THE CURSE AND THE CURE
Much about Miller remains a mystery, even to those who thought they knew her. During the sentencing last June, Miller’s defense attorney argued that she had been raised in a Romani, or Gypsy, household, and learned fortunetelling at a young age.
The practice was commonly taught to young Romani women as a novelty to bring in additional income, says Nick Evanovich, a friend of Miller’s family and a fortuneteller-turned-evangelist from Cleveland Baptist Church.
“It was just something they used to do on the streets,” he says. People found it amusing, so it became a part of the culture.
“They didn’t have any superpowers,” he says.
During Miller’s sentencing, her defense attorney said she was remorseful. She hadn’t practiced since her initial arrest in 2015 and spent almost two years urging her family and church members to not engage in fraudulent fortunetelling.
Her parents worked for Great Lakes Expositions, a carnival company responsible for operating festivals at several Northeast Ohio churches. In fact, four pastors — including the Rev. Richard Rasch from Our Lady of Mount Carmel on the West Side — wrote letters to the court on behalf of Miller and her family.
“I was there basically for them,” says Rasch. “I did not know the situation, and all the bad things that she did.”
According to investigators, Miller had taken over her mother-in-law’s fortunetelling business and had been operating her storefront for more than 20 years. Although many of Miller’s clients came through the same small studio in Mentor and a second temporary storefront in downtown Willoughby by chance, many had been introduced to her through women claiming to be Miller’s sister or mother at local church festivals.
Miller denied requests by Cleveland Magazine to be interviewed for this story.
Her husband, Danny, had a troubled past as well. In 1988, he and his older brother Frank were arrested for the killing of their sister’s father-in-law. Danny, who was 18 at the time, pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter and served three years probation.
Although Miller told clients Danny did concrete work, investigators were never able to confirm any other legitimate source of income for the family that supported their lifestyle other than Miller’s fortunetelling. Investigators could not find records that Miller had incorporated Gina’s Psychic Studio with the state or had ever filed any type of Ohio tax return. They also found no legal documentation for their marriage.
When search warrants were executed on Miller’s home in Madison, police uncovered a lifestyle not reflective of the sparse Mentor studio. The expansive four-bedroom colonial had vaulted ceilings. There were three vehicles parked at the residence: a 2015 Cadillac Escalade and a 2015 Cadillac ATS, both registered to separate victims in the case, and a red Chevy Corvette, registered to Danny.
Each room glittered with gold accents, elaborate paintings and sheer curtains. Expensive jewelry, a designer shoe collection and tax forms for more than $100,000 in gambling winnings were discovered in the home.
Among Miller’s belongings, investigators recovered five Rolex watches, a diamond ring, Frigidaire appliances, a kitchen table and four chairs, a 40-inch television, nine cellphones, an Apple iPad, and Louis Vuitton and Chanel handbags — all items clients used to pay for Miller’s services.
“The psychic has one of the most powerful products known to man: false hope,” says private investigator Robert Nygaard. “They string the person along with the hope that what the person wants to come true is going to come true.”
Over the last 30 years, Nygaard’s investigations have led directly to the arrest of at least 30 fraudulent fortunetellers in Florida, New York, California, Colorado and Maryland. Each one begins the same way.
“Ever since the beginning of time, people have wondered, What does tomorrow hold,” says Nygaard. “They get drawn in by the law of this person with this self-proclaimed ability and no one else is wanting to give them an answer.”
The con was simple. Miller started by eking out details of people’s lives until hitting upon their innermost desires and fears. Then, she suggested she was the only person able to help them achieve their dreams. But in order for her work to be successful, clients needed to have total confidence in her abilities and do everything in secret.
“They want to isolate the victim from friends and family,” says Nygaard. “Because they realize that the person that they’re dealing with is vulnerable.”
The work started small. For $180, clients could get nine crystals to wear for nine days and nine nights. If they bought into that idea, Miller would test their limits, informing them of newly discovered curses on their names — and subsequently increasing her fees.
Everything was tinged with a sense of urgency. She’d say that in order to counteract the curse, for example, holy wax had to be purchased from Jerusalem to balance the scales. For 330 pounds of beeswax, it might cost a client $4,600.
