BY TOM DALTON
---- — SALEM — It just wasn’t in the cards for Fatima’s Psychic Studio to lose its fortunetelling license.
Despite complaints that the Hawthorne Boulevard business has a history of offering to remove curses for cash, and in one instance charged a man more than $16,000 to place a protective shield over him, the Licensing Board last night “reluctantly” renewed Fatima’s license, placing it on probation through the rest of the year.
In a move not even a psychic could have seen coming, Detective Sgt. James Page opened last night’s hearing by withdrawing the police complaint. In effect, Page, the board’s investigator, said he couldn’t bring a complaint because the business wasn’t licensed when two recent alleged incidents took place.
Fatima’s was before the board because it failed to renew a license that expired in March 2012.
“I don’t think you can ethically bring a charge of violation of a (fortunetelling) license because they didn’t have a valid license at the time,” Page said.
The complaint the detective filed with the board Oct. 10 and withdrew last night cited four alleged violations going back to 2003, including two recent ones, which were the most serious.
Page said there have not been similar complaints against other Salem psychics and readers.
A man from West Henrietta, N.Y., told police he went to Fatima’s in August and, over several weeks, paid a reader named “Debbie” $16,800 for the protective shield she convinced him he needed and for something called a “Channel Angels.”
Police Detective Dennis Gaudet is investigating. However, whether that complaint will move forward is unclear.
Last night, Salem Attorney William Quinn, who represented the psychic studio, said he was told by an attorney handling that civil matter that “constructive and positive negotiations” are taking place between Fatima’s and the complaining customer, which are expected to result in an agreement to reimburse the man.
In another complaint included in Page’s report, a man from Newark, N.J., contacted city officials this month to report that a reader at Fatima’s, “possibly with the name Debbie,” told him he had a curse that she would remove for $500. The man said he declined the offer twice — the second time after he returned home and received a phone call from the reader. The man did not want to file a complaint, according to police.
While not going forward with the Licensing Board matter, Page said he filed a court complaint against Fatima’s on a charge of operating a business without a license, an ordinance violation that carries fines of $100 a day.
At last night’s meeting, another psychic, the Rev. Barbara Szafranski of Angelica of the Angels, said many customers from Fatima’s have come to her over the years after being told “they have auras that are warped.” Szafranski said she checked them out with her “aura machine” and determined they were fine.
She said she even met years ago with Fatima’s owner Harry Mitchell to tell him about the complaints.
“You have to speak to your girls,” Szafranski said she told Mitchell.
“This isn’t just now,” said Szafranski, who has been in business 27 years. “It’s been going on a wicked long time.”
Councilor-at-large Bill Legault recommended that the board not renew Fatima’s license. If it felt it must for legal reasons, Legault recommended a probationary period, a strategy the board adopted. Legault said the city cannot allow a business to take advantage of visitors, especially those in a “vulnerable state.”
“This has happened in the past multiple times ...” he said.
Since news of the allegations surfaced earlier this month, Page said police have had several calls from people “saying they were offered the same service of removing a curse.”
Quinn, Fatima’s attorney, said his client has been in business 21 years with only a few complaints, and only this current one, he believed, involving the payment of money.
Chairman Robert St. Pierre said the board was in a “legal conundrum,” because it didn’t have any official complaints, or persons bringing complaints before it, and was dealing with alleged violations that took place when the business was not licensed. If it denied the license, St. Pierre said the city likely would lose in court.
While “reluctantly” recommending the probationary period through the rest of the year, St. Pierre issued a stern warning to business owner Harry Mitchell.
“You’re responsible for every one of your readers,” St. Pierre said. “And it appears to me that your readers are taking advantage of people in a bad state who are vulnerable.”
Legal technicalities, he said, are allowing Fatima’s to “escape ... the wrath of this board.”
Officials reminded Mitchell that the city fortunetelling ordinance does not allow a reader to charge money to remove hexes, or to remove hexes for any reason.
“This has to stop, because it can result, or most likely will result, in criminal charges,” Page said.
In a separate action, the board “reluctantly” renewed the licenses of two of Fatima’s readers, Fatima Mitchell and Tammy Mitchell, through the end of the year. The business did not request a license renewal for a third family member, Debbie Mitchell, the subject of the active complaint.
Harry Mitchell was told to return in December to request license renewals for next year.
Tom Dalton can be reached at email@example.com.