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She may not have seen it coming, sweetie, but legal woes are brewing for Miss Cleo, the popular television psychic. If the bubbly clairvoyant reads the tea leaves accurately, she might say this to her viewers: “I see a class of frustrated people, sweetheart, and a dark-haired Jewish mother in a minivan raising her voice. And there’s a young attorney with frizzy hair and preppy clothes.” Then her voice would rise in a Jamaican lilt: “Yah, mon, they stirrin’ up trouble, honey.” Indeed, a lawyer really is coming after Miss Cleo and her employer, Miami-based Access Resource Services, which is owned by Fort Lauderdale residents Steven Feder and Peter Stolz. That pesky lawyer is Jack Reise, an associate at Cauley Geller Bowman & Coates in Boca Raton, Fla. His client, Broward County resident Lauren Gerson, filed a deceptive and unfair trade practices lawsuit against the psychic hotline in Miami-Dade Circuit Court on Oct. 18. The angry masses in Miss Cleo’s clairvoyant vision could be her telephone customers from around the country. Reise is hoping that they agree with Gerson’s allegations that Access Resource Services engaged in fraud, and join his class action suit. Access Resource uses TV ads to lure customers to call its “Miss Cleo’s Mind and Spirit Psychic Network” telephone hotline for a three-minute introductory telephone consultation — supposedly free of charge. According to her complaint, Gerson placed two calls last May for the free introductory reading on the network’s 800 number. But instead of getting three minutes of free counseling during each call, she spent those precious minutes answering questions and providing personal information to the Miss Cleo representative, including her name, address, telephone number and e-mail address. Gerson claims she later received a $10 charge per call on her phone bill. After that, according to Reise, Gerson received at least two calls from the Miss Cleo line and was billed $25 for those calls. She claims she was then flooded with daily phone solicitations and e-mails offering psychic readings. After she convinced her long-distance carrier that she didn’t authorize the billings on the calls from Access Resource, her phone carrier eliminated the charges. But soon afterward, according to her complaint, Access Resource began hounding her for payment, bombarding her with threatening calls and letters. “Access Resource is directly pursuing Mrs. Gerson with threats,” Reise says. “It borders on harassment.” But Access Resource attorney Sean Moynihan, an associate at Klein Zelman Rothermel & Dichter in New York, defends the accuracy of the company’s TV spots and the legality of his client’s conduct. He contends that the time it takes to ask customers for basic information is no more than “one or two seconds.” He says that data are needed for an “accurate” psychic reading. He also denies Gerson’s claim that Access Resource charged her for time she spent answering the company’s solicitation calls. “It’s technologically impossible,” Moynihan says. “Outgoing calls can never be billed.” Miss Cleo is frequently seen on late-night and daytime TV infomercials offering specific, plain-spoken advice to amazed on-air callers. An engaging woman whose identity is not publicly known but who is said to be a Miami resident, she wears a turban and speaks in a musical Caribbean accent, presenting herself as a shaman or priestess. The class action suit is not the first litigation Access Resource and its owners have faced. The attorneys general of Arkansas, Illinois, Missouri and Kansas have filed consumer fraud suits this year against the company. Missouri’s suit was settled in August; Access Resource was required to pay the state $75,000 for violating telemarketing laws. The Illinois and Kansas suits are pending. Arkansas settled its suit Tuesday. It calls for Access Resource to forgive all outstanding debts against consumers in that state who made calls to the hotline in 2000 and 2001. Arkansas consumers who paid Access Resource are to receive a claim form for a refund. About 30 to 40 people in Arkansas filed complaints with the state. Access Resource also faces allegations of violating “no-call” statutes in Florida and New York. These laws bar telemarketers from calling residents during certain hours and making aggressive and confusing sales pitches. “When I read about these other cases, it confirms we’re not off-base here,” Reise says. The Florida attorney general’s office decided not to sue the company this summer. But the state Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services has fined Access Resource up to $10,000 for each violation of the state’s telemarketing laws. There are 85 pending consumer complaints from Florida residents filed against Access Resource with the department, according to an agency staff member. While these various state agencies seek to compel Access Resources to pay fines, the Gerson suit would allow victims of the alleged telemarketing scam to be paid directly for any damages. How much are the damages? “They could be enormous,” Reise says. He hopes to have a class of “tens of thousands” of disgruntled Miss Cleo callers. He plans to file a notice for class certification before Circuit Judge Norman Gerstein, and aims to win certification by mid-2002. But Moynihan seems unfazed by Gerson’s claims. He calls the suit “full of misrepresentations.” Indeed, he says, he plans to countersue Gerson for making false and frivolous allegations. “We’re going to move to dismiss and bring direct action against the people who think they could bring these lawsuits against the company,” he says. While he would not say how much Access Resources and its 17 subsidiary telemarketing businesses are worth, Moynihan says the company receives millions of calls a year from devoted Miss Cleo fans. Moynihan has a general response to customers who complain about his client’s psychic hotline. “If they don’t like what they’re getting,” he says, “they can always hang up.” Larry Keller provided additional reporting for this article.

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