'Witch' was wicked, police say

Toronto woman accused of faking witchcraft, bilking veteran lawyer of more than $100,000

Published On Thu Dec 10 2009

Vishwantee Persaud, 36, is accused of posing as a witch to gain the trust of Toronto lawyer Noel Daley and to defraud him of thousands.



Police have dusted off an old chapter of the Canadian Criminal Code and charged a woman with posing as a witch, allegedly to defraud a Toronto lawyer of more than $100,000.

Vishwantee Persaud, 36, is accused of conning veteran criminal lawyer Noel Daley by saying she was the embodiment of his deceased sister, whose spirit would guide him to financial success.

"She told (Daley) that she had a history in her family of them being sort of good witches, or having occult powers, and that she could do a tarot card reading for him," said Det. Const. Corey Jones.

It was an attempt to gain Daley's trust, police allege, and the spell worked. Over the next few months, police say, the lawyer coughed up money for a variety of reasons including alleged bogus law tuition and rent for a premier office space in the heart of the financial district.

Persaud also faces two fraud charges.

Daley declined to discuss the matter with the Star, saying it is before the court.

But in an interview with Law Times, published Nov. 30, he described being conned by a woman who was "the epitome of the skills that make up a good confidence man."

Despite its archaic tone, the witchcraft charge isn't all that rare.

From January 1999 to October 2009, 38 people in Ontario were charged under Section 365, which deals with fraudulently pretending to exercise witchcraft, sorcery, fortune telling or conjuration.

The provision is really a remnant from the dark ages, said Alan Young, a professor at York University's Osgoode Hall law school.

The charge, which was part of the code when it was enacted in 1892, has nothing to do with the occult, but with scammers who fake mystical powers, Young said.

"They wanted to regulate the practice to protect vulnerable people from giving their life savings over to fortune tellers who were basically con artists."

If Persaud is found guilty, there won't be any burning at the stake. The witchcraft charge carries a maximum sentence of six months in jail and up to a $2,000 fine.

Daley befriended Persaud, who allegedly claimed to be a third-year law student in a bad financial situation, in January 2009, police said. Dubious of her schooling, he quizzed her on her legal knowledge. She got it all right.

Within months, she was working at his law firm and he occasionally pitched in for her grocery bills.  Then came the alleged tarot reading, which police say she used to gain Daley's trust.

After that, she began proposing business ideas, police allege. She said she had connections from her days at a successful Toronto marketing firm, police say. And Daley paid up, fronting cash for proposed deals with Sony and Wal-Mart, Jones said.

"My desire to make an easy buck clouded my judgment," Daley told Law Times.

Soon, Daley said, he was paying rent for an office at First Canadian Place, as well as $18,000 for cancer treatments.

Then Persaud allegedly proposed they make money hosting and providing security for celebrities at the Toronto International Film Festival, police said. No actors showed, and Daley became suspicious.

Persaud, who is also charged with four counts of failing to comply with recognizance and two counts of failing to comply with probation, is being held in custody.

But the news of the arrest is bittersweet in the psychic community.

"It definitely puts a stain on our business. The outside world sees that and think that there are just bad readers out there," said Lisa Marvin, a psychic adviser and co-owner of Metaphysique in Yorkville. "People who go to readings are looking for guidance," she said.

"They shouldn't be taken advantage of."



Still on the books

"There's got to be a couple dozen provisions that absolutely make no sense in the modern era."
Alan Young, Osgoode Hall Law School

Section 163 (1b) It's illegal to print, publish, distribute, sell or possess a crime comic those popular 1940s comic books with graphic depictions of violence and illicit doings.

Section 49 (a) It's illegal to commit an act with "intent to alarm Her Majesty." This offence carries a prison sentence that can't exceed 14 years.

Section 143 Each time a victim of theft puts up a poster advertising a reward with "no questions asked" for the return of a stolen item, they are breaking a federal law.

Section 339 (1) Anyone found guilty of "fraudulently" taking driftwood found in a lake or stream can be imprisoned for up to five years.

Sections 32-33 and 64-69 These provisions require raucous groups to disperse within 30 minutes after being read the declaration commonly known as the Riot Act or else run the risk of facing life in prison.