If clients couldn’t pay in cash, Miller took alternative forms of payment. Sometimes her clients paid her utility bills, gave her cellphones and even leased the cars Miller drove. If at any point an individual asked to see proof of her work or questioned Miller’s purchases, she’d deliver an exaggerated, booming performance like a fire-and-brimstone preacher.
“She’d invoke this energy, telling me like it was because she was unsettled with these feelings,” says Celia. “She was so convinced they were true.”
At the sentencing last June, when victims were given the chance to read their impact statements, Celia was one of the people who spoke.
“During the time I knew Gina, I had no idea that all of what she owned was off the backs of other people,” she said. “The shock from not having realized that makes me feel like I can’t even trust my sense of objectivity.”
That day, she spoke about how she was forced to comply with whatever Miller needed her to do.
“I wish I had done more to escape from you before it got really bad for me,” she said, looking Miller in the eyes. “I had imagined the best way for me to feel like I could get you back was to show up at your front lawn and blow my brains up, so you would have to deal with cleaning up my body — that’s how I wanted you to feel.”
In the weeks leading up to the Florida trip, Celia was becoming like part of Miller’s family.
She was called to babysit at erratic times several days each week, often at the last minute. But the job was easy. Most of the time was spent playing games with Miller’s young boys who were home-schooled.
“They had no rhyme or reason to their day,” says Celia. “They never had a schedule to follow.”
Still, it was a happy distraction. “Someone coming into my life like this was a pleasant way for me to devote my time, because otherwise I wasn’t really hanging out with other people,” says Celia. “The more I saw her, I legitimized what she was doing.”
To combat the darkness in Celia, Miller used Celia’s Macy’s credit card to purchase new bed sheets and clothing for each of her family members. It signified a fresh start in Celia’s life.
Celia never saw the items. But Miller was upfront about the purchases, telling her they were being taken to churches and blessed. Without her work, the problems facing her family would only worsen.
“I was the vehicle to get all that changed,” says Celia. “I wanted to help them.”
In the weeks leading up to the Miller family vacation, Celia withdrew $4,009.91 from her Roth IRA and gave it to Miller. It wouldn’t make any interest sitting in her account, Miller told her, and was better spent on the work she was doing for Celia’s future.
“She said, ‘Celia, we have to wipe you clean of everything,’ ” Celia recalls. “ ‘You have to use all of your power that you can give me right now to do the work I’m doing. … So if you have the money, we need to get it.’ ”
Celia was made to believe they were headed to Florida to visit Miller’s daughter, Sophia, who was living with another Romani family. The trip was as much a family reunion as a vacation.
But when they arrived in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, Miller started acting strange. Nothing satisfied her. She nagged employees at nearly every hotel and restaurant they visited. She’d throw an embarrassing tirade if their room wasn’t close enough to the elevator or if the food didn’t arrive right on time.
It was vastly different behavior for the soft-spoken motherly figure Celia had come to know.
“We’d get things comped for the fact that she didn’t get her butter out in time to be warm enough for when the lobster came,” says Celia.
When they wore out their welcome, they moved on to the next hotel. They never stayed in any one place for more than a day or two.
Celia also got stuck footing the lodging expenses, because Miller was waiting on her husband’s paycheck to clear with the bank. She said it was a small, unfortunate mishap. Once the check cleared, she’d pay Celia back for everything.
“Do I question that?” Celia muses. “Yeah, but I’m alone in Florida and I don’t know how to leave.”
Nights spent with Miller’s daughter and the family she lived with revolved around dinners out and boisterous parties late into the evening. Although Miller’s family often spoke in Romani, Celia identified with how food, family and music united them.
The work for Celia’s happiness was varied and erratic. Sometimes, it was as simple as Celia writing down her wishes on wax paper, wrapping them around an orange and tossing it into a garbage can. Other times, Celia was sent to the beach with crystals and told to pray over them for the things she wanted before burying them in the sand. But no matter what Celia did to comply with Miller’s plan for success, the darkness continued to grow.
In this environment, Miller became controlling. She sent Celia by taxi to make credit card cash advances for $800, $1,000, $2,000 and $3,000. When Celia questioned her reasoning, Miller pulled her aside and threatened her with the worst: What would happen if her younger brother killed himself? What would that do to her parents? Didn’t Celia trust everything she was doing? Imagine what would happen if all the hard work they’ve been doing was for nothing.
