two counts of aggravated assault on a law enforcement officer. She was being held at the Pinellas County Jail Monday in lieu of $12,500 bail.
Polosky was charged with resisting arrest with violence and two counts of battery on a law enforcement officer. He was being held at the jail in lieu of $7,500 bail.
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