Thursday, May 29, 2014
A Hampstead woman described as “pure evil” has been found guilty of swindling £1million from vulnerable people by claiming to be spiritual healer who could cure cancer or help them to get pregnant by sending money to the Amazon jungle.
Juliette D’Souza extracted huge sums of cash from 11 people across Hampstead and north London – including opera singers, photographers and solicitors – by claiming to be a shamanic healer with links to the rainforest in Suriname.
She was today convicted of all 23 counts of fraud and obtaining property by deception that she faced in a unanimous decision at Blackfriars Crown Court.
The jury took only about an hour to find her guilty on all charges – which covered a 12-year period from 1998 to 2010 – following a four week trial.
D’Souza was such a persuasive con-artist that she managed to convince her victims she could cure terminal illnesses, help disabled children or enable them to conceive by sending cash to the South American jungle – to be hung from a sacred tree.
Her victims believed she was working with two other shamans in Suriname, known as Pa and Oma, who would hang their cash “sacrifices” on the tree in the heart of the jungle.
Instead, D’Souza, 59, of Perrin’s Lane, Hampstead, spent the money on a lavish lifestyle, renting three or four luxury flats at a time in Hampstead and splashing a fortune on Louis Vuitton bags, jewellery, antique furniture and holidays.
She boasted of celebrity clients including Princess Diana and X Factor guru Simon Cowell. Her victims described her as confident, well-spoken and attractive, and said she was incredibly manipulative and persuasive, convincing them that terrible things would happen if they did not hand over cash sacrifices.
The victims were so under her spell during the 12-year scam that one woman, who cannot be named, had an abortion at her say so, while another, Ruth Fillingham, sold her home because D’Souza said it was “spooked”.
The woman who had the abortion had previously given D’Souza, who used a litany of fake names, more than £170,000 in the belief it would help her to conceive.
She broke down in tears in the witness box as she gave evidence at the trial and described D’Souza as “pure evil” and likened her to a “psychopath”.
“She told me the baby was very deformed and ill. That it was sick,” she said.
“She said that I should get rid of the baby. She told me to go to London to have the abortion done.”
Opening the case, Benjamin Aina, prosecuting, said: “Juliette D’Souza told people she was a shaman. She was dealing with members of the public who had serious life challenges: some were dying from cancer, some had close friends who were dying from cancer, some had physical ailments, some were desperate to have children.
“In one case, a couple had a child with disabilities who they wished to help.
“The money would be sent in a sealed envelope to Suriname to faith healers Oma and Pa.
“They would put the money under or on a special tree and as a result of this, the life problem would be solved. Instead, she used the money to fund a lavish lifestyle in the UK and in South America.”
D’Souza did not take the witness stand during the trial, but in police interviews, she attempted to pin the blame on one of her victims, osteopath Keith Bender, who had become convinced of her healing powers after accompanying her on a trip to Suriname in 1997.
Mr Bender went on to introduce many of D’Souza to many of her victims, believing that they would be helped.
The jury heard that osteopath Mr Bender “genuinely believed that she had special powers” and was “completely under her influence” for more than 10 years, until he realised she was a sham in 2007.
Victims included Ms Fillingham, who paid £169,000 from 1998 to 2004 to ward off the evil spirit of her deceased brother, save her partner from a nonexistent tumour and ensure her eye surgery would be a success – which it was not.
Her boyfriend, Geoff Wheeler, handed over £195,000 in the same period. Much of the money was supposed to secure his job, but he was still made redundant.
Retired opera singer Sylvia Eaves, 83, was conned out of a total of £353,000.
D’Souza had multiple identities and a litany of addresses across Hampstead, including in Perrin’s Lane, Denning Road, Willoughby Road, Rosslyn Hill and Heath Street, as well as in West Hampstead, Belsize Park, Kensington and St John’s Wood.
She would pay up to a year’s rent in advance – in cash – and occupy several flats at once.
It emerged during the trial that she was previously convicted of 28 counts of fraud and four of theft, spending time in Holloway prison in the 1980s.
She will be sentenced tomorrow at Blackfriars Crown Court.
Ham&High coverage of the trial:
Week 1 – Shaman faith healer promised cancer cure for ‘cash sacrifices’ in £1million Hampstead fraud, court hears
Week 2 – Woman had abortion because bogus faith healer said unborn child was ‘evil’, court hears
Week 3 – D’Souza trial: ‘Healer who persuaded me to have abortion is evil psychopath’, woman tells court
Week 4 – D’Souza trial: Alleged shaman fraudster told police of family connection to Prime Minister David Cameron, court hears
Week 5 – D’Souza trial hears alleged con artist faith healer is “very nice person”