“It would just become a tiring scene of her telling me she’s here for good work,” says Celia. “And if I’m not going to listen to her, this is all going to fall to shit and nothing will come to fruition.”
When Celia was in danger of maxing out her credit cards, Miller asked her to apply for limit extensions or open new ones. When Celia’s requests for credit were accepted, Miller claimed it was proof that her work was successful. Otherwise, how would it be possible for her to keep getting so much money? It was meant to be.
“I didn’t know how to stand my ground and say ‘no’ to her, because I had become her muse,” says Celia. “I had built my own legitimacy around what I saw and what she had told me to believe.”
When Miller’s husband was offered a deal on a $20,300 Rolex at an Orlando mall, Miller pulled Celia aside and told her she needed the watch to turn back time on Celia’s past mistakes. So Celia opened a line of credit with the store and bought it for her.
“I was pressured to buy them all this stuff that I had no choice of saying ‘no’ to unless I wanted to poof away and go to the airport,” says Celia. “As strange as this was, I teetered from half believing her to half covering it up and telling myself that I would just deal with my problem and I would deal with this however it unfolds.”
Miller had gained so much control that she monitored Celia’s social media. Miller didn’t want her or her family in any of Celia’s photographs. In fact, the only picture that remains from the trip is Celia standing alone beside Minnie Mouse during a brief trip to Disney World, nearly one week after she was supposed to return home.
“For her to not really know when she was coming home, that was really strange,” says one of Celia’s childhood friends. “She knew she was in trouble.”
But even after they returned from Florida and Miller hadn’t repaid the expenses, Celia continued maintaining a relationship with Miller.
Celia hid the bills from her family and found work as a babysitter, brand ambassador and substitute teacher in an attempt to bounce back on her own.
“I had formed a co-dependency,” says Celia. “I didn’t want to face figuring out how to pull myself away from these ties I had with her, because her promises of all the money coming back were keeping me with her.”
When pushed for results, Miller would show her work. While Celia’s parents were gone, she invited Miller to her house. Armed with a small bottle of holy water, Miller walked carefully through every room, taking inventory of the energy in the house. She sprinkled holy water on her fingers and drew crosses above the doorways to expel the evil spirits bringing darkness into their lives.
For a time, the prayers seemed to work.
By summer’s end 2009, Miller had a new lead on Celia’s life. She called from Atlantic City and told Celia to come visit. It was where Celia was supposed to be, closer to a big city. In order for her to find love, Celia needed to go out there for a weekend.
So Celia got in her car and drove eight hours to meet the Millers at their hotel on a Saturday. She gave Miller $2,000, spent the night and turned right around and drove home Sunday because she couldn’t afford to miss a day of work.
“I wanted to get everything she said was coming,” says Celia. “I didn’t want to be stuck with this debt, and if she had told me she’d help me, I was going to see to it that she would.”
For almost a year after returning from Florida, their relationship was a tug-of-war.
As Miller needed Celia less and less, Celia reached out more, threatening to file for bankruptcy if Miller didn’t help pay off the debt she accrued. Miller obliged, giving Celia enough to keep her afloat.
“I wasn’t going to let her go as much as she wasn’t going to let me go,” says Celia.
Then in September 2010, Miller made Celia buy her a washer and dryer. “She was like, ‘Can you help me? ... You’re my sister. We’re going to be in each other’s lives forever. You’re helping me,’ ” recalls Celia. “‘The way you’re helping me, I help you and we give strength to each other for everything to keep working.’”
So Celia tried opening one last line of credit to make it happen.
It was denied.
“She said, ‘It means we’ve got more work to do,’ ” says Celia, shaking her head.
But Celia was done. She told her family, went to police and filed for bankruptcy. Celia’s losses were more than financial, however.
“I have no youthful life of the 27-year-old I used to be who had adventure and confidence and gets a one-way ticket somewhere,” says Celia, tears welling in her eyes.
“My life has no resemblance of what others my age at 35 have,” she continues, wiping away the tears as quickly as they fall and taking a sharp breath.
“She took my time,” says Celia. “She robbed my brain.”